Working people made the difference

By Graham Trainor

The last few months, and really the last four years, have been immeasurably difficult for working people in Oregon and across the country.

It is hard right now to remember a pre-COVID time. For the past eight months, workers have had their backs up against the wall, bearing the brunt of multiple crises at once, and been rightly focused on their health and economic security.  Finding the bandwidth to more than survive 2020 hasn’t been in the cards for many of us.

All of these challenges were only compounded by one of the most divisive, chaotic, and consequential presidential elections in our nation’s history.

Throughout this challenging and dangerous year, I have continued to be inspired by the resilience, the determination, and the grit of the labor movement. Oregon’s unions have been speaking out for greater protections on the job from COVID-19, fighting for “hero pay” as workers risk their lives showing up to work, constantly pushing for policy change that will help working people during difficult times, and ensuring that workers are able to access vital safety net benefits when they lose their jobs.

And critically, working people stepped up to be the difference makers on November 3 from the White House to the State House. The historic election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, two strong champions for our movement, was a critical component in our efforts to curtail the constant attacks we’ve seen from the current occupant in the White House, fight COVID-19 in a comprehensive and scientifically-driven way, and unrig the rules of the economy by passing federal labor law reform and the PRO Act.

Electing Shemia Fagan as our next secretary of state ushers in one of Oregon’s strongest pro-union elected champions to the second highest office, effectively Oregon’s lieutenant governor. Electing an incredibly diverse slate of new legislators, including nearly 10 who are either current or former union members, will help strengthen a pro-union culture within our Democratic caucuses.

To further showcase our movement’s commitment to fighting for the safety of every worker, on November 16, Oregon became one of only a few states in the nation to implement clear, enforceable, and statewide workplace protections from COVID-19 through Oregon OSHA.

The critical election season or the challenges of facing a global pandemic and economic collapse did not stop Oregon’s unions from fighting from day one of the pandemic to protect all workers through this critical workplace safety standard.  Limiting exposure on the job is an essential component to beating the virus, and Oregonians now have several key and long overdue protections. You can learn more about this rule and stay up to date at https://oraflcio.org/osha.

We all know that there is so much more work to be done to protect workers from the surging virus, recover from the recession, tackle systemic and institutional racism, and to build a just and fair economy.

However, we should also recognize and celebrate these critical electoral and policy wins, especially given the realities and the challenges of 2020. As these past eight months have highlighted, America’s labor movement is often the last and only line of defense for anyone who works for a living. And when our movement is united by a common purpose, a vision of shared prosperity, and an unwavering commitment to tackling head on the most powerful forces of greed in our country, there is nothing that can stop us.

Workers should celebrate the progress we’ve made towards a better future for the next generation. Our nation and our state are better for all you have done and continue to do to make our movement such an inspiring force for change.


The Oregon AFL-CIO is a 138,000-member-strong federation of labor unions.

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