Convention Delegates Celebrate Labor Resurgence

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Starting the evening of Thursday, September 19, more than 350 elected delegates swarmed Seaside for the 56th convention of the Oregon AFL-CIO. In addition to typical convention business — resolutions, speeches and panels — a few significant things stood out:

Delegates saw a passing of the torch after 14 years from from outgoing president Tom Chamberlain and secretary-treasurer Barbara Byrd to new leadership: Graham Trainor (former Oregon AFL-CIO chief of staff), who was elected president, and AFSCME Council 75’s own Christy O’Neill (Local 2619 Southern Oregon Head Start), who was elected as secretary-treasurer. In the time that Tom and Barbara have served the Oregon AFL-CIO, we’ve witnessed the labor movement in Oregon become one of the most effective in the country. Things like Oregon’s paid sick-time law, paid family medical leave, card-check organizing for public workers, defeating a variety of anti-worker ballot measures, fighting for good contracts and rallying affiliates for support are just a part of their legacy. Today more than 15% of Oregon workers are represented by unions; the AFL-CIO specifically covers more than 300,000 Oregon workers. Graham and Christy have some big shoes to fill, but it’s a new day and we are excited to see where the resurgence of worker power takes us.

As you may be aware, UFCW Local 555 recently called for a boycott of Fred Meyer stores until Kroger agreed to a fair contract and a pay scale that pays women fairly. Hundreds of convention delegates demonstrated at an action at the Warrenton Fred Meyer store. As a good contingent of delegates dressed as Rosie the Riveter took part in an action inside the store, remaining delegates held pickets signs and chanted as they marched up and down the sidewalk outside. The store’s response was to promptly call the police, so the Rosies left and joined the picketers outside. After clearly sending a message that sexist pay scales and poverty wages won’t be tolerated, delegates loaded back onto a bus. We’re very happy to report that UFCW reached a tentative agreement on September 28.

The next stop was a rally for ONA nurses at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria. As we unloaded from the bus, we were joined by U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, who had addressed convention delegates earlier. Instead of picketing the hospital, hundreds of convention delegates, ONA members and supporters took to Main Street to march, chant and spread awareness of the unfair contract that was being pushed by the employer. Having recently wrapped up our contract negotiations, Local 328 members can probably relate to horror stories about staffing problems, short scheduling, unfair expectations and pay and hefty bonuses for the heads of the hospital. It was a great moment for the Local 328 delegation to stand with these nurses, and we look forward to supporting ONA at OHSU when they go into bargaining as well. The community in Astoria was incredibly supportive — onlookers cheered, honked, took photos and gave thumbs-up signs as we passed. 

Finally, while the resolutions themselves weren’t the highlight of the convention, we are quite pleased to report that our union’s resolution (see here) thanking the community for their support during bargaining and pledging to continue to fight for our AFSCME family in Graduate Researchers United passed unanimously. President Trainor smiled as he told members of the Local 328 delegation that he looked forward to sending a signed copy of the resolution to OHSU (as mandated in the resolution).

Some of the actions from this convention would be a fine example of how the old days of “going along to get along” are over. On Sunday afternoon, convention delegates headed back home with a lot of pride in the organization we’re part of and a better knowledge of what we can accomplish together in solidarity. Our Oregon union family is stronger together. 

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