By DON McINTOSH
First-term Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla became the second labor ally to throw his hat in the ring for Oregon labor commissioner Jan. 19, abandoning his previously announced Democratic primary campaign for governor. Oregon’s current labor commissioner, Val Hoyle, launched a run for U.S. House in December after longtime Eugene Congressman Peter DeFazio announced his retirement.
Kulla, 42, lists multiple occupations on his candidate filing statement, including farmer, plumber, biochemistry researcher and instructor, sawyer, bike mechanic, cook, and lifeguard. But he’s best known as a commissioner of mostly rural Yamhill County, population 100,000, a position he won in 2018 with support from three unions, UFCW, SEIU, and AFSCME. He’s also developed relationships with unions as a member of a local Workforce Partnership Board that distributes federal training dollars.
A fifth generation Oregonian, Kulla grew up in Lincoln City. He has a master’s degree in environmental science and forest ecology from Western Washington University. He and his wife live in Dayton and have operated nearby cannabis and organic vegetable and tree fruit farms.
Labor commissioner is a nonpartisan position responsible for enforcing wage and hour, prevailing wage, and civil rights laws, and overseeing state-certified apprenticeship programs.
In the May 2022 primary, Kulla will face civil rights attorney Christina Stephenson and two lesser known candidates. Within the labor movement, Stephenson is known for her work behind the scenes to help draft important union-backed legislation.
If Kulla wins the race for labor commissioner, he says his priority will be expanding the apprenticeship model of workforce training. He also wants the bureau to do a much better job educating workers on their rights.
“If you ask somebody on the street, ‘Hey, do you know what your rights are in the workplace?’ They have no idea,” Kulla said. “If people don’t know, I’d say that we’re failing in that respect.”