By COLIN STAUB
Less than two weeks after its workers voted to unionize, Portland homeless services provider All Good Northwest fired a worker for talking to the Northwest Labor Press and Willamette Week about the union campaign.
Workers at All Good Northwest voted 15-3 to affiliate with Oregon AFSCME in ballots counted June 2. On June 15, All Good Northwest fired Michael Rainey, a leader of the union effort.
“I wish I could say it was surprising.” Rainey said by phone after he was fired.
Rainey told the Labor Press in April that workers wanted a union in part because of inadequate training and unsafe conditions at a village in Portland’s Old Town. Records requested from Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) backed that up: Nearly 500 pages of documents detailed safety and health violations at the site, including unhygienic bathrooms, empty fire extinguishers, and sharps containers overflowing.
All Good Northwest executives appear to have been deeply offended that Rainey spoke to the Labor Press.
On June 8, Andrew Brown, All Good Northwest’s “director of systems operations,” summoned Rainey by email to meet with management. Brown said he didn’t believe Weingarten rights applied to the June 15 meeting, but that Rainey could bring a union rep if he wanted. (Weingarten rights are the right of union-represented employees to have a union rep present at any meeting that could lead to discipline.) Rainey asked what the meeting was about, but never heard back.
“Firing someone for speaking out about health or safety concerns is generally illegal.” – labor law attorney Katelyn Oldham
Arriving to the meeting, Rainey was told it was disciplinary. He asked to stop the meeting until an AFSCME rep could be present, but says management refused. The meeting focused on Rainey’s public statements about the union effort.
“They specifically mentioned the news articles, where I talked about organizing, as the reason for my termination,” Rainey says.
By phone, Brown confirmed he was in the meeting with Rainey, but declined to comment on the firing, saying it’s “not your business.”
The day after the termination, Oregon AFSCME filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) saying Rainey was fired for exercising rights that are protected under federal labor law.
“[AFSCME is] appalled that All Good Northwest would choose to fire an employee after they spoke out about safety concerns that affect staff and the clients they serve,” said AFSCME organizer Sarah Thompson.
All Good Northwest is the recipient of $12 million in taxpayer funding — a contract with Portland and Multnomah County’s Joint Office of Homeless Services to manage tiny house villages and other services for the homeless. Joint Office spokesman Denis Theriault said the agency hasn’t received a formal complaint about Rainey’s termination, and that the office generally doesn’t get involved in its contractors’ labor issues. But he said the office “expects providers to follow all applicable laws and rules when it comes to labor relations.”
Katelyn Oldham, a Portland-area labor lawyer who represents workers, said Rainey’s speech would appear to be protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
“Firing someone for speaking out about health or safety concerns is generally illegal,” Oldham said by email. All Good Northwest may also have violated Oregon state laws, including whistleblower protections, Oldham said.
Despite Rainey’s firing, the newly unionized workers are forming a bargaining team and preparing to begin negotiating their first contract.
Rainey said he chose to speak publicly about the union effort and safety problems despite the risks, because otherwise he felt the village conditions wouldn’t change.
“I’ve had the incredible good fortune of having wonderful coworkers, and have worked with really amazing villagers that I care about deeply,” he said. “I’m willing to do whatever I have to to make sure everyone is taken care of and is safe.”
HOW TO HELP: actionnetwork.org/petitions/reinstate-michael-rainey