2021 in labor

As chronicled in the Northwest Labor Press, here are some of the year’s most important developments for organized labor and working people.


Was it a mood, an awakening, or something in the air? Union members in Oregon and around the country seemed more willing to strike in 2021.

  • NO CONTRACT, NO SNACKS Nabisco workers said “no way” to a “two-tier” proposal to worsen health care for new hires. A strike started in Portland Aug. 10, spread nationwide to over 1,000 workers, and continued until Nabisco backed off that scheme Sept. 23. It was the first strike at Nabisco since 1969.
  • SUMMER OF CHAOS Local union painting contractors were offering 25 cents an hour. Members of Painters Local 10 in Portland knew they were worth more. On May 21, they started shutting down job sites with unpredictable, intermittent strikes. By July their employers were offering a $2.20 raise, plus $2.30 the following year. It’s no accident that the first contract since Local 10 members regained the right to strike contains the biggest raises in a generation.
  • HOW TO SPEED UP NEGOTIATIONS  Faculty at the Oregon Institute of Technology voted to unionize in 2018, and then spent 555 days trying to negotiate an acceptable first contract. That’s not a typo. Striking has a way of speeding things up though: Eight days after OIT’s Klamath Falls, Wilsonville, and Salem campuses first shut down on April 26, management improved its offer and got a deal, guanteeing salary increases of 2% to 3% each year through the life of the contract.


The latest Gallup poll shows union approval is now at its highest level since 1965. About 68% of Americans said they approve of unions, 28% disapprove, and 4% had no opinion. And interestingly, union approval is highest among the youngest workers (ages 18 to 34)—14 percentage points higher than those ages 35 to 54, and a sign that union support may continue to grow in years to come.


They say it’s a tight labor market, especially in construction. But whatever the cause, local unions saw historically large wage increases in 2021. Here are some of the gains:

  • IBEW 48: $9 an hour in raises over two years for 3,900 inside wiremen electricians, plus an end to marijuana testing.
  • ROOFERS 49: $4.96 an hour over the next three years for 650 roofers.
  • DAIMLER MACHINISTS: $4 an hour over the next five years for 700 truck plant wokres, plus a $2,500 essential worker bonus.
  • SEIU 503 NURSING HOME WORKERS: Up to $4 an hour raises over three years for 2,463 workers at 59 nursing homes in five chains.
  • SEIU LOCAL 49 JANITORS: $2.25 an hour in raises over the next three years for 1,800 janitors, with wages reaching $18 an hour in year three.
  • ATU 757 BUS DRIVERS: Immediate $6 an hour raises for 300 school bus drivers at First Student, and $3 an hour over the next three years for 215 paratransit drivers contracted for TriMet.
  • SEIU 503 HOME CARE WORKERS: $2 an hour in raises over the next two years for 30,000 state-paid home care workers,  plus three paid holidays for the first time ever.



  • HEALTH CARE FOR ‘PART-TIME’ FACULTY Oregon’s campus-juggling faculty who combine part-time gigs to make full-time hours will now get health insurance benefits. 
  • BUDGET BUMP FOR BOLI  Oregon’s labor bureau got its biggest staff increase in 50 years when the legislature added 20 more staff to enforce labor laws. 
  • THE PREVAILING WAGE IS THE UNION WAGE The state will set the prevailing wage for each craft specialty as simply the union-negotiated wage for that area.


  • OVERTIME PAY FOR FARM WORKERS Over the next three years, Washington farmworkers will gain the right to a 40-hour week and overtime pay beyond that. 
  • TAX FAIRNESS A new 7% tax kicks in when there’s more than $250,000 per year in profits from the sale of capital assets like stocks.
  • REDUCE EXPLOITATION OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES Lawmakers eliminated a sub-minimum wage for the disabled. 

Katie Fairbanks, a reporter with The Daily News in Longview, Washington, votes by mail to join the Pacific Northwest NewsGuild.


  • OREGON LEGISLATURE In a 75-31 vote, legislative aides working for Oregon lawmakers became the first in the nation to unionize, joining IBEW Local 89. 
  • OHSU HILLSBORO A group of 448 workers voted more than two-to-one to unionize with Oregon AFSCME.
  • WASHINGTON NEWSPAPERS Five Washington newspapers unionized in 2021: The Daily News in Longview, The News-Tribune in Tacoma, The Olympian in Olympia, The Bellingham Herald in Bellingham and Tri-City Herald, which covers Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland.

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