By GRAHAM TRAINOR, Oregon AFL-CIO president
Oregon has a rich history of worker activism and first-in-the-nation policy wins. From being the first state to recognize Labor Day as an official public holiday in 1887 to the most recent legislative session with a number of critical worker protections passed, Oregon’s reputation of being “Union Strong” continues to be widely visible.
The Oregon labor movement and our partners continue to tirelessly push to make our state the best place to be a worker year-in and year-out. From the shop floor to the halls of the State Capitol, workers continue to make progress. Organizing and growth has led Oregon to jump from the 8th to the 4th most union dense state in 2021, with the highest union membership recorded in our state’s history, and recent legislative wins showcase major gains for workers.
Here is a quick overview of several key laws championed by the Oregon labor movement and our partners that went into effect in 2023:
- Farm Worker Overtime (HB 4002): In 2022, the Oregon legislature overturned the racist exclusion that kept farmworkers from being entitled to overtime pay. Starting in 2023, the law begins its phase-in starting at 55 hours to trigger overtime and reaching 40 hours by 2027. Under the law, farmworkers will be entitled to one and a half times pay for each overtime hour worked beyond these limits.
- Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Non-Disclosure Agreement Clean-Up (SB 1586): The Oregon Legislature passed the Workplace Fairness Act in 2019 prohibiting employers from entering into a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) as a condition of a workers’ employment. However, some employers were exploiting that law to continue the use of NDAs in inappropriate situations. As of January 1, former employees of private and public employers can no longer be required to sign an NDA, the law is clarified to ensure that current employees are also covered, and prohibited NDAs are declared as void and unenforceable.
- Workers’ Compensation Modernization (HB 4086): This new law updates offensive and discriminatory language in Oregon statute, provides clearer protections from retaliation, and a more modern definition of family so that family members can access worker death benefits.
- Protecting Bakery Workers From Forced Overtime (SB 1513): This bill rectifies loopholes that some bakeries were exploiting when they disciplined workers for refusing an overtime shift even if they were given no notice. Now, if you work in a bakery or tortilleria in Oregon and you are given less than five days notice of a specific overtime shift, you can no longer be punished for refusing to cover that overtime shift.
- Paid Family and Medical Leave: Employer and employee contributions started Jan. 1, 2023 after the legislature passed HB 2005 in 2019 to establish a Paid Family Medical Leave Insurance Program. Starting this September, workers can begin to access the benefits: proportional wage replacement for the birth or adoption of a child, serious illness, or for reasons of sexual assault, domestic violence, harassment, or stalking.
- Workers’ Compensation for Firefighters with Ovarian Cancer (HB 4113): Oregon workers’ compensation laws establish certain cancers are presumed to be a compensable occupational disease for non-volunteer firefighters who have been on the job for at least five years. This bill adds bladder and female reproductive cancers to the list along with male reproductive cancers, among others.
While this isn’t a complete list of all of the progress, investments, and policy gains made by Oregon labor in the last year, it does show a clear picture of the ways in which the advocacy of Oregon’s unions and our partners improves the lives of working families. And as we head into a new year and the 2023 Oregon Legislative Session, it’s important to keep in mind a refrain we often use: Oregon workers are just getting started!
The Oregon AFL-CIO is a federation of labor unions.