By Tom Chamberlain, Oregon AFL-CIO president
When I first became involved in the union movement, the mantra was to focus on wages, hours, and working conditions, while staying away from everything else. Other issues were viewed as just too controversial for unions to engage in. Many today still view union issues within these parameters. Fair wages, decent benefits, and safe working conditions are critical and central to what we do as unionists, but such a definition does not address the wide range of issues impacting union members — and working people who are not represented by a union.
As the Oregon AFL-CIO, we define ourselves as a strong voice for Oregon’s workers, speaking for union and non-union workers alike. We are outspoken on issues like raising the minimum wage, expanding paid sick days, comprehensive immigration reform, and protections for Uber and Lyft drivers, to name a few.
To be a voice for all workers requires the union movement to not limit itself to only what occurs in the workplace, but to understand that the housing crisis, environmental degradation, our criminal justice system, immigration policies, economic barriers which face the LGBTQ+ community, trade, education, and many other issues impact the lives of workers.
To truly speak for all workers, organized labor must be on the vanguard of change; we must pave the way on a path leading to greater justice and equality for all.
At the Oregon AFL-CIO, our priorities in the state legislature reflect this value as we fight for union and non-union workers’ rights through a wide range of legislation. A key piece of legislation on our agenda this year raises the standard of working conditions and addresses an important issue impacting half of our state’s workforce. The Oregon Workplace Fairness Act (Senate Bill 726) is a multifaceted approach to combating workplace sexual harassment and discrimination through modernizing the statutes that govern these protections. The reasons for this groundbreaking legislation are clear: At least one in four women have experienced workplace sexual harassment, but 75 percent of those women faced retaliation after reporting an incident. A staggering 94 percent of employees experiencing harassment do not file a formal complaint.
The systemic problems of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace must end. Like many problems in our nation, the deck is stacked against workers and in favor of management. We need to tip the scales towards workers, and away from the bosses.
The Oregon Workplace Fairness Act is a strong step forward to balance workplace power. The protections called for by this legislation are commonsense solutions to the institutional problems faced by workers who are victims of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. These solutions are simple changes to the law and put tools into workers’ hands to level the playing field.
You can learn more about SB 726 and how it helps workers at http://www.oraflcio.org/owfa .
To be a strong voice for Oregon’s workers is to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. The imbalance of power in the workplace, in our communities, and in our country will not be undone unless we stand together to call for change. That is why workers stand arm in arm to organize unions and to negotiate fair contracts, and why unions stand arm in arm with the AFL-CIO federation to amplify the voices of workers, to be united, and to make real change that makes the lives of working people better.
The Oregon AFL-CIO is a 138,000-member-strong federation of labor unions.