Unions prepare to defend working families agenda in Salem


Oregon’s citizen legislature convenes Feb. 1. The five-month session will be dominated by debates on how to deal with a severe state revenue shortfall. To make sure lawmakers remember working people when decisions are made, representatives of Oregon’s labor union movement will be frequent visitors in the Capitol.

For the Oregon AFL-CIO, the number one legislative priority will be supporting good jobs, said spokesperson Elana Guiney — whether that means maintaining public services and public sector jobs, attracting manufacturing, or making additional public investments in construction or infrastructure.

The AFL-CIO won’t be pushing bills to expand labor rights this year, Guiney said, because it would be difficult given the makeup of the House to get anything through. Republicans gained seats in the Oregon House in the November 2010 election, and the chamber is now split 30-30 between the two parties. The governorship and the Oregon Senate remain in Democratic hands.

Guiney mentioned two job-related bills the federation will support.

One would require that whenever prime industrial land is converted to another use, other industrial land be found to replace it. Keizer Station, near Salem, is an example of the problem: A parcel of land there had been reserved for industrial use, but instead was developed as a shopping center. [So instead of being a site for high-wage manufacturing, it’s become an opportunity for big-box chains to employ low-wage workers to sell foreign-made goods.]

The other bill would allow developers of gas, water, and electric transmission lines to get a conditional permit before obtaining permission from landowners. Current rules bog down the permitting process, Guiney said.

Another bill that may get labor support is HB 2033, a bill Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian will be pushing to restore career and technical education to Oregon middle schools and high schools. It would expose students at up to 10 schools to high-demand jobs in renewable energy, health care, and manufacturing.

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 555 will continue its legislative campaign to protect members from draconian penalties for unwitting sales of alcohol to minors. Last session, the union was able to win a law decriminalizing such sales (making it a civil, not criminal offense). But Local 555 Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Anderson said the Oregon Liquor Control Commission is undermining the intent of the decriminalization by targeting cashiers with felony “furnishing alcohol to a minor” charges — even though that statute is aimed at intentional “shoulder-tap” type activity.

And State Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie), who is also a Local 555 union rep, is expected to propose a ban on alcohol and tobacco sales at self-checkout stations.

Oregon Working Families Party — a minor political party that has union support — will work to pass a bill creating a state bank. The idea — modeled on the Bank of North Dakota — is to take the billions of dollars the State of Oregon now deposits mostly in large out-of-state banks, and deposit the funds instead in a state-owned bank, which would partner with community banks and lend to Oregon farms and businesses.


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