By DON McINTOSH
Alarmed by polls showing a close race for governor, Oregon labor is mounting a major effort to elect Tina Kotek in the weeks remaining until Election Day. For the union movement, this isn’t fear-voting or lesser-evilism. As House speaker for nine years, Kotek delivered landmark union-backed legislation year after year: Taking the minimum wage from $9.25 to $14.50; requiring large employers to offer paid sick leave; limiting rent increases; taxing big corporations to increase K-12 funding by over $1 billion a year; requiring large retailers to give schedules two weeks in advance; establishing the union wage as the prevailing wage on state-funded construction projects.
Former state senator Betsy Johnson, a once-Democrat who’s running as an independent, is tight with the timber industry, and won the backing of Oregon Machinists Council, which represents many loggers and saw mill workers. But Kotek has every other union endorsement, and polls show Johnson as a distant third. Kotek’s real battle is with Republican state representative Christine Drazan, who voted against the prevailing wage bill, the K-12 funding, and nearly every other labor-backed bill that Kotek passed.
Public employee unions are solidly in Kotek’s corner, even though they were unhappy when she strong-armed passage of SB 1049 in 2019. That legislation made limited cuts to public employee retirement as part of a bargain Kotek made to get business groups to accept a billion dollar tax increase for schools. Johnson and Drazan actually voted against the bill, but for the wrong reasons from public workers’ view— because they didn’t feel the cut was deep enough. So it’s no wonder all the major public employee unions now back Kotek big-time (except for the fire fighters union, which made no endorsement).
And Kotek’s union support isn’t just from local unions; national unions are contributing significant sums, having seen Oregon serve as a laboratory for labor legislation.
“There’s really one clear candidate that’s that supports workers,” says IBEW Local 48 political coordinator Marshall McGrady. “Tina has been about as good as they come for working families.”
Beyond the legislation, Kotek also just shows up at union halls and picket lines, without fanfare, talks with union members, and listens. She’ll be a guest at IBEW Local 48’s Oct. 26 general membership meeting.
“We love Tina, and we’ll do anything to help her get elected,” said Iron Workers Local 29 political coordinator Lorne Bulling, “because she truly has our back.”