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.
As Occupy Maine in Portland raises awareness about the excess of corporate greed in the US and the need for significant change in our economic system, these dedicated protesters have dealt with recent challenges, including violence against Occupy protesters in Maine and across the U.S. In response to a recent bomb incident at the Occupy Portland camp, Occupy Portland conducted a “We Shall Overcome” march from Monument Square in the heart of Portland to the Occupy encampment in Lincoln Park. After the march Occupy protesters talked about public support for the Occupy movement. It is apparent to us at Working America in Maine that our membership is overwhelmingly supportive of the Occupy message.
Every night we talk with people through face to face conversations at their doors and on the phone and what we are hearing is that working class people in Maine are tired of policies that benefit the 1% in this country. Our members are part of the 99% and while they might not all be able to camp out in Lincoln Park they are demanding the same kind of changes proposed by the Occupy movement. We thought it was important to let the dedicated folks at Occupy Portland know that their message is being heard across Maine.
As a way to show our appreciation for their dedication Working America in Maine put together a “book” that included member quotes in support of the movement:
I’m a disabled vet, so I can’t join you, but I’m so glad you all are there. It’s way past time that the rich cats be accountable and that the working class people of our country and the world finally had a voice. It’s important that your movement continue and grow, not only as a non-violent movement on the ground but as an organized political force that can counter and reverse the massive, well organized and financed forces of the rich.
-John from Auburn
My name is Marge. I’m originally from Philly & South Jersey, live in Maine now. I support you 100%, and appreciate what you’re doing to try to save this country from Wall Street greed & corruption. I’m 71 years old and lived through a time when you could trust banks, corporations & politicians. It’s so sad to live in this time when you can’t trust any of them. I boycott large banks; I boycott stores that don’t support American-made products. National boycotts would put a real threat in their boardrooms.
-Margaret from Brunswick
I can’t thank you enough for staying strong and fighting the good fight. What you are doing is long overdue and I am so proud of you and to have lived long enough to see that we might reach the finish line and take our country back and be the free spirits our Founding Fathers envisioned. May the Great Spirit be with all of you!
-Elissa from Berwick
In addition to member quotes, we included photos from a recent “I am Not Your ATM” event that we conducted with Occupy Portland. Occupy Portland protesters were touched to hear the stories of Mainers who stand with the Occupy movement in spirit but who are unable to attend rallies or camp out in the park. At the end of the event I was excited to know that there are so many people dedicated to fighting for the 99% in Maine. Whether it is the Working America member writing a letter to the editor or an Occupy protester camping in Lincoln Park, it is apparent that the movement for the 99% is only going to pick up steam in the weeks ahead.
“MIC CHECK!” the crowd shouts back in unison, passing the message to those who can’t hear it like a human microphone. I am standing in a line in the middle of the General Assembly meeting of Occupy Portland, surrounded by tents, tarps, and various protest signs waiting to make an announcement. It is 7:37 pm, and a throng of occupiers gather around a statue situated in between two parks in downtown Portland where they have set up camp. Outfitted in rain gear, mylar blankets, and sporting the occasional umbrella—though normally Portlanders scoff at such a thing—the group listens intently to each of the speakers, reacting with simple hand signals to indicate their approval, disapproval, or need for clarification.
Four days ago, this all started when 7,000 people marched through the streets of downtown Portland to stand in solidarity with New York’s Occupy Wall Street protests and send a strong message: we will no longer allow Wall Street and large corporations to destroy the American Dream and squeeze out working families. Chants of “This is what democracy looks like!” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” echoed off the towering white-columned Wells Fargo Bank building. The energy in the crowd was palpable; it was clear everyone was ready to have their voices heard. Since then, hundreds of protesters have been occupying an encampment in Chapman and Lownsdale Parks in downtown Portland.
As I walk through the encampment, I am struck by the positivity and general organization of it all, despite the rain, mud, and maze of tents and tarps. I am greeted by a man who wants to explain the mission of the occupation, and when I tell him I am there with Working America and want to help, he smiles broadly and leads me through the camp to an orange tent of organizers. It is not long before I am sporting an armband of orange duct tape to indicate that I have been recruited by the media team and I’m asked to make an announcement at the general assembly explaining Working America and asking how we can best help the group. A woman named Lena excitedly tells me that the general assembly meetings are rapidly becoming more and more efficient and organized, and directs me towards the middle of camp. We chat about how Working America talks about the very same issues that they are fighting for on a daily basis to our members, and while we might not all be able to put a tent up in the park, working families all over the country are cheering them on and standing up for real change. She offers me a meal, thanks me for coming, and I begin to sense the community that has developed in just a few days. Everyone here is bound by the common threads of their belief in the idea that we all deserve employment, to be able to go to the doctor when we are sick, have access to education, and retire with dignity. They took to the streets in New York, and now we are repeating that message here in Portland and all around the country.