The sun was shining in Salem, Oregon for the May 1st rally for workers’ and immigrants’ rights, where a diverse and lively crowd of over three thousand gathered and cheered. Chants of “Si Se Puede” echoed off the capital building onto a sea of families, students, and activists waving American and rainbow flags, as well as handmade signs reading “Keep Families Together” and thank you’s to the governor.
Governor John Kitzhaber joined the May Day March to sign into law Senate Bill 833, the Safe Roads Act, a bill that provides access to driver’s licenses to all Oregon workers, including immigrants. This bill ensures that everyone in Oregon has the ability to drive themselves to work, school and everywhere else our busy lives take us, legally and safely. The Governor signed the bill into law on the steps of the capitol, a historic first, cheered on by many voices, including the Oregon AFL-CIO, CAUSA, PCUN, labor unions, faith leaders, law enforcement, and Working America.
Governor Kitzhaber said:
Today I signed into law a bill that not only improves our public safety, but helps Oregonians integrate into and contribute to our society and economy…
This bill is motivated by a larger vision – one where all Oregonians deserve and get their shot at the American dream…
Where we are creating secure jobs with upward income mobility, and supporting safe, secure communities where people have a sense of common purpose and commitment to one another….
We are celebrating the promise of a better future, for every Oregonian. And we are celebrating that our democracy is made stronger – in fact, our democracy is made possible – because we share that belief in the American Dream and are working together to achieve it.
As of January 1, 2014, tens of thousands of immigrants – and many elderly and homeless people – who are unable to show the correct documentation living in Oregon will be eligible to obtain a four year driver’s license.
In the weeks before the rally, Working America organizers talked to nearly 1,300 community members about this important bill, and many wrote letters to their representatives to express their support for safety and equality.
Member Alex C. in Portland wrote, “This is a common sense approach to the real life needs of people in our state, ALL of the residents and employees of our great state.”
Lisa A. in Hillsboro gave a parent’s perspective. “As a mother, it’s important to me to know that all drivers on the road are able to obtain and have insurance, to help keep my children and our community as a whole safe,” she wrote.
Our members and our allies continue to stand together to continue the fight for comprehensive immigration reform, and we thank our representatives who heard our voices loud and clear and voted yes on the Safe Roads Act. ¡Si Se Puede!
For nearly a year, Ariel Kempf was a server at a very busy breakfast and lunch café in Portland when, one day, while playing with her dog on the beach, she tore several tendons in her right leg. She had no health insurance, so she went to an urgent-care clinic where she was told she couldn’t put pressure on her leg for at least ten days and that it might take up to six weeks to heal. She had no sick days.
Without delay, she called her coworkers who agreed to cover her next few shifts. She hoped to return in a week or so. But when the busy weekend came around and nobody was available to cover her shifts, her boss told her to come in and prove that she was “really injured.”
“He suggested I was lying,” Kempf, 35, said. “I was in disbelief. I had no health benefits or insurance from this job. So I had a $100 doctor’s note and no money coming in and I was still asked to prove to my boss that I had a valid injury. It was insulting.”
Not long after, Kempf joined Working America, which is part of a larger effort in Portland working to pass an earned sick days ordinance. The proposal allows workers to earn one hour worth of sick time for every 30 hours worked – for no more than five days per year. Kempf is one of 3,000 people who have signed personal letters appealing to the Portland city council to pass the ordinance.
About 40 percent of private-sector workers in Portland and 80 percent of low-income workers nationally can’t earn a single day of paid sick leave.
“In the food service industry, you’re really expected to come to work sick – to be there no matter what,” she said. “If people had options I think it would relieve that tension and be better for all involved.”
“I joined this effort so that others don’t have to endure this type of treatment. Really, if I had been able to use sick days without these abusive repercussions, it would have been much easier to heal.”
The lack of earned sick days doesn’t just affect those in the food service industry; it also prevents parents from caring for their sick children, adding economic and personal stress to low-income families.
It’s been six months and Kempf is now back on her feet – literally and figuratively. She is in the process of starting her own business and works part-time to keep the bills paid.
“If there’s one thing I know it’s that everybody gets sick and everybody deserves time to heal,” she said.
On December 10th, more than 200 Oregonians gathered outside Senator Ron Wyden’s office in Portland to hold a candle light vigil with a clear message: No cuts, and no “Grand Bargains” that threaten basic services.
While Congress debates whether to allow the Bush–era tax cuts for to expire, vital social services like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare have become bargaining chips. Working America members, union workers, and others from the community stood together to hold a candle and testify that important services are the safety net for millions of Americans and are livelihoods that should not be bargained with.
We called on our representatives here in Oregon and around the country to stop tax breaks for the ultra wealthy and support the working and middle class Americans who make this country great.
Two of our members spoke, Michael Bailey and his daughter Eleanor. Eleanor has Downs Syndrome, and with the help of Medicaid she was able to use a job coach to help her get a job at a local grocery store where she pays taxes into these benefits that she continues to rely on. Michael is the chairperson of the National Disability Rights Network, shared his story about the widespread need for vital social services for everyone, especially people with special needs and disabilities.
We couldn’t have done this without you. Because of your help and dedication, Working America had saw wins across Oregon and the country.
But our work isn’t done. Portlanders have been fighting to make sure all workers in the city get paid sick days off from work. No one should have to come to work when they’re sick, or leave a sick child at home alone. Portlanders deserve better, and we have a chance to make a difference.
We had a great election night in Oregon, electing pro-worker candidates to the Oregon House and Senate. But a major issue remains in the city of Portland: the 40 percent of private-sector workers and 80 percent of low-income workers without a single paid sick day, who have to choose between their health and a paycheck every day.
On Tuesday, we delivered 3,000 letters from Working America members to Portland City Hall, calling on Mayor Sam Adams, City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, and other city leaders to take action and allow all Portland workers to earn paid sick days.
With six days to go until the election, Working America Oregon is going full speed ahead. While voters everywhere are abuzz with the presidential election, we’re working hard to get our ballots fully completed to support working families up and down the ballot. Our team is out every night, fanning across the state as far as Eugene to talk to folks about their local elections.
Teaming up with the Oregon AFL-CIO and its affiliates, we’re letting our members know that all of the races count. Democrats hold a 2-vote majority in the State Senate, and the State House is evenly split, 30 to 30. 16 Senators are up for reelection, as are all 60 members of the House. This is where Working America comes in, supporting candidates who will be champions for the middle class in Salem. After seeing the actions of radical state legislatures across the country after the 2010 election, we’re leaving nothing to chance.
We’ve been focusing on important statewide races like Oregon’s Secretary of State, supporting Kate Brown, who has saved Oregon $180 million through effective audits, and Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, who’s been fighting for middle-class Oregon families, a strong minimum wage, and our state’s most vulnerable.
In Oregon City, Rep. Brent Barton’s 2009 tie-breaking vote to pass the Oregon Healthy Kids Initiative was just one of the reasons our members are supporting him for reelection; we also want to keep him in Salem to support strengthening vocational education and decreasing K-12 classroom sizes. In East Multnomah County, we’ve been getting out the vote for candidates like Chris Gorsek and Shemia Fagan, who will focus on education and preserve local jobs.
Here are some numbers as we enter the final stretch: We’ve knocked on 92,295 doors and talked to 35,798 Oregonians over 5,426 hours in the field. We knock on over 3,000 doors every night, using 33 iPads to log our data.
Our members have handwritten 900 postcards to friends and family about the importance of the coming election. We’ve held 9 postcard writing events, 3 debate watch parties, and driven 5 vans in 7 inches of rain (so far!).
But as we seek to break that 30-30 tie in the House and expand our pro-worker majority in the Senate, here’s the number that matters: We are 1 incredible team, building 1 incredible movement.
In Portland, Oregon, nearly 3,000 Working America members have signed letters urging our Mayor and City Council to pass an ordinance requiring businesses to allow workers to earn sick days.
Many of our members were surprised to learn that 40 percent of private-sector workers and 80 percent of low-income workers in Portland don’t have earned sick days on the job. Others knew first hand just how difficult not having sick days can be.
“Nina”* is a single parent of a toddler son and works full time as a childcare provider. She’s responsible for a classroom of 10 two-year olds and does not earn sick days. When she gets sick – and in her line of work, she is often exposed to illness – or her son falls ill, she has limited options: She can keep her son in her classroom where she can’t care for him properly, or leave work without pay.
Others in the service industry, where 74 percent of folks do not get earned sick time, have told us about their struggles. Ariel, a waiter at a local Portland spot recently injured her foot and was unable to work. “If I had been able to know that I could use sick days and there would be no repercussions, it would be so much easier to heal,” she said, “I have to wonder, am I going to get fired? Now I have a $100 doctor’s note and no money coming in.”
This story has become all too common among our members, which is why we are taking the thousands of letters down to city hall to demand that Portland workers are treated fairly and share the stories of those who need to be able to take time off when they or their child or family member are ill.
Earned sick days are good for the community, good for business, and good for working families. Everybody gets sick, everybody deserves time to heal.
A couple of weeks ago, over 350 people packed the house at the Helium Comedy Club in Portland, Oregon. Comedians from Laughing Liberally – Lee Camp, Negin Farsad, and Katie Halper- joined local Portland comedians Gilbert Brown and Kyle Harbert for the event. They poked fun at work, politics, and, of course, our political leaders.
After the laughter, the comedians led two workshops and multiple events around town. Using a combination of social media and humor, the comedians helped to bridge the gap between the sometimes dry and confusing world of politics and our every day lives – while using the power of laughter to help break it down and keep it interesting. Using the #OhUnionsDidThat hashtag on Twitter, we got a chance to spread the word about many of the things we take for granted today that were hard fought for by the labor movement. (The eight hour work day? Child labor laws? The weekend? Oh, Unions Did That!)
Afterwards, the comedians, along with our very own Working America team, took to the streets for two nights to hand out thank you cards to the Portland Jazz Festival workers. We had lots of wonderful conversations with all of the people who make the festival happen: stagehands, baristas, sound technicians and bartenders. We got a chance to thank them for their hard work and were able to connect the dots between all of the different kinds of jobs which made the event possible – and make a few jokes along the way, too.