Our workers’ movement must evolve

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

The 2015 Oregon AFL-CIO Convention was a testament to the growth and strength of Oregon’s workers’ movement.  A total of 248 delegates and 148 guests attended to celebrate the accomplishments of the last two years, and to set the course for the next 24 months.  The number of guest itself is significant: Community partners and allied organizations were in attendance, and since the 2013 convention, are allowed to participate in convention debates to bring a different perspective to our movement.

There is a direct link between the success of the Oregon Strong Voice program and the increased participation of our community partners. If you’re unfamiliar, Oregon Strong Voice is a coalition of community-based organizations, activists, and unions in Southern Oregon, Central Oregon, and Lane County that drive progressive policies through city ordinances and elections on the local level.

Examples of our success can be seen in each active region. In Southern Oregon, where Sen. Alan Bates needed a stronger voter contact program, we filled that void and made the difference that swept Sen. Bates across the finish line. In Eugene, building trades unions and community organizations saw how the Multi-Unit Property Tax Exemption (MUPTE) was being manipulated to allow hiring of contractors without proper licenses, wage theft, illegal dumping, and importing workers from out of state, to increase profits.  Oregon Strong Voice Lane County was born from this fight, forming a coalition to call for needed revisions to the MUPTE through Eugene City Council.  To respond to a rental housing shortage in Central Oregon, Central Oregon Strong Voice passed a local ordinance that creates a permitting process for short term rentals by generating funds for affordable housing.

For our workers’ movement to survive, we must constantly evolve. The first resolution of the convention restructured central labor councils from autonomous bodies directly affiliated with the national AFL-CIO, without staff, to Labor Chapters affiliated with the Oregon AFL-CIO, with staff.  Our hope is to build a stronger relationship between chapters and Oregon Strong Voice to increase local power by moving a working people’s agenda.

Convention delegates passed a resolution in support of the $15 minimum wage and a separate resolution directing us to develop strategies to raise the wage through legislation and the ballot. Such strategies must include removing the ban on local governments from establishing a minimum wage that lifts workers out of poverty.

The convention was different —at times like a celebration of our accomplishments, including statewide laws to ban the box, paid sick days, retirement security, organizing wins, and electoral victories. Attendees were proud, and understood that we are now a movement for all workers.

Our success is why there was also a shadow cast across convention.  That shadow is cast by the Koch Brothers, the Freedom Foundation, and the National Right to Work Committee: individuals and organizations whose mission is to destroy the labor movement and stop us as the vehicle of change and voice for working people. Their strategy ranges from anti-worker ballot initiatives to a possible decision by the United States Supreme Court. These are well-funded attacks that we will face for at least the next decade. Convention speakers, plenaries and workshops helped attendees to begin preparing to face challenges ahead, and to understand the need to create a broader movement that grows our community allies and build power at the grassroots.

The Oregon AFL-CIO is positioned well for the fights to come.  As long as we fight, there is hope.

2 Comments on Our workers’ movement must evolve

  1. Hi Tom-

    You talk of being a victim of “well-funded attacks” by “individuals and organizations whose mission is to destroy the labor movement”

    You have just described Ironworkers Local 29’s efforts to unionize or destroy Instafab. False claims of worker abuse and harassment, claims of retaliation and threats that did not happen, complaint after complaint to the NLRB, and even misrepresenting and hiding the union’s involvement in the strike from the very beginning- please tell me why you believe that this behavior is acceptable.

    If you truly want the worker’s movement to evolve as you claim, you might try NOT engaging in this heavy-handed approach that relies on intimidation, misrepresentation, and abusing systems that were meant to protect workers rights, not to land the union more work. If you can’t bring a union into Instafab by telling the workers and the public the truth, then maybe it should not happen. This is supposed to be about the workers.

    If you want to vote in a union, then take a vote. It has been 9 months of trying to tear my company apart any way you can, and no vote. Are you just holding off taking a vote so you try to do as much damage as possible first? Based on what I’ve been seeing, you would probably rather have Instafab just be gone all together than unionized. If you unionized us, you would just have more people to add to your “out of work” list, and you don’t need that. Or is this just about another “organizing win”? You tell me.

    I know that you have a ton of resources at your disposal and can fight for years, and we’re flattered that you covet what we have, but maybe it’s time to look at a new organizing strategy. Maybe one that doesn’t involve “well funded attacks” on businesses like mine.

    Bruce Perkins

  2. RTW is the result of Democrats refusing to repeal Taft Hartley which they have had the votes four times since it’s adoption to repeal. We should expect business to oppose us but demand those that say they are our friends to act like it. As members we should also hold our leadership responsible for not holding Democrats responsible for their failure to act. It is as if the phrase Labor Law Reform does not exist in the minds of our leadership, I guess they don’t want to offend the politicians that claim to be our friends.

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