By DON McINTOSH
She’s brand new, but she has three decades of preparation. Laurie Wimmer, 64, started March 6 as executive secretary-treasurer of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council (NOLC), coming out of retirement to try to rebuild a local labor institution that has lagged in attendance and participation.
NOLC serves the Portland metro area, fostering solidarity among affiliated AFL-CIO unions and advocating a pro-worker agenda to local elected officials.
Wimmer spent 25 years of her career lobbying in Salem for the Oregon Education Association (OEA), the state-wide organization of K-12 teachers unions, and was a member of the union for OEA staff. There, she fought efforts to privatize public education, and did battle with now-discredited anti-tax crusader Bill Sizemore. She arrived just as property tax limitations tightened school budgets at districts statewide. In response, she founded and led the Oregon Revenue Coalition, a group of unions and nonprofit groups that pushed to increase state revenues in order to fund public services. She retired from OEA in 2022.
Her political resume is long. Before OEA, she worked for the Oregon Commission for Women. She played a role in passing the Oregon Family Leave Act. From 2011 to 2013, she helped lead a revitalization of Emerge Oregon, a nonprofit that recruits women Democrats to run for office. She twice ran for state representative herself, losing Democratic primaries to Chris Beck in 1996 and to Lisa Reynolds in 2020.
Wimmer is a lifelong Oregonian, and graduated from Gladstone High School in 1976.
She’s also union through and through. Her father was a jazz musician and music teacher, and a lifelong member of both the teachers and musicians unions. Her mom was a union nurse. Her late ex-husband Tom Whelan was a fire fighters union leader and son of a state AFL-CIO president. Even her partner, Portland State University education professor Ramin Farahmandpur, served in several leadership positions with the full-time faculty union.
By the end of week one at NOLC, she’d met with the organization’s board and developed the beginnings of a work plan that she hopes will enhance the labor council’s effectiveness. NOLC has 76 affiliated local unions totaling 53,000 union members. But Wimmer wants to see those affiliates fully participating. She also wants to bring in unions that aren’t yet signed up. And she is looking to find allies.
The union movement isn’t a monolith, and local unions do sometimes disagree on policy issues. Wimmer wants NOLC to concentrate its efforts on issues where there’s the greatest consensus.
On March 20, Wimmer is heading to Baltimore for part one of an intensive executive training program offered by the national AFL-CIO to local labor council leaders.
At Vassar College, she was editor of her college newspaper. Going forward, readers can expect to see her in the pages of the Labor Press as an occasional contributor of opinion and analysis.
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