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Oregon Unions Work Together to Help Head Start Workers Win a Voice on the Job

Mount Hood Community College Head Start workers and supporters. Oregon AFL-CIO photo.

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 School Employees Association (OSEA)/AFT as their union.    

The Oregon Organizing Project that worked with the Head Start employees, includes the Oregon AFL-CIO, the AFL-CIO, Working America, AFSCME, AFT-Oregon, Communications Workers of America (CWA), Machinists (IAM) Oregon Nurses Association (ONA), Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council, OSEA/AFT Local 6732 and several community partners. The groups work together in planning and share resources in each other’s campaigns.  

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.

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