2018 will be viewed as a pivotal year for the American labor movement. From the U.S. Supreme Court’s highly anticipated Janus decision to a historic midterm election, working people stood together and demonstrated why collective action works.
The year 2018 began with a report from the U.S. Department of Labor that for the first time in this century, union membership grew — by 262,000. Organizing is up across the board: Oregon’s union membership grew by 34,000 members. In Texas, where public sector collective bargaining is illegal, membership grew by 80,000. This membership growth coincided with polling released in the fall of 2017 revealing 60 percent of Americans would join a union if given a chance.
Oregon’s organizing escalated in 2018. Nearly a thousand workers in behavioral health non-profits, graduate students at OHSU, and temporary and on-call workers at Multnomah County entered the union movement by standing together to join AFSCME. Over a thousand faculty at Oregon State University and Oregon Institute of Technology stood strong and joined AFT-Oregon. Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals increased membership through organizing health care workers. Machinists gained national attention by helping welders at Precision Castparts form their union and weather an onslaught of appeals by the employer. Burgerville workers organized historic unions at three shops. In May the Portland City Council passed a resolution sponsored by the Oregon AFL-CIO to implement a Drivers Board to address Lyft and Uber driver issues — a step forward to give drivers a voice.
We beat back attacks on health care. The 2017 Oregon Legislature provided funding to continue health coverage for 1 million Oregonians through the Oregon Health Plan, almost half of whom are children. A group headed by Rep. Julie Parrish was successful in gathering enough signatures to place the Oregon Health Plan funding package on the ballot for a January 28 special election. A coordinated effort by Oregon’s union movement, health care organizations, and businesses upheld the funding measure with over 60 percent voter support.
We defended our rights as workers to have strong unions. In June the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Janus v. AFSCME, effectively ending the requirement of represented public employees to pay fees to administer their contract. The now-infamous Freedom Foundation predicted the end of public sector unions, thinking workers would flock to drop their membership. But a massive drop in membership just hasn’t happened because Oregon’s union movement has been preparing for an anti-worker Supreme Court decision for years. Oregon AFL-CIO Chief of Staff Graham Trainor led the effort to assist and provide resources for internal organizing. Some unions changed their structures to more directly communicate with membership. By strengthening the relationship with members, unions inoculated against the misinformation presented by the Freedom Foundation.
America watched as educators marched across the nation from West Virginia to Arizona to Washington State for better pay, benefits and increased education funding. The courage of these actions captured the hearts and minds of the American public. This fever of renewed activism was not limited to educators: workers stood together and spoke up through bargaining, strike votes, and strikes. Workers spoke out: dissatisfied with wage stagnation and shrinking benefits while more and more of the wealth of our nation is enjoyed by a select few.
Renewed American activism played a huge role in the 2018 November elections. A historic number of working people, women, and people of color ran for office. Volunteers flooded the streets, phone/text banks and worksites to elect candidates who shared their views. In Oregon we defeated ballot measures that would have limited women’s access to health care, overturned Oregon’s Sanctuary Status, and created tax loopholes for big business. We re-elected Gov. Kate Brown and gained supermajorities in the Oregon House and Senate.
In Lane County we replaced anti-worker County Commissions with pro-worker commissioners. Central to all those wins were dedicated union volunteers stepping up and working hard.
2018 was a year where working people proved that if we are bold enough, tough enough, and strategic enough we can change our state and nation from one that is focused on an agenda that rewards the rich and powerful to one that gives opportunity to all.
The Oregon AFL-CIO is a 138,000-member-strong federation of labor unions.