By MALLORY GRUBEN
A mid-August heat wave led about 80 ride operators at the Oaks Amusement Park to go public early with their existing plans to unionize. The park was closed Aug. 14, when temperatures peaked at 108 degrees, but on Aug. 15, with temperatures forecast to exceed 100 degrees for a third day in a row, workers emailed the company that they would be holding a “safety strike” and give themselves the option of going home if they didn’t want to work in excessive heat. They signed the letter, “the Association of Operators and Amusement Workers” — a new independent union.
Workers at Oaks Park had been talking about organizing for about three months, said Rowan Perrin, a ride operator who helped co-found the union. Perrin said the group plans to ask the National Labor Relations Board on Sept. 1 to hold a union election.
She says managers at the park have ignored workers’ complaints about working on rides without shade, despite them showing signs of heat stroke during their shifts.
As temperatures reached 103 degrees Aug. 15, Oaks Park closed at 4 p.m., about three hours early. Perrin says managers claimed they made that decision before receiving the union’s email, but she thinks the announcement of the union influenced their decision. The company also added shade umbrellas to rides and is giving workers extra breaks on hot days.
“They’re claiming they’ve done this the entire time. They’re claiming they’ve always listened to our complaints, but they are only listening to our complaints now that we’ve gone public with a union,” Perrin said.
Oaks Park is run by the nonprofit Oaks Park Association. For more than two decades, it was the site of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council Labor Day picnic. But in 2022, a new CEO changed policies at the park in such a way as to make the venue inhospitable for the event.
Ride operators make up the biggest group of workers at the park. About 40 other people work in concessions or at game booths. Perrin said the union hopes to add those workers to the unit later on, but they started with the ride operators because that department has the most power to shut down the park.
“If the rides aren’t open because we’re on strike, then the park is not really going to make any money,” Perrin said. “It seemed like given that the main attraction to Oaks Park is the rides, it would be the best place to start.”