Four graduates of the Oregon Labor Candidates School are on the ballot in the May 2015 special election. With funding from 11 labor unions, Oregon Labor Candidates School was set up as a non-profit in May 2012 to train rank-and-file union members to run for all levels of public office. Since then, 60 union members have gone through the training program, 16 have run for office, and six have won election: State Rep. Rob Nosse (Oregon Nurses Association); Hillsboro City Council member Kyle Allen (Working America); Scappoose School Board member Joseph Lewis (AFSCME); Parkrose School Board member Erick Flores (Oregon Education Association); Multnomah Education Service District board member Francisco Acosta, Jr. (American Federation of Teachers); and Klamath Falls Community College board member Austin Folnagy (Service Employees International Union).
The four graduates on the ballot in May are all working people who are active in their unions, so if they ever have a role to play in a public fight over workers rights, they’ll know which side they’re on.
Michael Sonnleitner, 65, is one of two candidates challenging the incumbent for a position of the board of Portland Community College (PCC), representing Zone 3, which runs from Johns Landing to outer Southeast and Northeast Portland. Sonnleitner is a member of the PCC Federation of Faculty and Academic Professionals (AFT Local 3922) and has taught political science at PCC for 27 years. Under state law, he’d have to quit his job at PCC if elected to its board. But he says that’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make. Sonnleitner says the current PCC board too often rubber-stamps proposals from the administration; he opposes a recently approved series of tuition increases, and wants management to tighten its belt.
Jaime Rodriguez, 52, is running for Hillsboro School Board, Position 7. Rodriguez has worked since 1999 as a career specialist at Portland Community College’s Rock Creek campus, helping students and unemployed workers assess their interests and skills, and advising them on a career path. He’s a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 2277 (PCC Federation of Faculty and Academic Professionals) and serves as vice president of political action for both his local and for AFT-Oregon. He also represents Local 2277 as a delegate to the Northwest Oregon Labor Council. Rodriguez ran for a different at-large position on the Hillsboro School Board in 2013, and finished second in a three-way race with 40 percent of the vote. Now he’s challenging one-term incumbent Wayne Clift, who ran unopposed four years ago. Rodriguez is the only Latino candidate running this year, in a district where 40 percent of students are Latino and many are speakers of English as a second language. And with incumbent Adriana Cañas not running for re-election, he’d be the only Latino member on the seven-member school board.
Siobhan Burke, 46, is one of two candidates running for an open board seat in Zone 3 of the Multnomah Educational Service District. Burke is a special education aide at Pioneer Alternative School in Portland, and serves as a work site representative with her union, Portland Federation of School Professionals (AFT Local 111). She’s also a former staff organizer for Chicago Jobs with Justice. She has two children in Portland Public Schools, and last year got involved with the Portland Teachers Solidarity Campaign,
Portland Parent Union, a group that formed to support Portland teachers as they prepared for a possible strike. Burke says there’s a lot to disagree with about MESD’s current leadership, including aggressive bargaining postures it’s taken toward union workers, and the recent controversial firing of Brett Bigham, a 2014 teacher of the year.
Susan Hardy, 70, is running for school board in Oakridge, Oregon, a town of 3,200 an hour east of Eugene. Hardy, a member of Oregon School Employees Association, retired after many years as a family advocate at Head Start of Lane County. Now she works part-time for Head Start coordinating a child passenger safety program, and she’s active in the OSEA retiree group, ROSE. Hardy was bothered a few years ago when the Oakridge School District contracted out its school bus operation. Now, she’s running because she loves kids and wants to make a difference.
Oregon Labor Candidates School is organizing canvasses to help its graduates get elected. The next one is for Hillsboro School Board candidate Jaime Rodriguez at 2 p.m., Sunday, May 3, meeting at 1931 SE 55th in Hillsboro. To get involved, contact Sara Ryan at 503-957-0306 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And find out more about the school here.