May 4, 2007 Volume 108 Number 9

Many labor-backed bills advancing

SALEM — The Oregon House of Representatives passed three of the Oregon AFL-CIO’s “top priority” bills last month. The bills are designed to protect the rights of working Oregonians to organize and collectively bargain without interference by employers.

The Democratic-controlled House passed House Bill 2893, dubbed the Worker Freedom Act, by 31-27; HB 2891, the Majority Sign-Up for Public Employees bill, on a vote of 34-24; and HB 2892, the State Financial Accountability Act, by a party-line vote of 31-29.

HB 2893 gives employees the freedom to walk away from anti-union, political and religious indoctrination meetings without fear of being fired. Employers can still hold meetings, express their beliefs and exercise free speech; they simply can’t make the meetings mandatory or take retaliatory measures if an employee doesn’t want to attend. Faith-based and political organizations are exempted under the bill.

HB 2891 allows public-sector workers to decide for themselves whether to use the already legal process of majority sign-up, which allows workers to form a union by demonstrating a clear majority of worker support through signatures on cards or petitions. Currently, the decision about whether to use such a process is the choice of the employer.

Three Republicans joined all 31 Democrats in supporting HB 2891. They were Representatives Bill Garrard of Klamath Falls, Fred Girod of Stayton, and Greg Smith of Heppner.

HB 2892 ensures that taxpayer dollars are used to pay for programs, instead of paying high-dollar consultants to deter union organizing campaigns.

The bills now go to the State Senate.

Still coming up in the House is House Joint Memorial 7, a bill to support the national Employee Free Choice Act. The Oregon AFL-CIO has made its four-bill “Restoring the Freedom to Organize” package a top priority for the 2007 legislative session.

Another bill supported by labor would stop fraud and abuse of Oregon’s initiative process.

HB 2082, which passed the House last month, will require campaigns that hire paid signature gatherers to keep accurate and up-to-date payroll records, and gives the secretary of state audit authority to spot-check campaigns.

The measure also increases the number of signatures required to file a ballot title from 25 to 1,000, which would stop the current practice of campaigns marketing their ideas on the taxpayer’s dime. If the campaign goes forward with the measure, the 1,000 signatures would count for the final total.

Another labor-backed bill became law last month when Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed SB 362 to expand the Oregon Prescription Drug Program to include the private sector, labor unions and all underinsured Oregonians who lack full prescription drug coverage.

The program was created in 2003 to help low-income uninsured Oregonians over the age of 54 afford the high cost of prescription drugs. Through the power of bulk purchasing for prescriptions and by pooling resources together, the state is able to negotiate lower prices for prescriptions than what individuals and businesses normally can.

In November 2006 the program was expanded under Ballot Measure 44 to allow all Oregonians without prescription drug coverage to access the program. Since then, the number of Oregonians enrolled in the program has more than tripled to nearly 16,000 members.

Kulongoski said Oregonians enrolled in the program save on average $28 per prescription, and savings can be as high as 60 percent over retail prices.

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