By GRAHAM TRAINOR, Oregon AFL-CIO president
Every election year, Labor Day marks the official kickoff to the political season for working people. It’s when our attention must shift from summer barbecues to winning for workers at the ballot box.
Whether you love or loathe politics, I’m consistently reminded of something Walter Reuther, the legendary UAW leader, would often say: “There’s a direct relationship between the ballot box and the bread box, and what the union fights for and wins at the bargaining table can be taken away in the legislative halls.”
The race for Oregon’s next Governor truly embodies the risks that this timeless quote warns us about. And that’s exactly why it’s so important to look closely at the impact that Tina Kotek has made for working families throughout her career in public service. This track record undoubtedly showcases both her values and her effectiveness.
There’s no doubt about it: Oregon is a national leader in making life better for working families through legislative and policy action. From raising wages to making workplaces safer to enacting mandatory paid sick leave or paid family and medical leave to expanding our rights to organize, Oregon is consistently seen as a model for others to follow. In fact, just recently Oxfam America released their annual “Best and Worst States to Work in America” report where Oregon is ranked #1 based on wage policies, worker protections, and rights to organize.
While there is still so much work to do to create a more fair and just economy for all, these types of acknowledgements are significant about the progress we’ve made as a state. And for those of us who have consistently been in these fights and campaigns for justice, there is a single, standout, solid theme that runs through every one of these wins for workers: Tina Kotek.
Whether it’s been almost single-handedly ensuring that Project Labor Agreements are required on public construction projects, being the go-to leader to save or defend a labor priority, fighting for transformational investments in public services, or delivering on a host of labor priorities and wins for workers, Tina has been a champion—not just voting for these policies, but delivering them. There’s never been a question in my mind about Tina’s effectiveness as a leader or her values as a labor champion.
But don’t just take my word for it. Look around the state for how Tina shows up for labor and for workers any time we are in a fight. Ask a Providence nurse about Tina showing up to multiple pickets and rallies and offering her unwavering support for their recent contract fight. Ask a building trades member about Tina putting it all on the line to ensure that major construction projects like at the University of Oregon or the State Capitol were done under a project labor agreement. Ask a baker at Nabisco about Tina showing up to their picket line when they were on strike last year to hear about their struggles and then helping pass key scheduling protections for them, or a healthcare worker at OHSU about her recent visit to walk the halls and hear about their experiences through the pandemic. Ask any worker advocate about their experiences with Tina saving core labor bills that were about to die, or ensuring that attacks on labor never saw the light of day in the legislature—and she’s always done that without any fanfare. It is an absolute fact that Oregon’s reputation as a national leader in worker protections, union rights, and economic fairness is in large part the direct result of Tina Kotek’s leadership.
There is a lot of noise around this race with three high profile candidates. Working Oregonians have an opportunity to look at each candidate’s values and track record. When we do that, the only choice is to elect perhaps the most transformational governor for working people in generations, Tina Kotek. Because we will not go back, we will not lose ground, and we will never stop fighting for justice for ALL workers. Nor will we let the gains we’ve made be stripped by an anti-worker governor that we’d find in either of the two other candidates. The only way for Oregon to continue to be a national leader for workers’ rights is by electing Tina Kotek this November.
The Oregon AFL-CIO is a federation of labor unions.