Nurses union rep Rob Nosse runs strong House campaign in inner Southeast Portland

Oregon Nurses Association’s Rob Nosse (left) chose to get on the ballot by collecting 500 signatures, rather than by paying a $25 filing fee.
Oregon Nurses Association’s Rob Nosse (left) chose to get on the ballot by collecting 500 signatures, rather than by paying a $25 filing fee.

By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor

The union movement has a chance this year to enlarge the Oregon Legislature’s informal “labor caucus” — lawmakers with a background in organized labor. Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) union representative Rob Nosse is running for state representative, and the Oregon AFL-CIO and other labor organizations are devoting considerable resources to his campaign.

Nosse [rhymes with dose], a Democrat, is running in House District 42, the inner Southeast Portland district that extends from I-84 to Reed College and from the Willamette River to 33rd, 50th, and 62nd Avenues. Nosse and five other Democrats are vying to replace Jules Bailey, the district’s current representative, who is running for Multnomah County Commission. Whoever gets the most votes from among the district’s 26,035 registered Democrats in the May 20 primary is considered certain to win office in November, since no Republican filed to run in the district where only 6 percent of registered voters are Republican.

“I think it’s very important to get people that have a union perspective in [the state Capitol],” Nosse told the Labor Press, “people who have struggled to get a contract, struggled to bargain for benefits and decent wages and decent working conditions. I understand that in my gut, because I’ve spent my career trying to do those things, to make work better and more humane.”

I think it’s very important to get people that have a union perspective in [the state Capitol]” — Rob Nosse

Nosse, 46, is an Ohio native who was active in student government in college, and eventually headed the Ohio Student Association. After graduating from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, with a philosophy degree, he moved to Oregon in 1992 to direct the Oregon Student Association. There he got to know labor organizations while lobbying the Legislature for better state college funding. The acquaintance led to short-term political jobs for Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Oregon AFSCME Council 75, and Oregon Education Association, and in 1996, state workers union SEIU Local 503 hired him as an organizer. In 2000, he joined the staff at SEIU Local 49, which represents hospital support workers, and in 2004, he went to work for ONA. Today he helps bargain and enforce union contracts covering 1,200 ONA members at Providence Portland Medical Center, Providence Hood River, and the ProvRN nurse advice line call center. Nosse and other ONA staff are themselves represented by a union — Teamsters Local 223 — so Nosse is a Teamster, and he’s also president of his bargaining unit.

Nosse says his union representative skill set could serve him well as a legislator.

“Passing laws and bargaining a contract are very similar,” Nosse said. “People make proposals, and then you have to dig into the proposal. What’s the impact? What’s it cost? Is it going to do the thing that we want it to do? Can we get management to agree? There’s a back and forth.”

In the fall of 2013, Nosse attended the Oregon Labor Candidate School, which gets unionists ready to run for public office. When he learned his state representative was leaving, he jumped in.

Since Nov. 17, Nosse and his supporters have knocked on over 13,000 doors, raised over $118,000, and secured endorsements from 17 labor organizations. Nosse said he can’t imagine campaigning without the support of organized labor. Most of his campaign contributions are from labor organizations or individual unionists, and unions have also made $32,000 in-kind contributions: ONA staff political organizer Jenn Baker is assigned half-time to help his campaign, and his campaign is being run out of a trailer at the Oregon AFL-CIO headquarters, which happens to be located in his district.

Nosse is also backed by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and the gay civil rights organization Basic Rights Oregon (BRO). BRO’s campaign for same sex marriage is personal for Nosse: He and his partner Jim Laden have been together 21 years, and have two adopted kids; son Helazo and daughter Elisia attend Franklin High School. In 2003, Nosse and Laden used their tax refunds to buy wedding rings and get married in Vancouver, Canada, but same-sex marriages aren’t yet recognized in Oregon.

Nosse is also a lifelong Catholic who serves on the parish council at Southeast Portland’s St. Philip Neri Catholic church, which he’s attended since 2000.

He hasn’t regularly been in the Capitol since 1996, so if elected he’ll have to relearn the nitty gritty. Nosse said he’ll rely on groups he trusts to keep him informed on legislation that comes before him.

“As a candidate you run on themes and values,” Nosse said. “What matters is who you listen to and where you get your information.”

Here are some of his thoughts on top issues:

  • Health care: “I work at a nurses union, so making sure that people have access to health care that’s good, and affordable, is super important to me. I want to see the Affordable Care Act get implemented to the best of its ability in this state, but I hope we get to a more universal system at some point down the road, like we have in every other industrialized country.”
  • Tax reform: “I want to make sure we have a tax base that’s fair and progressive, that fixes some of the problems with property tax Measure 5, and that pays for state services that working class and middle class people rely on. Those who earn more should pay more, and businesses that do well should pay their fair share.”
  • Same-sex marriage: “I want my partner and I to be able to be legally married in this state.”
  • Environment: “Something’s got to be done to mitigate the effects of global warming, and I think it needs to be done in a way that supports workers and families that need jobs. We can have policies that do both.”

In Oregon’s “citizen legislature,” lawmakers aren’t full-time professional politicians but citizens who typically return to their regular jobs when the Legislature is not in session. Nosse said if elected he’ll continue working at ONA.

To send Rob Nosse to the State House, the Oregon AFL-CIO is putting its political operation to work, with phone banks planned every Tuesday and Thursday at 5:30 p.m. starting April 15, and a big door-to-door canvass May 3 at 10 a.m. Both will be run out of the Oregon Labor Center at 3645 SE 32nd Ave. Ballots for Oregon’s 2014 primary will be mailed out April 30 and must be received by May 20.


Rob Nosse is endorsed by: Oregon Nurses Association, Oregon AFL-CIO, Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council, Oregon AFSCME Council 75, Oregon State Council of Firefighters, Oregon School Employees Association, American Federation of Teachers-Oregon, Communications Workers of America Local 7901, Ironworkers Local 29, Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers Local 1, Oregon Cement Masons Local 555, UFCW Local 555, IBEW Local 48, Teamsters Joint Council 37, United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 290, and SEIU 49 and 503.


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