Oregon Governor Kate Brown proposes more money for labor law enforcement

By Don McIntosh

Oregon Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle — having worked two years to get the most bang out of the budget she inherited from predecessor Brad Avakian — is asking the Oregon Legislature to give her agency an additional 25 full-time staff. That would bring Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) to 131.5 staff — back to its staffing level of 22 years ago, when Oregon’s population was four-fifths what it is today.

BOLI’s mission is to protect the rights of Oregon’s 1.9 million workers under state labor and civil rights laws, and to oversee apprentice training programs. Judging by three decades of flat or declining staff levels at BOLI, those things haven’t been a priority for the Oregon Legislature. Hoyle hopes to change that, making a case that protecting workers’ rights is worth the investment.

On Dec. 1, her request got a half thumbs-up from Governor Kate Brown. In the governor’s recommended two-year budget for 2021-23, Brown proposed giving BOLI the equivalent of 11 additional staff, though Brown didn’t support Hoyle’s proposal of creating a six-person enforcement unit to police labor laws in the cannabis industry.

Hoyle was grateful, she said in a Dec. 1 press statement.

“For decades, Oregon has not fully invested in the critical work of this agency,” Hoyle said in the statement. “The Bureau of Labor and Industries is less than half the size it was 40 years ago.”

In the end, neither Hoyle nor Brown will determine BOLI’s budget. That’s up to the Legislature, its Joint Ways and Means Committee, and particularly the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Transportation and Economic Development. Based on past practice, lawmakers will most likely hold budget hearings in February and March and vote on the budget in mid-May.

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