New wage and hour chief comes to Oregon from the national union movement

By Don McIntosh

The top Washington DC lobbyist for North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) is starting a new assignment: Oregon Wage and Hour Administrator. Hired by Oregon Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle, Sonia Ramirez began her new position July 8.

Sonia Ramirez is a former top lobbyist for the national building trades. (Photo courtesy of Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries)

Wage and Hour administrator oversees staff responsible for enforcing a range of vital workers rights laws, from minimum wage and overtime rules to child labor, farm and forest labor contracting laws, and requirements that contractors pay the prevailing wage on public construction projects.

As NABTU government affairs director in Washington, DC, Ramirez fought to defend the federal prevailing wage law, known as Davis-Bacon, from attacks by union foes in Congress. She served nine years in that capacity. Before that, she was a lobbyist on immigration policy for the national AFL-CIO.

Ramirez met Hoyle through NABTU when Hoyle went to Washington as a state legislator, but Hoyle was as surprised as any when Ramirez decided to make a career change and apply for the job in Oregon. Ramirez sees it as a continuation by other means of her work on behalf of working people.

Ramirez grew up bilingual in a building trades union household in Los Angeles, the youngest of nine children of parents who immigrated to the United States from Mexico. Her father, formerly a union member in Mexico, was a member of Laborers Local 300 in Los Angeles for 50 years. Growing up, her father’s union meant food on the table, and a chance to see Santa Claus at the union hall every year. Later, at NABTU, she became a journeyman member of her father’s local by invitation of national Laborers Union president Terry O’Sullivan. Even now as wage and hour administrator, she maintains her membership in the union.

“I’m well aware of what is at stake, and the political forces that pile up against workers,” Ramirez told the Labor Press about her new position. “Enforcing [these laws] is a very significant responsibility that I take wholeheartedly.”

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