Labor may go to the Oregon ballot on tax reform and workers rights

A ballot initiative campaign to end abusive scheduling launched June 3 at the headquarters of the Oregon Working Families Party. Within a day, the campaign had half of the signatures it needs to get to the next phase.

By Don McIntosh

Oregon’s biggest unions have begun the groundwork for ballot measures aimed at the 2018 ballot — in case the Democratic-led Oregon Legislature doesn’t deliver. Lawmakers have just weeks remaining in the 2017 legislative session, and several key labor priorities — including major tax reform and a curb to abusive workplace scheduling practices — have failed to win passage so far.

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 555 is backing a pair of prospective initiatives that would legislate a “Fair Work Week.”

Oregon AFSCME and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 are backing initiatives to make corporations disclose how much they pay in state income tax.

And Oregon Education Association (OEA) is behind a pair of initiatives to increase revenue and direct it to schools.

Under Oregon law, ballot initiative campaigns must first submit 1,000 valid signatures before the state attorney general’s office determines what ballot title and description voters will see alongside the initiative. That wording can make a big difference in how well an initiative does at election time, so it’s usually a contested process that can take six months to complete. That means initiative campaigns that are starting now can expect to be approved for general circulation by about January 2018, giving them about six months to gather the signatures they’ll need to get on the November 2018 ballot.

Here are each of the initiative petitions in greater detail.

  • IP 23: Fair Work Week I Employers would have to pay to cancel or reduce shifts at the last minute: at least four hours pay, or the scheduled work shift (if it’s shorter than four hours), any time a worker gets less than 24-hours notice that a shift has been cancelled or reduced. Also, state laws that prevent local governments from passing ordinances on work schedules or sick leave would be repealed. Chief petitioner: UFCW Local 555 Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Anderson
  • IP 24: Fair Work Week II Same as Fair Work Week I, but in addition, retail, hospitality and food service establishments with 50 or more employees in Oregon would face a number of requirements. They would have to provide employees a written good faith estimate of their work schedule at time of hire. They’d have to publish employee work schedules two weeks in advance, and compensate employees with one hour of pay for changing the schedule after that (except in cases where employees mutually agree to swap shifts), and pay half-time for any hours lost from shortened or cancelled shifts, as well as for any on-call shifts if the employee isn’t asked to work. And they’d be barred from requiring employees to work a shift less than 10 hours after the end of the previous day’s shift. Employees who agreed to those so-called “clopening” shifts would get time-and-a-half pay for hours they work that are less than 10 hours after the previous shift. Chief petitioner: UFCW Local 555 Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Anderson.
  • IP 25: Corporate Accountability and Transparency Each year, publicly traded corporations would have to publicly disclose information including how much they pay in state taxes, as well as their total Oregon sales, and the total Oregon wages and compensation they pay. Chief petitioners: SEIU Local 503 President Steve Demarest, and Oregon AFSCME Executive Director Stacy Chamberlain.
  • IP 26: Oregon’s Kids Deserve Quality Schools Amends the Constitution to require the Oregon Legislature to appropriate sufficient funds to ensure that the state’s system of public education meets quality goals established by law. And in order to comply with that obligation, it would allow the Legislature to raise taxes on corporations via a simple majority vote, not the supermajority required by a previous constitutional change approved narrowly by voters in 1996. Chief petitioners: OEA Director Jennifer Scurlock and board member Benjamin Gorman.
  • IP 27: Invest in Oregon’s Future Legislates a slight decrease in personal income taxes, and a new corporate minimum income tax equal to 0.95 percent of gross sales. The new business tax would go into a special account: 80 percent would go to K-12 schools, and 20 percent to community colleges and state universities. Chief petitioners: OEA Director Jennifer Scurlock and board member John Larson

As a constitutional change, IP 26 would require 117,578 valid signatures from Oregon voters to get on the ballot; all the others would need 88,184 signatures.

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