Don’t rely on politicians, Avakian tells union retirees


The Oregon Alliance for Retired Americans (ORARA) held its 10th annual convention March 9 in Portland. ORARA is a constituency group of the AFL-CIO.

Delegates elected Scott Blau of the National Association of Letter Carriers as  president; Linda Delucia of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), 1st vice president; Barney Gorter of SEIU, 2nd vice president; Jim Gerhardt of AFSCME, treasurer; Leanna Hakala of the Oregon School Employees Association, secretary; Jim Davis, board member-at-large; and Grady Storms of Communications Workers of America, Roz Geise of SEIU, and member-at-large Ron Rogers, trustees.

Delegates passed several resolutions, including: support of six-day delivery for the Postal Service; to undo the Citizens United (corporations are people) court decision; to close unnecessary tax loopholes for the wealthy and corporations; to strengthen truth-in-advertising laws for senior-oriented ads; and to correct flaws in voting procedures that make it more difficult for citizens to vote.

Keynote speaker, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, talked about the future of organized labor. He expressed optimism that unions will survive, but said, “it’s going to take some work.”

Avakian said with today’s political system so totally dependent on money, unions shouldn’t count on politicians for help. “Stay in touch with politicians, build relationships with them, and use them — but never rely on them,” he said.

Avakian said when the labor movement was booming in the 1850s and early 20th century, “It didn’t boom because politicians did things, it boomed because workers understood the importance; workers did it. Workers organized. Workers went to worksites and said ‘join the union, because this is how you’re going to get a living wage.’ It wasn’t some U.S. senator or state representative that went to the worksite and said ‘let’s all get together and even the playing field in the workplace.’ It was workers and unions that did it, and if that is ever going to be that way again in this country, it’s going to be because you do it.”

Avakian challenged retirees to stay close to their union locals and to remind union leaders how important it is to organize new workers.

“Union membership is down across the country, and frankly, it’s because unions are not out there organizing like they used to organize,” he said.

State Rep. Michael Dembrow reported on progress of his Health Care for All Oregonians bill in the Oregon Legislature. He said it will need the support of large numbers of Oregonians in order to pass. For now, he encouraged support for a bipartisan bill to study and compare future costs of three types of health coverage for Oregon.

Dembrow received pushback from several delegates about potential changes to the PERS retirement system that could lower benefits to average recipients.

Membership to the Oregon Alliance for Retired Americans is $10 a year. The group meets the second Thursday each month in the board room of Labor’s Community Service Agency,  1125 SE Madison, Portland. For more information, call 503-464-6062.


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