SALEM — Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber reaffirmed his commitment to workers’ rights and family-wage job creation at a March 7 “Jobs Rally” sponsored by the Oregon AFL-CIO.
“I want to start by making something perfectly clear: The state of Oregon will not go down the road Wisconsin has chosen,” Kitzhaber told a crowd of about 750 on the Capitol steps. “You have a governor who believes in the right of working people to organize and form a union. You have a governor who believes in the union movement and believes in collective bargaining.”
Union members from more than two dozen locals, unemployed workers, and supporters of workers’ rights, including various small business owners, took part in the noon rally calling for more jobs for Oregonians and to show solidarity with entrenched public employees in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the Midwest, where Republican lawmakers are trying to strip them of their collective bargaining rights. At one point during the rally, hats were passed to take a collection for the Wisconsin workers’ struggle. In about five minutes, $2,038.47 was raised.
Sean McGarvey, secretary-treasurer of the national AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department, said organized labor refuses to roll back on such a fundamental right such as collective bargaining.
“Our brothers and sisters don’t ask for any more or any less than what’s provided to every other entity that does business with the state, the city, the county, the town; and that’s a document that spells out what’s expected and what’s given in exchange of the work that’s provided — and that’s a collective bargaining agreement,” he said.
“We’re also here about jobs, both in the private and public sectors,” said Tom Chamberlain, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO.
Chamberlain said good middle-class jobs are needed in the private sector to fuel the economy, and good middle-class jobs are vital in the public sector in order to teach children, protect citizens from harm, and to take care of the less fortunate.
“That’s what this is about — good, middle-class jobs that benefit both the private and public sectors. We need both,” he said.
Kitzhaber said he is working with both labor and business “to bring more industrial land into production and make sure the industrial land that we have is used to produce good, long-term, family wage jobs.”
He also outlined the need to fundamentally change Oregon’s health care delivery system to improve public health; improve the quality of care; and reduce the cost of care. To address those concerns, he said he will propose legislation to transform health care delivery through integration of services; incentives for prevention; and community-based management of chronic conditions.
“Health care can no longer be allowed to grow at double digit rates. If it does, it will continue to rob resources from workers wages, from school funding, and from our common social infrastructure,” Kitzhaber said.
Several lawmakers broke away from their business inside the Capitol to join the rally.
State Rep. Dave Hunt said Oregon House Democrats recently sent a letter of solidarity to Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin. Reading from the letter, Hunt said: “Attacking public employees under the guise of resolving a fiscal crisis is the cynical kind of politics that Americans have rejected time and again. As Oregon has repeatedly shown, balanced budgets and collective bargaining can coexist.”
Hunt warned, though, that some Republicans in the Oregon House aren’t as supportive of collective bargaining rights.
He said the House Republican leader (referring to Kevin Cameron of Salem) recently was asked if he planned to pursue a ban on collective bargaining rights during this session of the Legislature.
“Now what would be the easy answer to that question?” Hunt asked the crowd.
“NO!” they responded.
“Let me read you what he said: ‘We don’t think now is the time to push those buttons,’ “ Hunt said. “That is not a ‘no,’ that is a ‘we wish we could do it right now, but we’re going to try to do it next year, next month, two years from now.”
Hunt stressed the importance of standing together to protect the gains the state has made in recent years in areas of transportation, health care, and worker freedoms, “and continue focusing on moving Oregon not left or right — because I know you all have one direction you want to move Oregon, and that is forward.”
Following the rally, a large contingent of union members went inside the Capitol to listen to and testify on a number of important pro-jobs bills, including Senate Memorial 1, a resolution urging Congress to enact and President Obama to sign the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act.
The TRADE Act requires a review of existing trade pacts, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other major pacts. It spells out what must and must not be included in future trade pacts, and it provides for the renegotiation of existing trade agreements if they don’t meet those standards.