By Don McIntosh
SALEM — In a House chamber packed with union officers and other well-wishers, Val Hoyle raised her right hand and took the oath of office Jan. 7 as Oregon labor commissioner.
“I am fundamentally committed to fulfilling this office in every way,” Hoyle declared, calling it “the most important job nobody has ever heard of.”
The Oregon Labor Commissioner is a statewide elected office that oversees the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), the state agency that enforces wage-and-hour and civil rights laws, sets the prevailing wage on public construction projects, and oversees state-registered apprenticeship training programs.
“This is going to be good for us,” said Matt Eleazer, president of Bricklayers Local 1, one of the dozens of union leaders who turned out to the event. “She stands up for workers rights, and she knows what’s right. She’s been a champion for workers her whole life.”
Hoyle has had lifelong ties to the union movement. Her grandfather was active in the New York Laborers union, and her father Dan Toomey was a firefighter and the president of Fire Fighters Local 789 in Nashua, New Hampshire. [In a happy coincidence, Toomey was sworn in the same day to a seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.] In college she worked as a lobbyist for Massachusetts building trades unions. And during seven years as an Oregon state representative from Eugene, she earned accolades from labor for her work; the Oregon AFL-CIO named her “Legislator of the Year” in 2011.
Hoyle also named several current and former union staffers to her executive team. Her deputy commissioner will be Duke Shepard, who was Oregon AFL-CIO political director from 2006 to 2010, and then served as labor policy adviser to Oregon governor John Kitzhaber from 2011 to 2014. And her executive services director is Sabrina Balderama, who was the membership coordinator for the Portland State University branch of the American Association of University Professors. Hoyle is conducting nationwide searches for administrators of BOLI’s Civil Rights and Wage and Hour divisions.
Only three other states have an elected labor commissioner —Georgia, North Carolina, and Oklahoma. In the rest of the country, state labor and civil rights laws are enforced by agencies directed by administrators appointed by the governor.
Past labor commissioners
- Brad Avakian 2008-2018
- Dan Gardner 2003-2008
- Jack Roberts 1995-2003
- Mary Wendy Roberts 1979-1995
- Bill Stevenson 1975-1978
- Norman Nilson 1955-1974