With two weeks to go before the Nov. 6 mail ballot due date, the Oregon AFL-CIO and union partners are ramping up their political operation. This year, the labor federation’s priorities are re-electing two statewide officials, electing more “worker-friendly” state legislators and judges, ending the corporate kicker tax refund, permitting construction of a private casino, and opposing an effort to eliminate the estate tax on millionaires.
SECRETARY OF STATE: Oregon’s secretary of state is responsible for elections, state agency audits, the state archives and the corporation registry — and, significantly, becomes governor if the governor dies or is incapacitated. Labor-backed Democratic incumbent Kate Brown was a longtime union ally in the Oregon Legislature, and as secretary of state has defended Oregon’s vote-by-mail system and cracked down on abuses by initiative petitioners. Her Republican opponent Knute Buehler has never won public office before, but has campaign funding from a Who’s Who of businesses and wealthy individuals, including a $50,000 contribution from Nike mogul Phil Knight.
LABOR COMMISSIONER: The union movement has a strong interest in who heads the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), because the agency enforces wage and hour, civil rights, and prevailing wage laws; and oversees apprenticeship programs. Incumbent labor commissioner Brad Avakian gets mostly good ratings from Oregon unions for his first four-year term, and he has union support for re-election. Challenger Bruce Starr, a Republican lawmaker, has said he would support making Oregon a right-to-work state. [Unions are weaker in right-to-work states because union-represented workers can’t be required to pay union dues.]
The Oregon AFL-CIO is backing several statewide ballot measures this year:
- CORPORATE KICKER:Measure 85, placed on the ballot by the union-backed nonprofit Our Oregon, would amend the state Constitution to eliminate the corporate income tax “kicker,” and instruct the Legislature to spend those funds instead on K-12 education. The kicker, unique to Oregon, is a state income tax rebate that occurs whenever income tax revenues exceed projections by more than 2 percent. When the corporate kicker refund is issued, Our Oregon points out, most of the money goes to out-of-state companies.
- WOOD VILLAGE CASINO: Measures 82 and 83 would enable development of a casino at a former greyhound track in Wood Village, just east of Portland. Measure 82 amends the Oregon Constitution to allow private off-reservation casinos, and Measure 83 grants permission specifically to the Wood Village casino, which is known as The Grange. The Grange has pledged to employ union workers during the building phase of its proposed casino and entertainment complex, and to provide health benefits to permanent employees and remain neutral if they choose to unionize.
ESTATE TAX: The Oregon AFL-CIO opposes Measure 84. Sponsored by former Oregon Republican Party chair Kevin Mannix, Measure 84 would phase out Oregon’s estate and inheritance taxes by 2016. Less than 3 percent of estates are affected by Oregon’s estate tax, which applies only to estates worth more than $1 million. The estate tax doesn’t apply to surviving spouses, only to children; the tax is 10 to 16 percent after that first $1 million. It’s a small brake on the creation of an idle rich, and it raises over $100 million a year, revenues which are spent on schools, public safety, and social services. Backers are claiming the measure is about saving small farms, but state law already exempts farm, forest or fishing property valued at up to $7.5 million from the estate tax.
MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION: One other initiative has a labor endorsement: Measure 80 —the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act — is backed by United Food & Commercial Workers Local 555, Oregon’s largest private-sector union. Measure 80 would regulate the cultivation and sale of cannabis to persons 21 and over via state stores, and use the proceeds to fund state programs and drug abuse treatment. It would also help kick-start an agricultural hemp industry in Oregon and promote hemp as a source of fiber, food and biodiesel fuel. In its Voters’ Guide statement, Local 555 argues that lifting restrictions on hemp could create thousands of new jobs, including a revitalized pulp and paper sector, as well as biofuel; and decriminalizing marijuana would free up $60 million a year in police resources that would be better spent fighting dangerous crime.
RETAKING THE OREGON HOUSE: Three and five years ago, the Democrat-led Oregon Legislature passed notable pro-union legislation, including making it easier for public-sector employees to unionize, and making it harder for private-sector employers to force workers to attend anti-union meetings. But for the last two years, the Oregon House of Representatives has been split 30-30 between Democrats and Republicans. Unions find support from some individual Republicans on some issues, but on others, legislators largely divide on party lines. The Oregon AFL-CIO is putting energy into backing 10 candidates for the Oregon House of Representatives: Shemia Fagan, Ben Unger, Joe Gallegos, Brent Barton, Chris Gorsek, John Lively, Claudia Kyle, Caddy McKeown, David Gomberg, and Nathan Hovekamp. The state federation is also helping state Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson in her campaign for re-election, and Arnie Roblan, a state rep who is running for an open seat in the Oregon Senate.
The Oregon AFL-CIO is also taking sides in two judicial races:
- For Oregon Supreme Court, the state labor federation has endorsed Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Richard Baldwin, a former Legal Aid and workers-side workers’ compensation lawyer. Baldwin signed the AFL-CIO’s “statement of principles” supporting the rights of workers to form a union without employer coercion. Baldwin is running for an open seat on the court against Nena Cook, a civil attorney and pro tem judge in Multnomah County. She is a partner in the corporate law firm Sussman Shank and is running with endorsements from Teamsters Joint Council No. 37 and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Oregon Area District Council. Cook was the winner in a three-way May primary, capturing 37 percent of the vote. Baldwin finished second with 31.5 percent. The two are vying to succeed Associate Justice Robert “Skip” Durham, who is retiring.
- For Court of Appeals, the Oregon AFL-CIO is backing Linn County Circuit Court Judge James Egan, a former U.S. Marine and Judge Advocate in the U.S. Army in Kuwait. He faces business lawyer Tim Volpert, a partner in the massive Davis Wright Tremaine law firm. Volpert successfully defended Legacy Good Samaritan when it was sued for missed rest and meal breaks.
The Oregon AFL-CIO is seeking volunteers to make phone calls to fellow union members. To sign up, contact Jess at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-232-1195, ext. 114. There’s also a canvass scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 27. Union volunteers are fed, thanked, and given union-made T-shirts and jackets. “And it’s fun,” says Oregon AFL-CIO spokesperson Elana Guiney.