Oregon Legislature moves on prevailing wage, union-busting, PERS, and tuition equity


Attention OUS: No more prevailing wage loopholes

A bill that is a priority for building trades unions passed the Oregon House March 21 and is headed to the Senate. The bill says that regardless of where funds come from, if construction work is done on property that Oregon University System (OUS) owns, will use, occupy, or will ultimately own, the requirement to pay prevailing wage applies. The bill is a response to the construction of several buildings in recent years on public university land, but done with private funds to avoid the requirement to pay the prevailing wage.

HB 2646, sponsored by state representatives Margaret Doherty and Michael Dembrow, passed the Oregon House 47-10.

The day before the vote, Nike lobbyist Julia Brim-Edwards texted state representatives asking that they postpone the vote. They declined.

As of press time, she was said to be working on “modest changes,” to be proposed in the Senate.

It was before the Senate Business and Transportation committee as of press time.

John Mohlis, executive secretary of the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council, said the governor has assured building trades unions he would sign it if it gets to his desk.

Mohlis said the bill is not about restricting donations; it’s about fairness.

“When an owner goes out with a project, they sign an agreement with an architect that says how much they’ll be paid to design a building, and with an engineer that says how much they’ll be paid, and with a general contractor that says how much they’ll be paid, and they in turn sign agreements with subcontractors that say how much they’ll be paid, who sign agreements with material providers as to how much they’ll be paid. The only one that’s not in the equation is the worker. All we’re trying to do with the prevailing wage is make sure the worker gets paid a fair wage and benefits.”


No public money for union-busting

The Oregon AFL-CIO is optimistic about a long-sought reform to stop government managers from spending tax dollars to fight employees attempts to unionize. HB 3342, a bill to do that, got a March 27 hearing at the House Business and Labor Committee.

One example of conduct that would be barred: When faculty at University of Oregon began organizing a union, the university paid $25,000 to a $300-an-hour California anti-union consultant to oppose it, and later, brought in two law firms with expertise in opposing union drives.


PERS fight

Oregon AFSCME is attempting to rally opposition to SB 822, which would apply a new formula to retirees’ cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increases. Under SB 822, retirees would receive the current 2 percent increase on their first $20,000 of retirement income, but the COLA would gradually decrease above that: Retirees would then receive 1.5 percent on any retirement income up to $40,000, 1 percent up to $60,000, and 0.25 percent above that.

The bill passed out of the Senate Rules Committee March 28, and was scheduled for an April 3 vote in the Joint Ways and Means Committee as of press time.

AFSCME’s argument is that retired public employees held up their end of the bargain: They did their jobs and were told at retirement what they’d be receiving. SB 822 changes the state’s end of the bargain. AFSCME also says it’s wrong for the state to seek sacrifices from retired public employees when it’s not asking any new sacrifice from corporations and the wealthiest Oregonians; at the very least, tax breaks and loopholes should be reviewed before retirees and middle class families are targeted.


College tuition equity

Gov. Kitzhaber signed House Bill 2787, the Tuition Equity bill, April 2. The bill allows in-state tuition to students who have attended school in Oregon for at least three years and graduated from an Oregon high school, regardless of their immigration status.

“Telling Oregon kids who have grown up in our state that once it’s time for college they don’t have the same opportunities as their peers has been a losing game,” said Tom Chamberlain, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, which supported the legislation. “When students want to become well-prepared for our changing economy, we should never discourage them or make their goals financially unachievable.”

The legislation passed the Senate  19-11, with all 16 Democrats and three Republicans in favor.

The bill was passed by the House on a 38-18 vote, with five Republicans joining 33 Democrats in favor.

State Rep. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland), a former president of American Federation of Teachers-Oregon, Portland Community College Faculty Federation, led the House effort. He was invited to join Kitzhaber, Senate President Peter Courtney, Oregon students affected by the legislation, and legislative, education, and community leaders, at the signing ceremony.


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