Oregon union members are stepping up to run for office


By Don McIntosh

Union nurse Rachel Prusak thinks it’s time Julie Parrish retired from the Oregon Legislature. As a nurse practitioner, Prusak makes house calls to care for some of Oregon’s sickest seniors. So when she learned that Parrish, her own state representative, was the Legislature’s biggest obstacle to efforts to fund Medicaid, she took it personally.

Union firefighters Dacia Grayber and Brian Smith get ready to canvass to help elect union nurse Rachel Prusak (center) to the Legislature.

In 2017, to maintain the Medicaid-funded Oregon Health Plan, lawmakers had to find a way to raise revenue, knowing that whatever money they raised would be matched 9-to-1 by the federal government. The plan majority Democrats came up with was to increase a tax on hospital revenue, and levy a 1.5 percent tax on health insurance premiums. Parrish, the Republican state rep for House District 37 (West Linn), didn’t just vote against it. She led an initiative to refer it to voters in an effort to stop it. Voters rubber-stamped the Legislature’s plan by a whopping 62 percent, but not until after Oregon unions spent hundreds of thousands of dollars defending health care for seniors and low-income Oregonians.

Parrish also voted against the minimum wage increase, and against the bill that guaranteed workers paid sick leave. That record bothered Prusak as a nurse and as a citizen so much that she sought out training from the union-affiliated Oregon Labor Candidates School, and threw her hat in the ring.

Now, backed strongly by her own union, Oregon Nurses Association, and by the wider labor movement, Prusak is house-calling voters, not just patients. She estimates she’s personally knocked on the doors of over 3,000 registered voters, and campaign volunteers have knocked on another 22,000. If Prusak wins, she’ll enter the Legislature as a staunch advocate of tax fairness, single payer healthcare, and smaller class sizes. And Oregonians will have a nurse in the room when laws about health care and health insurance are being crafted.

Want union power? Put an electrician in the House

In an era when working people are falling behind, in a state where labor and greens quarrel while forests burn, union electrician Mike Ellison is ready to be part of the turnaround.

A member of IBEW Local 280, he’s running as a Democrat in South Salem’s House District 19, challenging incumbent Denyc Boles. [Boles, a hospital lobbyist, was appointed to the seat when fellow Republican Jodi Hack resigned to head a lobby group for non-union homebuilders.]

St. Monica Apartments, a group foster home for pregnant young women in crisis, opened this May in Keizer. With Northside Electric’s help, IBEW Local 280 member Mike Ellison got the electrical portion of the project donated. (Photo by Christopher Hoy)

Ellison grew up in Albany in a blue collar household headed by a single mom. The ticket to a decent life was a union apprenticeship. For the last 12 years, he’s worked at Northside Electric as a journeyman electrician and project estimator.

He and his wife, a UFCW member at Fred Meyer, have three kids, so he sees the decline in Oregon’s public schools and the burdens teachers face, and thinks successful individuals and corporations aren’t putting enough back into the system.

“It’s time people stand up and say they need to pay their fair share,” Ellison told the Labor Press.

Last June he earned a master’s in renewable energy engineering from the Oregon Institute of Technology. If he wins election, Ellison wants to unite greens and labor, and he wants to ensure labor has input when lawmakers put together a long-anticipated clean energy jobs bill next year.

He would also work to restore the prevailing wage, requiring projects funded with tax breaks to pay construction workers a living wage and benefits.

So far, his campaign has knocked on over 9,000 doors and contacted over 15,000 voters. By the end of October, he hopes to hit 15,000 doors and connect with 25,000 voters.

The strike that lit a match for justice

Like most members, Lane County public health worker Christy Inskip wasn’t that involved in her union. Then last October she and her fellow AFSCME Local 2831 members went on strike. Fighting together for fair wages and benefits sparked in her a passion to fight for workers rights.

A year later, with union support and training from the Oregon Labor Candidate School, she’s challenging the incumbent Republican in House District 7 (Roseburg). Cedric Hayden, a rancher and dentist, holds the same seat his father once did. He voted “no” on paid sick leave, “no” on the minimum wage increase, and “no” on the legislature’s funding package for Medicaid.

Backed by organized labor, AFSCME member Christy Inskip is taking on two-term incumbent state rep Cedric Hayden in Roseburg.

Inskip says it’s past time more women, and more working people, ran for office, and she’s ready to be one of them.

Inskip was raised in the Ozarks of Southeastern Missouri by her dad, a mechanic and farmer, and her mom, a teacher’s aide then nurse. Inskip did them proud, earning a masters degree in public health. She’s worked to educate the public about lead poisoning, asthma, and HIV. Today she runs Lane County’s antismoking program.

Her district leans slightly Republican, but Inskip has been endorsed by Congressman Peter DeFazio and senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden. And she has labor in her corner.

“We need to have people in office who know what it’s like to be a regular working Oregonian,” Inskip told the Labor Press. “We need more working people in the legislature — to represent our needs, not the needs of corporate interests.”

Next election cycle

Prusak, Ellison, and Inskip are just three of the Oregon union members who are making first-time runs for office this year. There are at least half a dozen others are running. Maybe next time it’ll be you? Oregon Labor Candidates School is looking for recruits. To find out more, and get in touch with them at OregonLaborCandidateschool.org


  1. Vote democrat. Vote for higher taxes, tolls on I-5 and 205, vote for Metro’s property tax increase on existing homeowners.


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