By Don McIntosh
The board of 15,000-member Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) has selected a new executive director. Sarah Laslett comes to the union after 17 years as a labor educator, the last four at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center, where she did a lot of work with ONA training members and staff and developing leadership. She even helped the union look for a replacement for outgoing executive director Martin Taylor before she was tapped for the job.
Laslett, 55, is the daughter of a labor historian, and as a child handed out fliers to support the United Farm Workers. At University of Minnesota, she helped unionize her fellow graduate students, and went on to work for American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Communications Workers of America, and Service Employees International Union.
Now she’ll oversee about 50 staff at ONA, an AFT affiliate, and lead campaigns to build union power. Laslett says organizing will be a top priority, and thanks to a recent member-approved bylaws change, ONA will be open to health care workers more broadly, not just registered nurses. She also wants to develop the confidence and skills of shop stewards, empowering member leaders to resolve problems at the lowest level. And she wants to experiment with a concept known as “bargaining for the common good,” in which ONA would ally with community groups and use its power at the bargaining table to win improvements for the wider public.
Her first day on the job was March 6, the week before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic. Since then, she and staff have scrambled to get information to members, and wrangle commitments from hospitals to protect nurses. “Our members are on the front lines,” Laslett says. “It’s amazing to me how committed they are, going to work every day knowing they are putting themselves at risk.”