Weekly Update: A Significant Impact

2016 Legislative Session

The 2016 Legislative Session has started, and it’s shaping up to be a busy one. There is a slew of important legislation being considered in Salem that will have a significant impact on the working people of Oregon.

Here’s a rundown of what lawmakers are working on during the next few weeks, and how you can get involved:

RAISE THE WAGE - SB 1592/HB 4054

It used to be that working a full-time job meant you could support yourself and your family – but for too many Oregonians, that’s not true anymore. An Oregon worker earning minimum wage takes home less than $20,000 a year. No matter where you live, that’s not nearly enough to afford housing, food, gas and other necessities for a family, let alone pay for childcare or save for the future. Oregon’s current minimum wage is just not enough to live on. Raising the wage will give more Oregonians a chance to be self-sufficient and to better provide for themselves and their children.

Get involved: Email your legislator, call your legislator, or write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.


Oregon families are working harder than ever to make ends meet, but even when they put in an honest day’s work, they’re not always paid so honestly. Wage theft covers a variety of illegal employment practices that deny workers the wages they’ve earned. Examples of wage theft include employers paying less than the minimum wage, refusing to pay overtime, forcing employees to work “off the clock” or “under the table”, issuing paychecks that bounce, stealing tips, denying legally-required breaks, or flat out not paying workers at all. Oregon law doesn’t always protect workers who experience wage theft, who are often immigrants, women, people of color and low-wage workers. While most employers in our communities do right by their workers, too many do not. It’s time to enforce our current wage laws end workplace abuses that leave too many workers and their families shortchanged.

Get involved: Attend a hearing and advocacy day tomorrow in Salem, starting at 10am. Click here to RSVP.

HB 4086

Lockouts are hard on working people and their families. A lockout forces workers to live on the very modest unemployment insurance which can make it difficult to provide for their families, even before the unemployment insurance period ends. Both during the unemployment insurance period, and once unemployment insurance ceases, working families face significant financial hardship, including debt, losing their home, and much more. Extending the unemployment period for locked-out workers will provide necessary protection and some relief for working people in what is always a very challenging time. This bill will provide up to an additional 26 weeks of unemployment insurance for locked-out workers, resulting in total of 52 weeks (one year) of unemployment insurance and should a lockout end before the additional 26 weeks are utilized, the unemployment insurance will end when the lockout stops and workers return to the job.

Get involved: Attend a hearing in Salem, in the Capitol (hearing room HR E) at 8am on Friday, February 5th

PSU Graduate Employees Stand Together to Improve Working Conditions on Campus

On Monday, a delegation of graduate employees, student allies, and representatives of unions at Portland State University delivered a letter to PSU President Wim Wiewel’s office. The letter calls on the University to remain neutral in the efforts of the newly formed Graduate Employees Union to organize rather than spend University funds in an effort to delay the process.

Citing the increasingly high cost of living in Portland, the graduate employees are organizing their union to address issues with their employment, in particular their compensation, which presents a hindrance to their ability to work effectively as academic employees at Portland State. 
"As an instructor, I throw myself into the planning, grading, and leading of my classes," said Jane Carr, a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Hatfield School of Government. "My students are very important to me, and I've often put them before everything else in my life. To make this sacrifice and earn take home pay of only a few hundred dollars a month after paying for fees and health insurance is not sustainable or just. That's why we're standing together seeking the right to negotiate with PSU about how we're treated at work."
Portland State University employs over 800 graduate employees who teach courses, provide administrative support, and perform other essential academic duties like mentoring students and grading exams. Graduate employees at the University of Oregon and Oregon State University are unionized, allowing them to negotiate together and address issues similar to what is happening at Portland State University. The Graduate Employees Union of PSU is affiliated with both the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors. 

Throw a Union-Made Super Bowl Party!

Regardless of whether you’re cheering for the Broncos or the Panthers on Sunday, make sure your party is stocked with snacks and drinks made by union members. 

Click here for a list of everything you need for the big game.

Senator Merkley Stands up For Retirement Security

Last week, Oregon's Senator Jeff Merkley unveiled the American Savings Act, major new national retirement security legislation. The American Savings Act would give every worker without access to a retirement savings plan through their employer the ability to save for retirement through their own, personal retirement savings account modeled on the same high-quality retirement savings plan already used by federal workers and members of Congress. This proposed Act is similar to Oregon’s Retirement Security plan.

“It shouldn’t matter whether you work part-time or full-time, as an employee or as a contractor, or for a huge corporation or a tiny business: every American worker deserves access to a financially secure retirement,” said Merkley. “With private-sector pensions becoming rarer and rarer, Social Security and retirement savings are more important to retirement security than ever, which is exactly why we must strengthen Social Security and expand high-quality retirement savings options to all workers. This plan helps millions of American workers to save easily and automatically for retirement with tax benefits, rock-bottom fees and the same types of high-quality investment options already enjoyed by federal workers and members of Congress.”

Click here to learn more about Senator Merkley’s plan.