By COLIN STAUB
Oregon Labor Commissioner candidate Christina Stephenson is a workers rights attorney with Portland firm Meyer Stephenson. In her free time, she helps draft and advocate for pro-worker legislation, like paid family leave and the anti-harassment Workplace Fairness Act. So she’s familiar with the biggest limitation of such laws.
“We can pass whatever we want, but if they aren’t enforced, they are completely meaningless,” Stephenson told IBEW Local 48 members during a visit to their union hall Sept. 28. Local 48 has endorsed her in the race.
Stephenson says heightening BOLI’s wage theft enforcement will be a top priority if she’s elected, because it’s among the most common workers rights violations by Oregon employers. That includes misclassifying employees to pay them less, not paying overtime, taking erroneous deductions from paychecks, and not paying prevailing wage. These are so common that some employers have these violations in their business model.
“Those folks are pretty uncomfortable with the idea that I’m about to win this election with your help,” she told Local 48 members at their monthly general membership meeting.
Stephenson described a wage theft case she worked on. The employer filed for bankruptcy and its executives opened another business with a different name. End of story? Not quite: Stephenson’s firm sued the executives, the new business entity they formed, and a trust they created to hide assets. When the case closed two years later, the owners paid the back wages and penalties.
“That is how aggressive I want us to be at BOLI,” Stephenson said. “Honestly, we cannot be giving interest-free loans on the backs of employees.”
Stephenson’s opponent is restaurant owner and former state representative Cheri Helt, who has positioned herself as the pro-business candidate, and criticized BOLI’s “overreach” during the pandemic.