Jo Ann Hardesty was a Democratic state representative from 1995 to 2000 (under her then-name Jo Ann Bowman) and got high marks from labor at the time. She later served as executive director of the nonprofit multi-racial economic justice group Oregon Action, and as president of the NAACP. In 2002, she served as a member Portland Jobs with Justice’s Workers Rights Board, looking at the conditions of nonunion janitors. She’s also has had some differences with labor in the past, and was critical, as part of the African American Chamber of Commerce, of city ordinances backed by building trades unions. In 2003 she testified at City Council against a “responsible contractor” ordinance to track prevailing wage violations among city contractors, because it provided no assurance that people of color or women would be hired by the city for public works projects. Her campaign has focused on housing affordability, homelessness, and police accountability. She’s endorsed by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Portland Association of Teachers, and shares a dual endorsement from PCCFFAP/PCCFCE alongside Andrea Valderrama. Labor Press reporter Don McIntosh spoke with her by phone about her background, her past support and differences with labor, and her ideas for City Council.
Have you ever been a union member or had a union member in your family?
My dad, bless his soul, was a longshoreman. I have normally been in leadership, so I have not had the privilege to be part of a union, but I have always been a fan and a supporter of unions, and of union wage jobs and opportunities.
Do you know what Local he might’ve been in?
I do not, but he was in Baltimore, Maryland.
So that would be the ILA [International Longshore Association]. Was he involved to any extent with the union? Ever go on strike?
I remember my mom, because they were 10 of us, was a stay-at-home mom until my dad was on strike, for, of course, better pay and better working conditions. And I was young at that time. I couldn’t have been more than eight, so that was the only time my dad was actually ever home, because my mom was working at a restaurant while he was on strike. So my dad was a huge fan of unions and their ability to collectively organize. He would be appalled at the Janus court case that we’re waiting to hear back on. [Editors’s Note: In the pending Janus v. AFSCME case, the Supreme Court is expected to bar any requirement that public sector union members pay dues to the unions that represent them.] But being a union member really allowed us to be middle-class, homeowners. And quite frankly when my dad died last year he still was getting better pay than many people I know who are working today, because of his retirement. So I know that the good benefits he had, the good healthcare he had at the end of his life, is absolutely because of his union membership.
What do you think is at stake for working people at City Council?
Oh, I think the biggest issue is the outcome of the US Supreme Court decision about Janus. And I’ve been very clear that regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, we will always be a union town. We will always value unions and collective organizing, and the City Council has a huge role in making that happen.
That’s an interesting thing to say. Is there something City Council can do to preserve the existing arrangement? It seems like if Janus wins, basically it’s going to be a “right-to-work” situation for public-sector workers everywhere, and I’m not sure if I understand what City Council could even do about that.
Well, what City Council could do is pass an ordinance that says all labor agreements remain, and we still value unions, we value collective-bargaining, we value living-wage, family-wage jobs and I would be at the forefront of making sure that there would be no question that we would operate based on our values and not based on what crazy people in office decide.
I guess that’s a good segue to my next question. And you may know this, as someone who pays attention to city politics, but the City has had a very contentious relationship with the unions that represent City workers. Do you have any ideas about a way that things could be different?
Well I mean there are some things that I understand the unions have been negotiating for 15+ years. like differential pay for people with second language skills. In the private sector, oh my gosh, that is a sought-after skill set. And it’s insane that union members have been fighting for 15 years just to get a pay differential for people who speak more than one language. That’s right off the top. I think some things are just so basic why would you even need to negotiate for that? It should be the floor. Not the ceiling.
If I could hand you a magic wand that would give you the power to have a three-person majority on City Council, what are some of the top ordinances that you yourself would like to see enacted?
I’m not coming in with a prepackaged plan “these are the policies that I’m going to push forward.” My campaign has really been about including as many voices as possible, especially those who traditionally aren’t heard at City Hall, and so my goal is to really listen to folks from all corners of the city to help that inform my policies.
I know you do have some policy proposals though. Maybe we can talk about housing for example. Probably the most important crisis facing the city right now is the lack of affordable housing. What do you think you’d like to see the city do, if there something they can do?
Well one thing we have to do is prioritize having housing at every income level in every neighborhood. I think the City of Portland has being doing a poor job of making sure that, regardless of your income, if you work full time, you should be able to afford to live in the city of Portland. Already I have had an impact on the City of Portland making permanent the relocation policy and removing the one-unit exemption. I’m a strong fan of rent control, renter protection. And again I don’t know what all the policies themselves are at the moment, but what I know is we have to make sure that people who work full-time can live and thrive in the city of Portland.
Can I run through a short list of quick policy questions with you?
So, PLAs, what do you think about them in the context of City of Portland construction projects? [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.] Are you for, against, not sure? What what’s your thought?
I think, “Yes, and.” I think by themselves they haven’t done enough to diversify the contracts the City of Portland lets. I’ve been really really disappointed in the outcomes for communities of color and women. I think that’s a good first step, but without accountability measures, without holding people accountable for the outcomes, we continue to get really poor results on those efforts.
Poor results in respect to?
In respect to making it reflect the community that we live in. The people who are benefiting: Do they reflect the community? Are women and people of color really moving into journeyman level jobs on this contract? And we haven’t done a very good job of that at the City of Portland.
Are you familiar with the recent CBA [Community Benefits Agreement, similar to a PLA] that was tried on several city projects — and the numbers they achieved for minority and women participation as apprentices and journeyman?
The City just revised their contracting policies. I sat through many City Council meetings, read their policy proposals. At that time, the proposal was that the Office of Equity and Human Rights would chair this oversight committee, actually manage and monitor upcoming contracts. And I never thought that was a good idea, because I actually think it’s the responsibility of an elected leader to monitor those contracts and it should not be delegated to a low-level bureaucrat.
I have reported on this. And I think there’s a strong case to be made that some of the diversity goals were met on the workforce while maybe not as much success was had on the contractor side.
That’s absolutely true. The contractor side has consistently underperformed but there’s really been no accountability for that.
I know at one time in the early 2000s you testified at City Council alongside [nonunion minority contractor] James Posey critical of a “responsible contracting” ordinance and I just wanted to ask you if you remember that and …
… and if you feel still feel about the same about it.
Well again I’m really focused on outcomes, and I think if we have a vision of what’s possible, then we should have accountability measures built in. And what my experience was back in 2000 and again in 2017, the last time I testified, is that the City sets really lofty goals but rarely achieves those goals. And when they don’t, there’s no analysis to figure out why that was. And to me that’s just poor management, if in fact you can’t figure out why you failed and you’re not putting mechanisms in place to be able to achieve the goals you set. And for me, if we say that this is what our vision is, this is what our values are, the way we budget, the way we contract, should reflect that.
Uber and Lyft: Would you have voted to allow them to operate in the way that City Council did? They’re going to be revisiting it.
I would just say that if I was on Council there’s absolutely no way I would have allowed the company to come in, flaunt the rules and start operating, and then just pretty much say, ‘Well we’re going to do it anyway.’ [Editor’s note: After Uber began operating in open defiance of City ordinances regulating for-hire transportation, Mayor Charlie Hales promised them he’d change the rules to allow them to operate legally.] That would have ben absolutely totally inappropriate. and I’m quite frankly really disgusted that the City just kind of bent over and allowed that to happen.
[In May] there’s a hearing to look at revisiting those rules. Do you have any ideas about what they ought to be?
I will be paying attention. I do have some volunteers who are reviewing some of the proposed changes, because I think Lyft and Uber should have much more of the liability rather than people who are driving their own personal cars. I also want to have an analysis about what’s happening to our taxi companies, since I know how hard it was for the minority cab company to finally get a license. We have a process in place where people who operate legally have to jump through a lot of governmental hoops in order to operate a cab company. So I’m concerned about whether or not Uber or Lyft and any number of quote-unquote shared economy efforts are unduly impacting the people who have had those jobs in the past, especially since the taxi industry has been at least over the last decade primarily immigrants and refugees. It’s been their first opportunity to really learn the city, learn the language and make some resources to support heir family. So I think we need much more information about who’s been detrimentally impacted by these kind of companies that think they can just be middlemen and make a small fortune at the expense of everybody else.
This next question might be a rather odd one for a City Council candidate, but over the years I’ve always asked it because it’s a pretty important one for labor, and you never know where people might end up – accidentally making their way to Congress. The question is about NAFTA and all the copy-cat trade treaties like NAFTA. What’s your view on these?
I haven’t seen a good one yet. I have never supported any of them and I’ve never seen them benefit workers, whether it’s workers in the U.S. or workers anywhere else on the planet.
Last year there was a resolution that passed City Council 5-0 proposing to block fossil fuel infrastructure like LNG export terminals. How would you have voted on that?
I would have voted the exact same way. We have made a commitment to Portlanders, to Oregonians, that by 2050 we’re going to be all renewable energy and I don’t think expanding any fossil fuel terminals leads us where we want to go. We’ve already seen the devastation that can happen when a train derails.
Is there any other message you’d like to convey to our readers, something they should know about you as a candidate?
Well, I believe I have received really excellent union support in this race. I was disappointed not to receive [endorsements from] AFSCME or the Labor Council or some of the other bigger ones. But that is not inconsistent with my history in Portland. When I ran for the Legislature, I never received any of those endorsements either. But I’ve always had a 100 percent voting record for labor.
Actually I think you were endorsed quite a number of times. We reported on it in fact.
Never in the beginning.
So once you were an incumbent, you got the endorsement?
Yeah, of course. They knew I was coming back. [LAUGHS] But it never impacted my working class background, my union values, my commitment to making sure that people have a fair shake in the workplace. But I just want that to be part of the record: I never got the big boy endorsements in the beginning, and I’ve been okay with that.
One other thing your readers might be interested in is I’ve been funded by over 900 individuals, from $5 to $5,000, and the only $5,000 donation was from my ex mother-in-law.
Speaking of, you didn’t mention what I thought was one of your key campaign planks, which is support for public campaign finance.
Yes, access. It’s about whose voice is heard, who has the privilege of running and serving in public office. And yes, I’ve always wanted to make that regular people have that privilege. So I’m pleased that I’ve been monitoring and making sure that the public finance system is funded so that staff can be hired and it’s ready to be rolled out in 2020. [Editor’s Note: Hardesty is referring to a donor-matching public campaign finance system that City Council voted to set up.] Mayor Wheeler has been a bit wiggly on it, but it is on a path now to be available and ready.
They are funding it adequately?
Well, not as much as I would like, but they are at least funding it enough to get the staff in place. I’m going to make sure that this budget cycle they continue to fund it, so it’s ready.