By Graham Trainor
2021 has been a year filled with workers demanding their fair share throughout our region and across the country. This wave of action is a rising tide, lifting and empowering even more workers to stand up and speak out. Workers across the economy have also made their voices heard this year by taking part in the Great Resignation, also known as the Big Quit, as they rethink their careers, conditions at work, and refuse to settle for substandard wages and benefits. Add to that, more than 77% of young people support unions, showing us that a new generation is ready to join our ranks. The labor movement is rightly being seen as a beacon of hope for workers during such a dark period in our history, showing workers in every sector and industry who is on their side, and who has the power to check corporate greed.
While 2021 had many buzzwords – Striketober, Strikesgiving and Strikemas – we have been inspired and encouraged by workers including those at Nabisco, McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center, on film productions, in grocery stores across the state, and at Kaiser Permanente facilities who stood together, stood strong and either voted to strike or went on strike when they were pushed too far. Walking the picket lines or joining the rallies left me feeling hopeful and fiercely proud of Oregon’s unions, and of the strength we have when we stand together.
The collective power of working people bound by solidarity was wielded in Oregon’s capitol as well: in 2021 our movement continued to win for working people by passing legislation to put Oregon’s workers at the center of our recovery from the pandemic, and to build upon our past successes. We passed a groundbreaking law protecting workers from retaliation for speaking out against unsafe working conditions and we took the lead on modernizing the Oregon Family Leave Act, just to name a few gains. Our movement also continues to focus on policy and programs aimed at dismantling barriers that have held too many working Oregonians back for too long, especially workers of color and women, with a belief that economic and racial justice are inextricably linked.
From mobilizing and ultimately helping to deliver votes from all of Oregon’s Democratic Congressional delegation for the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package, and harnessing the power of our movement to ensure our Democratic House delegation voted to pass the PRO Act and the Build Back Better Act, Oregon workers are on the move and engaged locally and in our nation’s capital at this historic moment. Now, with only weeks left in 2021 we are laser focused on supporting Senator Wyden and Merkley and ensuring the U.S. Senate finishes the job by passing the Build Back Better Act – a once in a lifetime opportunity to invest in working Americans and make the most significant pro-worker improvements to the NLRA since the bill was originally passed in 1935.
Strikes and collective action are spreading like wildfire, and workers are just getting started. It is our time to meet this moment, to give any worker dreaming of a better life the transformational opportunity to hold a union card, and to showcase innovation within our movement as the economy and the challenges facing workers change. This is our time. The opportunities before us are historic and significant. Now it’s up to us, Oregon’s Labor Movement, to seize them.
The Oregon AFL-CIO is a 138,000-member-strong federation of labor unions.