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!
The joint effort known as the “Oregon Organizing Project” has helped more than 3,000 Oregon workers win a voice on the job in the past several months. In the most recent campaign, several Oregon unions pitched in and worked together to help more than 300 Head Start workers at Mount Hood Community College who wanted to form a union to address serious workplace concerns.
Monday night in Portland, those workers took the first official step in winning that union when they filed a petition with the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) to recognize the Oregon State Employees Association (OSEA)/AFT as their union.
The efforts include not just union organizers, but rank-and-file union members who share their experiences and explain how union membership has benefited their co-workers and their families.
The Mount Hood campaign was formed around such issues as greater job security, having a voice in day-to-day operations and crucial budget decisions, equitable health care for part-time workers and proper job training.
The astounding diversity of the Head Start employees required literature and outreach in several languages, including English, Spanish and Russian. AFT organizer Lesly Salinas says her own bicultural experience helped her understand the perspective of a Head Start employee who experiences what Salinas calls “two different ways of being.”
“We found other ways to relate,” says Salinas. “I don’t think there was a big cultural divide. They’re just a big, big family and they treat each other with respect.”
In Oregon, no election is necessary if more than 50% of employees in a proposed bargaining unit sign a union authorization card as the Head Start workers did. The ERB could certify the petition sometime in May.
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.
Even policy observers inclined to be sympathetic to Wyden’s intentions are critical of this new plan. Ezra Klein says it’s “not a compromise proposal” and doesn’t advance cost control or coverage. Jonathan Cohn says that the Ryan-Wyden plan doesn’t actually improve upon Medicare at all and indeed could jeopardize the guarantee of health care coverage for future retirees. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says the plan would shift more costs to seniors and potentially undermine Medicare in the long term.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was blunter, calling Ryan-Wyden “a fundamental misdiagnosis” and a proposal that would “cripple Medicare.”
Just as we shouldn’t privatize Social Security and push our seniors’ retirement security into the stock market, we shouldn’t privatize Medicare and push seniors’ health security into the hands of the insurance industry. In fact, Medicare already has some features of an exchange, through the Medicare Advantage program. And the evidence shows that traditional Medicare saves money compared to Medicare Advantage and to the private insurance market in general. Ryan-Wyden is a fictional solution.
What’s grating is not that Ryan is looking for another way to dismantle Medicare—after all, he’s repeatedly shown that it’s his top priority. No, the trouble is that Sen. Wyden—who represents more than 150,000 Working America members in Oregon—is so enthusiastically signing on.
Wyden usually votes the right way on issues that matter to working families, but being an elected leader is about more than votes. It’s about actual leadership. By legitimizing Ryan’s crusade to undermine the guarantee of Medicare, Wyden is doing damage to the priorities he ostensibly votes for.
Wyden should take a tip from his home-state colleague Jeff Merkley, a Working America member and a consistent leader on the issues that matter to his fellow members. Instead of pursuing attention by allying with right-wing politicians like Ryan, Merkley has chosen to stand out by acting as a voice for his working-class and middle class constituents: demanding real solutions to the housing crisis, insisting on accounting for the jobs impact of “Super Committee” proposals and trying to strengthen financial reform. His leadership may not get the kind of breathless praise from self-styled “centrist” pundits like Wyden does, but he’s clearly more interested in having a positive impact on working people’s lives.
If Wyden wants to boost our health care system in a way that cuts costs and actually increases access to care, how about adding a public option to health care reform?
Last week, Senator Jeff Merkley visited the Oregon AFL-CIO and Working America offices for lunch. It was an honor to spend some time with a leader who is truly a champion for working families here in Oregon. In a time when anti-worker legislation creeps across the country, unemployment is sky high, and vital social services are being cut, it is great to have someone like Jeff fighting for us in DC.
Senator Merkley is standing up for the issues we hear are most important to our members every night: creating jobs, protecting our working and middle class, and getting our economy back on track. That’s why he was the first United States Senator to sign up to be a Working America member.
When he renewed his membership during his visit last week, he talked about his commitment to creating jobs, investing in infrastructure, and protecting Oregon workers. He recently said, “Fixing our bridges, which we need to do in order to have a functional, safe transportation system, would put Oregonians back to work and help drive our economy in these tough times. These investments are essential, and we can either do them now, when so many construction workers are unemployed, or later at a much higher cost. This is a no-brainer for both safety and the economy.” A no-brainer indeed!
Senator Merkley has shown his commitment in not just words, but also in his actions as he recently voted against three harmful free trade agreements despite a massive U.S. Chamber of Commerce-led lobbying effort.
So thank you, Senator Merkley. We are proud to call you our Senator and fellow Working America member!