Andrea Valderrama is a policy adviser to Mayor Ted Wheeler and former aide to commissioner Steve Novick. She’s also a member of the David Douglas School Board. She is endorsed by AFSCME Local 189 — the largest union of City of Portland employees — and shares a dual endorsement from PCCFFAP/PCCFCE alongside Jo Ann Hardesty. Labor Press reporter Don McIntosh spoke with her by phone about her background and her ideas for City Council.
You have said your parents were union organizers in Peru. I’d like to know more about that.
It was actually my grandparents. My mom was young when she was living there, so it was my grandparents and it was at a time when Sendero Luminoso had been growing. [Editor’s Note: Sendero was a Maoist revolutionary group with a reputation for fanatical violence.] So any other organizing that was not aligned with Sendero was pretty dangerous. And my grandmother was a secretary. She had been working for some type of political office and her and my grandfather and her brother were kind of doing different organizing of workers, again trying to have conversations with people about whether a really extremist type of new government was something that they want.
What part of Peru were they in?
This happened in Lima, which is central Peru.
Were you born there?
I was born in the States.
I was just interested to know if you had a union organizing tradition in the family, what that consisted of. It doesn’t sound like you know many details?
Right, I don’t know. My mom had organized here in the states. With SEIU.
Where was that?
That was in Daly City [California]. She was a nurses assistant. At Seton Medical Center.
Yeah, she was a CNA.
And do you know what local it was?
I don’t. But she worked at Seton Medical Center and it was SEIU.
Is she still a member?
She’s not, no. When she moved to Oregon she went into a different line of work.
What about you? Have you ever been a member of a union before?
I have not.
What do you think is at stake for working people at City Council in terms of policy issues that you expect to be looked at in the next few years?
That’s a good question. A lot. Our workforces are changing. I don’t think about the current workforce but the future workforce, making sure we do have things like the language differentials. [Editor’s Note: She’s referring to a sore point for AFSCME Local 189, which has been unable to get the City to pay a premium to workers who can speak a second language in interactions with the public.] But I think even more than that, Portland continues to face this affordability crisis. I really worry about the opportunities for workers, the lack of opportunity for workers to have any kind of economic stability — if more and more of their paycheck goes to housing and healthcare expenses, and less and less goes to savings.
What can City Council do about any of that?
Well, a lot. I think first and foremost we can make sure that we are providing a living wage.
You mean for City employees?
Absolutely. And we should also make sure that we continue to be a family-friendly city. I’m a big proponent of family-friendly policies.
So I guess I’m looking to get what might be the top ordinances you would be looking to enact that would impact affordability, living wages etc. Was there a specific about the family friendly policies?
I think continuing things like enacting a family-friendly schedule for working families is important to me.
But that’s already state law, right? [Editor’s note: Last year the Oregon Legislature passed a law that mandates predictable schedules for workers at large retail, hospitality and food service employers — and extra pay when schedules change at the last minute.]
Right, but we need to implement it. We need to make sure we’re holding our own agencies accountable, providing those flexible schedules when they’re requested. It’s not just passing it; it’s making sure it is successfully implemented.
I don’t know that the City has any role in it though. [The new law is enforced by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.]
Well, we want to make sure that folks are actually provided a flexible schedule once it’s requested. That’s where implementation matters.
Are you speaking of the private sector?
Both. The private sector and our own city agencies.
Are there any particular policies you would like to put forward then?
Well, I’m just really interested in seeing how we are implementing it in general. So, how are bureaus handling it? Could we also be looking at other policies around looking at preventing wage theft? And like I said, I’m really interested in exploring language differentials, which I think could be a really key part of this as well.
What about on housing?
What’s the question?
What if anything would you like to specifically propose at the City Council that would deal with the housing affordability crisis?
I think we could do a better job continuing to ask for a better tools like rent control and implementation of a just cause eviction standard. That’s something that I’ll certainly be advocating for — one of the first things to get on our legislative agenda. So we can continue to use that strength of our lobbying team.
So let’s say that [Oregon House Speaker] Tina Kotek succeeds in getting rid of the ban on local rent control ordinances. Would you be in favor of enacting something like that in Portland?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. So then that would mean a process of making sure that we’re looking at, you know, what that would look like, and that we’re engaging with those most directly impacted.
When you say “those most directly impacted,” who are you talking about?
What are your thoughts on PLAs or CBAs, and I’m guessing you’re probably familiar with them. [Editor’s note: A PLA, or Project Labor Agreement, is an agreement to use union labor on a construction project. Recent local PLAs have also set goals for participation of minority and women as workers and contractors. A CBA, or Community Benefits Agreement, is similar.] Do you think they should be required on the city projects generally?
Yeah absolutely. We have them for a reason. I think it is really important especially in this affordability crisis to prevent displacement as much as possible. And part of that strategy does require economic stability, so making sure that we are doing everything we can to ensure local hiring, that we’re giving WMESB [Women- and minority-owned business, and emerging small business] contractors as much as possible, that we are providing this infrastructure in a way that works well for the businesses or the community at large. So all of that is really key. I will be really eager to figure out how to make sure that is expanded as much as possible.
Loretta Smith says, for example, that she would like to see a PLA on every city construction project. Would you go so far as that?
I think that would be an interesting idea to explore. I don’t quite know every single construction project. I’m not sure what that would mean. Certainly over a certain number of dollars would be appropriate. But I think in general the values around making sure locally that we’re not having any contractors or subcontractors who are at fault of wage theft.
What are your thoughts on the decision a few years ago to allow Uber and Lyft, the so-called transportation network companies, to operate in Portland, but under terms somewhat different from those the cab companies are required to operate under?
I think that was definitely a difficult decision that the council had to make. Certainly I’m a big fan of equity. We have to make sure that we’re treating everyone as equitable as possible. I’m not quite sure that’s been something that our taxi drivers have actually felt. So I am interested in looking at how we can revisit that.
Do you have any ideas of something you’d like to see, if it’s revisited?
Not right now. I haven’t spent so much time on the details of that.
Here is a question that probably doesn’t have much to do with City Council but it something that unions are interested in, because maybe one day you’ll end up in Congress. What is your position on NAFTA and treaties like NAFTA, of which there are quite a few at this point?
That’s a random question.
It’s random, I guess, but if you have no position, or have never thought of it, that’s an actual answer, and that’s fine.
Yeah, I would definitely need more information on that. I’ve been so hyperfocused.
I recognize it’s not in the City Council’s bailiwick. But national issues do go before city Council sometimes. For example, last year an ordinance passed 5-0 stating an opposition to the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure. Would you have been on board with that also? Or would you have been critical of that?
I think it’s another one where I would be really interested in learning more about that.
Would you make an argument that for working people, for union members, you would be a better choice than the other candidates? Why should our readers vote for you?
Yeah again I think coming from a background of working-class folks, I think that it matters to have someone who knows what it means to work hard and still barely make ends meet. I think that’s what a lot of Portlanders are facing. So we have to have leadership that not only has that experience but also knows how to be successful in City Hall, how to work well with colleagues and make sure that we are passing legislation, that when they go home they feel that sense of urgency that the rest of Portland is feeling, in not only our housing crisis but affordability and making sure that families can live here long term if that’s something that they want. We should be providing that opportunity for them.