Weekly Update: The State of Our Unions

Minimum Wage Rally & Hearing Tomorrow

In a few weeks, Oregon’s lawmakers will gather in Salem for the February 2016 Legislative Session. Among the many issues on the agenda is raising Oregon’s minimum wage. Please take a few minutes today to tell your legislator why raising the wage is important to you.

Too many Oregonians are struggling to get by on low wages. An Oregonian working full-time for $9.25 an hour earns just $19,240 a year. This is not enough to afford the basics, such as housing, food, and transportation. People working full-time should be able to be self-sufficient and provide for themselves and their family.

That’s why it is so important that we stand up and speak out for a higher minimum wage. Every person, no matter what their job, deserves to be paid a wage that allows them to afford the basics. We must invest in making Oregon’s working families self-sufficient to ensure their basic needs are met.

Don’t forget to attend the rally and hearing tomorrow in Salem on the minimum wage, starting at 3:45 on the Capitol steps. Click here for all the details, including information about transportation to the event.

The State of Our Unions

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, an attack on public-sector unions from wealthy special interests that could harm workers’ ability to have a voice on the job. The case has generated support for workers from various quarters, from states’ attorneys to editorial writers.

“We know that without a strong voice on the job, we’ll lose the ability to advocate for the safety and training our communities rely on,” said Dovard Howard, a certified control systems technician and AFSCME member. “It is only through a strong union that we have been able to win improvements in training and safety systems at my worksite.”

Howard joined a dozen other public-sector workers who spoke publicly about the need for unions to remain strong.

“I’m a conservative myself, but I certainly don’t agree with the plaintiffs in this case,” he said. “No one is required to join a union and no one is required to pay any fees that go to politics or political candidates. Everyone has a voice in a union – we’re a democracy, with many opinions. But ultimately, we agree on sticking together to make a strong union and joining together to improve our family’s lives and the services we provide our community.”

As Friedrichs moves forward, it’s crucial that we all take time to analyze the state of our unions and inform our membership of the potential impact of this case. Here’s what you can do to get involved:

State of the Union & The TPP

President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address last night, and it was a powerful one. AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer (and Oregonian) Liz Shuler shared her perspective on the speech:

“The President’s speech provided a powerful reminder of historic accomplishments and gives working people hope for a better life. Of course, his legacy will not only be defined by the last seven years but also by the final year ahead, and the path he chooses to pave for our future. We will continue to stand with him on policies that help working families and strengthen our resolve against the corporate trade deals so his legacy leads to a fair economy and better life for everyone.”

Secretary Treasurer Shuler makes an excellent point: How will our nation’s trade policy look when President Obama leaves office? Will working people suffer, like we did after NAFTA? Or will we be stronger?

Working people are deeply disappointed that the opportunities to put workers’ interests first and eliminate corporate entitlements in the TPP were largely ignored. And more importantly, working people are disappointed because we know that all of these things mean fewer good jobs in our communities and fewer opportunities for our children.

Existing trade rules (including those in the North American Free Trade Agreement and the U.S.–Korea trade deal) already cost the average U.S. worker $1,800 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and preliminary studies on the TPP by Center for Economic and Policy Research and Tufts indicate that we can expect that figure to get worse.

Interested in learning more about the TPP? Don’t miss a public forum on the trade deal this Saturday, January 16th in Tualatin, hosted by UA local 290.

Eugene City Council Stands Up for Fair Trade

Speaking of the TPP, there is some exciting news out of Eugene this week:

On Monday, the Eugene City Council voted to take a stand against the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The resolution against the trade deal was presented by City Councilor Claire Syrett, immediately seconded, and then unanimously approved by City Council. Syrett cited the impact of previous trade agreements on Oregon’s manufacturing economy, workers’ rights, and the environment as she presented the resolution: “Those of us who were paying attention to these things during President Clinton’s administration saw the terrible impacts of NAFTA on our manufacturing industry as just one example, and negative impacts on communities in other counties that were party to that treaty.”

Councilor Syrett also explained why it’s important for local governments to pass resolutions like Eugene’s: “While adding our voice in opposition may not prevent this from going forward, it will put this city on record as opposing a treaty that has real potential to harm our local and state economy.”

Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain responded to the vote on Monday by calling for more cities to pass similar legislation:

“Since the passage of NAFTA in 1994, over 50,000 Oregon workers have been certified by the Department of Labor as having lost their jobs due to trade. It’s time for localities, like the City of Eugene did on Monday, to say no to policies that ship their citizens’ jobs overseas, threaten the rights of workers, and lower the standard of living for all of us. I hope that more local governments see Eugene’s example and follow it.”

The resolution is a result of local labor and community based organizations working together as Oregon Strong Voice Lane County, who held a series of actions and events in the area to call attention to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, including a rally with Congressman Peter DeFazio last spring.