After watching the continued decline in the number of Oregon workers winning a voice at work, the Oregon AFL-CIO “decided to do something different,” says state federation President Tom Chamberlain. That something different was unions working together. Since late 2011, Oregon unions have been able to craft a number of significant victories for workers who want a voice on the job. Says Chamberlain:
By working together, we have achieved something phenomenal.
That cooperation has helped more than 3,000 workers, from taxi drivers to university professors, stand up for their rights, defeat employer opposition and win their unions.
In the past, Chamberlain says, organizing had been done by individual affiliates without a lot of coordination.
What we did was bring together those unions that had established organizing programs. We developed standards to organize by. We developed strategies to organize by, and we decided we were going to work together and share resources...and things started to happen.
Along with the Oregon AFL-CIO, the Oregon Organizing Project includes AFSCME, AFT-Oregon, Communications Workers of America (CWA), Machinists (IAM), Oregon Nurses Association (ONA), Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council, Oregon School Employees Association (OSEA)/AFT Local 6732, the national AFL-CIO and Working America.
Speaking at a recent rally, celebrating a win by 300 Head Start workers at Mount Hood Community College—who wanted to form a union with OSEA to address serious workplace concerns—IAM District W24 President Chip Elliott said:
The [Oregon] AFL-CIO and other unions are coming together and uniting as one….We’re all working for the same things out there for everybody.
Employers are united to defeat unionization drives by workers, says Elliott. “They’re all together. It’s time now we come together.”
In the case of the Mount Hood Head Start workers, the Oregon Organizing Project members first helped the workers design and manage a campaign—including training worker organizers— that centered on member-to-member contact.
Then in March, rank-and-file members—along with organizers from AFSCME, AFT, CWA, IAM, the Oregon AFL-CIO’s Portland Worker Center, OSEA and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART)—worked together on a three-day multi-union outreach. In May, the Head Start workers won their union when the OSEA was officially certified as their bargaining agent.
The Oregon Organizing Project has been instrumental in recent wins by college professors who wanted to join AFT at the University of Oregon (1,800) and Oregon State University (800). The project also assisted Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 757 when drivers and dispatchers at First Transit in Portland sought out a union voice.
Experienced organizers pitched in with the local’s leaders and members to develop a battle plan for the workers who were facing strong management opposition. The payoff came in November when the 160 workers voted by a better than 3-to-1 margin to join ATU.
Along with the worker wins, the Oregon Organizing Project has been able to use its political savvy and connections to pave a smoother path for workers seeking out unions.
Working with Portland taxi drivers who were trying to organize with CWA, the project members were able to convince the Portland City Council to approve permits for a cooperative, driver-owned taxi company Union Cab. Union Cab is affiliated with CWA Local 7901. In addition, cab drivers across the city benefited when the City Council passed several reforms addressing working conditions for drivers, backed by the Oregon Organizing Project.
“What we’re doing in Oregon,” says Chamberlain, “is we’re telling every worker if you want a union, you get a fair shot…that you’re not standing alone against a billion-dollar industry that’s discouraging you from doing what you want.”
You’ve got firefighters on your side, you’ve got nurses on your side, you’ve got police officers on your side, you’ve got cabbies on your side, you’ve got paratransit workers on your side, you have got child care workers on your side. The Oregon way is working together and winning for workers.