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.