Legislature ends with mixed reviews

Tom Chamberlain-2015By Oregon AFL-CIO president Tom Chamberlain

The 2015 Oregon Legislature has ended, but with mixed reviews. Strong leadership from Oregon’s House Speaker Tina Kotek ushered through a package of bills to lift up low-wage workers and address economic inequality.

Paid Sick Days: After passing a strong bill last month, nearly half a million more Oregon workers have access to paid sick time. No one should have to choose between taking care of their health, or the health of their family, and keeping their job. This is an important step forward. While we applaud legislation that gives hundreds of thousands of workers access to paid sick time, it comes at a cost.  Senate leadership refused to pass a clean version of Paid Sick Days, and passed a compromise that includes a two-year ban on local governments enacting fair scheduling ordinances that can provide stability and fairness to workers. Such a decision by Senate leadership ignores challenges of workers who must juggle child care, transportation, or are working two jobs when work schedules can change at a moment’s notice.

Retirement Security: This bill ensures that every worker in Oregon can plan for a secure retirement after a lifetime of work.  Workers now have access to a simple, easy and effective way to save, because everyone should be able to provide security for themselves and their families, regardless of where they work.

Ban the Box: Qualified applicants with prior convictions and arrests are regularly shut out of jobs and not given a fair shot at achieving employment. HB 3025 removes from job applications any reference concerning whether an applicant has been arrested or incarcerated. This practice has long been used to deny thousands of ex-offenders access to a job interview trapping them in a cycle of unemployment, low wage jobs and in some cases a return to past behavior. Ban the Box legislation is proven to significantly reduce recidivism.

End Profiling: Profiling by law enforcement happens in Oregon, whether it’s based on race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, or housing status, and there is no statewide system for reporting. By passing this important bill, law enforcement will be prohibited from profiling, and a system to report unfair profiling will be established, because people shouldn’t live in fear and be targeted because of their appearance, country of origin, or religion.

While the 2015 session provided victories for low-wage workers, it failed to raise our minimum wage that currently keeps hundreds of thousands of workers under the federal poverty level. It was a session where Oregon’s Senate was an obstacle to passing needed Oregon public employee collective bargaining reform, allowing public employers to unilaterally implement new programs and practices mid-term of a collective bargaining agreement without a fair process to raise concerns. The Legislature failed to pass a crucial transportation package that would have created thousands of jobs by expanding and improving Oregon’s aging infrastructure by relieving congestion to increase the state’s competiveness in world markets.

Despite the shortcomings, the 2015 session was an example of the power of unions and community coalitions. The Fair Shot for All Coalition was instrumental in passing key components of a workers’ agenda. Thank you for all your efforts.

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