Labor looks back on mostly wins in 2023 Oregon legislative session



Despite a six-week walkout by nine Senate Republicans, Oregon labor organizations tallied a respectable number of wins in the 2023 legislative session. Several labor priority bills passed early in the session, and others passed in a whirlwind final days once Democratic leaders reached a compromise with the absent senators, who had left to deprive the chamber of the quorum needed to pass any bill in order to stop a bill bolstering access to abortion and transgender medicine. Among dozens of labor-backed bills that passed, here are some of the highlights:

  • TOUGHER PENALTIES FOR WORKPLACE SAFETY VIOLATIONS. Oregon OSHA had the lowest fines in the nation. Not any more. Responding to a call by the Oregon AFL-CIO, lawmakers passed SB 592, increasing penalties and indexing them to inflation. Oregon OSHA’s minimum fine went from $50 to $1,116, and its maximum fine for a serious violation rose to $15,625. When a worker dies on the job as a result of a safety violation, employers will face fines of $20,000 of $50,000.
  • SLIGHTLY BETTER BOLI BUDGET Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries enforces laws on minimum wage, overtime, prevailing wage, and anti-discrimination, but it’s been underfunded and understaffed for decades. This year lawmakers increased its budget by 9.6%. SB 5515 appropriates $26,129,990 for the next two years.
  • SAFE STAFFING IN HOSPITALS It’s been the top priority for health care unions through multiple legislative sessions. This year, the hospital lobby cooperated and finally agreed to support specific limits for how many patients nurses and some other hospital staff can be responsible for at one time. HB 2697 is likely to lessen burnout and improve patient care.
  • BUILD THAT BRIDGE They’ve been talking about it for decades: A replacement for the I-5 bridge over the Columbia River.  Now, with the passage of HB 5005, Oregon joins Washington in appropriating funds to move forward. Oregon’s pledge would be $1 billion in general obligation bonds over the next eight years.
  • UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS FOR SCHOOL EMPLOYEES Teachers can opt to be paid on a year-round schedule. But the lowest-paid school employees, like cafeteria workers and school bus drivers, have long had lean summers because they’ve been deemed ineligible for unemployment benefits. SB 489, a priority for Oregon School Employees Association, makes them eligible.
  • PREVAILING WAGE in DEMOLITION SB 594, a priority for the Laborers and other building trades unions, expands  the requirement that workers on public construction projects be paid the prevailing wage and benefits. The prevailing wage will now be required on standalone demolition and hazardous waste cleanup projects.
  • 21st CENTURY UNION CARDS HB 2573 allows public employees to unionize by signing union cards online instead of just on paper.

Better luck next time?

Not every idea unions took to the Capitol had its day in the sun. More than the walkout, some bills just died because they didn’t yet have enough support.

  • Restore public transit workers’ right to strike Back in 2007, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 thought transit workers would be better off having contract disputes resolved by binding arbitration, like police and firefighters. The legislature granted their wish, but it didn’t work out well for union members. This year, their bill to restore their right to strike, SB 187, didn’t even get a committee hearing.
  • Pay parity for Adjunct faculty A huge share of today’s college classes is taught by poorly paid part-time instructors without benefits. SB 416 would have removed public colleges’ incentive to shift courseload to these “adjuncts” by requiring they be paid an equivalent amount per course as full-time professors. The bill got a hearing but never passed out of its original committee, the Senate Education Committee.
  • Build Oregon with high-road contractors Should public construction contracts go to contractors that provide full family health benefits and that make the effort to train apprentices? Ironworkers Local 29 and Sheet Metal Workers Local 16 thought so, but their bill to do that, SB 850, never got a vote in the Senate Labor and Business Committee.
  • Toughen penalties for assaulting a bus driver SB 787 would have made assault of transit workers a felony any time they’re on duty. It passed the Senate early in the session but died in the House Judiciary Committee.


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