Oregon AFL-CIO Weekly Update: Striking Back
April 18, 2019
Fighting Back Against PERS Attacks
The Northwest Labor Press released an article penned by Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain, who is pushing back against the most recent wave of attacks on PERS. While acknowledging the importance of initiatives within our state, he says that the two anti-PERS initiative filings wouldn’t actually solve the state’s funding issues, but hurt public employees.
Chamberlain noted the public support for not cutting public workers’ benefits while addressing a lack of accountability for corporations and even the men who filed the initiatives, saying,
“I am discouraged that many in corporate Oregon refuse to pay their fair share of taxes to fund Oregon services, but are quick on the draw to line up public worker pensions as targets. I find it troubling that Kulongoski and Nesbitt enjoy PERS retirements that have contributed to the system’s unfunded liability, yet advocate for reducing benefits for workers who have a smaller pension benefit than what they enjoy.”
2018: The Year of the Strike
2018 has been called “The Year of the Strike” as more workers across the United States were involved in work stoppages than any other year since 1986 (Time.com). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tracked 20 major work stoppages involving at least 1,000 workers (compared to 7 in 2017) and more than 485,000 workers went on strike in total. What’s driving collective action? Some attribute it to a generation that has been denied the prosperous economy of previous eras. Social media has also certainly contributed to the speed and democracy of communication between workers about their issues. And movements - especially women’s movements - have been on the rise, as demonstrated by the Women’s March, the #MeToo Movement, and the woman-dominated educator strikes.
Oregon Workers Strike Back
In Oregon, collective action has also been on the rise. Last year, Oregon AFSCME members in Lane county went on strike to push back on anti-union county administration (OPB.com); earlier this year, nurses in Bend neared a strike at St. Charles during an ugly contract fight (BendBulletin.com); woodworkers across the Pacific Northwest also voted to strike after negotiations broke down with their employer (tdn.com); Burgerville and other fast-food workers in our state are leading the country in ground-breaking fast food organizing; and educators continue to mobilize across the country, with a planned May 8 strike in Oregon to demand full funding for our schools from the Oregon Legislature (statesmanjournal.com).
The Faces of the Strike
A diversity of workers and their unions are capturing an increasing willingness by members to fight back using tactics often associated with struggles of decades past.
- Over 4,000 UNITE HERE Marriott workers in 4 states went on strike late last year, and won big on pay, benefits, and protections from their fight (vox.com);
- Fast food workers, some of the most marginalized and low-wage workers in our economy, are fighting back against sexual harassment (TheNation.com);
- Communications Workers of America members at AT&T in the Midwest have walked out over unfair labor practices (InTheseTimes.com);
- In late 2018, 15,000 patient-care workers held a three-day strike on the University of California campuses (abc.com);
- Prisoners last year, who are often paid next to nothing for forced labor, also went on strike for better working conditions after being forced to work in extreme heat and risking their lives while fighting wildfires (vox.com);
- Even 20,000 Google workers -- who might be viewed as some of the most privileged workers in the nation -- walked out to protest the company's handling of sexual harassment (NYTimes.com)
2019: Collective Action Continues
Not only is public support for unions reaching new highs, but younger workers are looking for answers to economic hardships that neither major national political party is seen as sufficiently prioritizing. Many are finding their answer in unions. As inequality continues to increase, we should expect to see even more bold action from workers across the country.
Already in 2019:
- UFCW members are currently striking at 240 Stop & Shop stores in the Northeast (AFLCIO.org);
- The “Red for Ed” rallies are continuing to roil the country;
- Workers earlier this year threatened a general strike if the government shutdown continued (TheHill.com);
- Nurses in New York threatened to strike until reaching an historic agreement with employers to hire an additional 1,450 additional staff (NYTimes.com);
- And Rutgers University faculty are also preparing to strike, with signs printed and students allying themselves in support of their professors, while UC campuses continue to see pushback against the privatization of institutions of higher education (NorthJersey.com) (CapRadio.org)
The Northwest Labor Press published an article last year titled “How to Restore the Power of Unions” in which it explores the need to reclaim striking as a central facet to growing the labor movement and restoring power and rights to workers. It makes the case that bureaucracy has slowly eroded labor’s ability to use its most important bargaining tool: withholding work collectively.
Mark Your Calendars!
Worker Memorial Day - The Oregon AFL-CIO will hold the annual memorial service in observance of Workers Memorial Day at the Fallen Worker Memorial on the State Capitol Mall in Salem on Friday, April 26th at noon.
Portland Pride Parade - June 16. The Oregon AFL-CIO and affiliates will be marching in the parade in solidarity with the LGBTQ community. If you are interestsed in marching or being involved in planning, please contact Emily@oraflcio.org.