Labor highlights from the 2017 Oregon Legislature

By Don McIntosh

In its now-concluded 2017 session, the Oregon Legislature passed two pieces of first-in-the-nation labor legislation: cracking down on abusive scheduling practices by employers, and preventing local jurisdictions from passing antiunion “right-to-work” ordinances. Lawmakers also passed a $5.3 billion transportation funding package that was stalled for years. And they passed a tax on health care providers to make up for a long-planned drop in the federal Medicaid funding that pays for the Oregon Health Plan.

Could they have done more? Democrats held a 35-25 majority in the House and a 17-13 majority in the Senate. Tackling the affordable housing crisis was a top priority for Democratic House Speaker Tina Kotek. Her bill — to curb no-cause eviction and eliminate the statewide ban on local rent control ordinances — passed the House but failed to win passage in the Senate.

And most importantly, the Legislature once again failed to pass tax reform, with the result that Oregon continues to have underfunded schools and services, and the lowest overall tax burden on business of any state in the nation. No proposal was able to get the required 3/5ths supermajority to raise taxes.

Here are the top union-backed bills this session:

  • Fair Scheduling SB 828, which was the top priority for UFCW Local 555, requires large retail, hotel, and food service establishments to provide at least 10 hours between work shifts, post work schedules at least two weeks in advance, and pay for last-minute employer-requested schedule changes. [Passed House 46-13, Senate 23-6]
  • Transportation HB 2017, the top priority for the Oregon Building Trades, authorizes $5.3 billion over the next eight years for congestion-reducing projects on I-5, I-205, and OR-217, plus highway, bridge, and transit projects around the state. Funds come from a 10-cent gas tax hike, a $16 vehicle registration fee increase, a 0.1 percent payroll tax and a 0.5 percent tax on new car sales. The projects are likely to employ many hundreds of union construction workers. [Passed House 39-20, Senate 22-7]
  • No local ‘right-to-work’ SB 1040 guarantees the right of private-sector employers and unions to negotiate ‘union security’ agreements (requiring represented members to pay union dues) The law is intended to head off local ‘right-to-work’ ordinances, such as one proposed in Coos County, that seek to ban such agreements, capitalizing on a November 2016 federal court decision. [Passed House 41-17; Senate 17-12]
  • Cover All Kids  Under Obamacare, most Oregon children get free health insurance if their parents make less than triple the poverty line. SB 558 extends that eligibility to an estimated 15,000 immigrant children who lack legal residency status — at a cost of about $36 million.[Passed House 37-23, Senate 21-8]
  • Shore up Medicaid HB 2391 raises over $300 million a year in new funds to maintain Oregon’s ‘Obamacare’ Medicaid expansion in the face of a long-planned reduction in the federal government’s share of the program’s costs. It does that by increasing Oregon’s existing hospital provider tax to 6 percent of net revenue (from 5.3 percent) and adding a 1.5 percent tax on insurers and 4 percent on smaller rural hospitals. [Passed House 36-23, Senate 20-10]
  • Reproductive Health Equity HB 3391 requires insurers to cover reproductive services at no cost to the patient, and  extends Oregon Health Plan coverage of reproductive health services to 23,000 women who would be eligible for Medicaid except for their immigration status. [Passed House 33-23, Senate 17-13]
  • Overtime protections for manufacturing workers HB 3458 started as a business-backed effort to strike down a worker-friendly legal interpretation of a law requiring overtime pay after 10 hours in factories and mills. But labor organizations succeeded in amending the bill to guarantee 10 hours rest between shifts of eight hours or more, plus a new weekly cap of 60 hours, and no mandatory workweeks longer than 55. Unionized workers are allowed to waive some of those provisions in their collective bargaining agreement. [Passed Senate 30-0, House 51-8]
  • Apprentice opportunities on public works HB 2162 mandates that state construction contracts of over $5 million require contractors to make sure at least 10 percent of the work hours are performed by apprentices. The requirement also applies to subcontractors that do at least 25 percent or $1 million of the work. [Passed House 54-4, Senate 24-4]
  • Expanded union rights for professors HB 3170, a priority for AFT-Oregon, allows public university faculty to unionize even when they have some supervisory responsibility. [Passed Senate 17-13, House 36-22]

Some key union-backed bills that failed to win passage

  • Protection for Renters In response to a crisis of rising rents, HB 2004 would have lifted a state-wide pre-emption on local rent control ordinances, and it would have barred landlords from evicting a tenant for no cause after six months of a tenancy. It passed the House with support from all Democrats except Caddy McKeown and Brad Witt. But it couldn’t find majority support in the Senate, even after the bill was watered down so much that it lost the support of the union-styled group Portland Tenants United. Housing advocates blame Democratic Senators Rod Monroe and Betsy Johnson for the failure. Former state rep Shemia Fagan has already announced she will challenge Monroe in the primary because of it.   [Passed House 31-27; failed to get a vote in the Senate]
  • Paid Family Leave HB 3087 would have created a family and medical leave insurance program to provide workers with paid leave for the birth of a child, an illness, or military service, funded by payroll contributions up to 0.05 percent of employee wages to be paid by employers and employees. The Legislature’s attorneys determined that those contributions would be considered a tax, which meant supporters would have to get a 3/5 supermajority to pass it. Given that hurdle, the bill didn’t make it to a vote.

On nearly every legislative issue, unions went to Salem with allies and in coalitions. One of those was Fair Shot for All, which includes the Oregon AFL-CIO, Oregon AFSCME, Oregon Education Association, American Federation of Teachers-Oregon, Oregon Nurses Association, Service Employees International Union, and United Food and Commercial Workers, and over a dozen community  groups. Three of its five priority bills passed this year: Cover All Kids bill, Reproductive Health Equity, and a bill targeting racial profiling by police. But two came up short: the paid family medical leave bill and the renter protection bill.

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