Oregon’s 2021 legislative session was truly historic. The session began with a bleak economic outlook that was buoyed by a series of improved revenue projections and a one-time infusion of $2.6 billion in federal aid. Thanks to the advocacy of SEIU members and our partners, these resources translated into historic investments in our essential public services. While our campaign for Essential Worker Pay didn’t materialize before the session ended, SEIU 503 members racked up significant wins in 2021 that set us up to win good contracts and strengthen our communities. We also saw another first: (former) Representative and Freedom Foundation Senior Fellow Mike Nearman was expelled by his peers for allowing rioters into the Capitol.
When the Governor originally crafted her budget in late 2020, Oregon was experiencing a deep recession that was impacting the state’s economic and revenue outlook. Despite this, she still proposed a salary pot for state worker bargaining of $190 million, which is just $10 million less than 2019. The Legislature maintained the Governor’s recommendation, which means we’ll be able to fight for strong contracts at the bargaining table that maintain strong healthcare benefits, COLAs, steps, and recognition for state employees who had to work in person during the pandemic.
The Legislature was able to pass nearly all agency budgets at current service level (CSL) or higher due to increased general fund resources of over $1 billion and a significant investment of $2.6 billion from the federal government via the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
Oregon Health Authority:
- Public Health: COVID-19 has demonstrated the need for major investment in public health communicable disease prevention, equitable access to health services, health provision, and environmental health. The lack of resources available to respond to COVID has impacted SEIU members working on the frontlines of this pandemic, and BIPOC Oregonians in particular have borne a disproportionate impact of the disease itself. The budget adds $45 million General Fund and 24 FTE to the Oregon Health Authority to improve the state’s core public health capacity to deal with emerging public health challenges and address health inequities. This builds on a $5 million investment in 2017 and a $10 million investment in 2019 for this effort.
- Oregon State Hospital: The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impacts on the Oregon State Hospital and its ability to maintain safe staffing. This has impacted SEIU members and patients alike, and resulted in the unprecedented decision to call in the National Guard to fill shifts. Earlier this year members at OSH began to raise the alarm about their staffing situation, and we put together a plan to pressure the legislature to invest in safe staffing at the Hospital. We met with every legislator on the Ways & Means Human Services Subcommittee, asking them to support a request to increase staffing. We had meetings with Agency and Hospital Leadership and the Governor’s office. We went to the press, to ensure the public knew what was really happening at OSH. All of this incredible work by members at OSH resulted in a big win: a $20 million special purpose appropriation, or SPA, that will force Hospital management to come to the table on safe staffing.
ODHS: The 2021-2023 budget for the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) was perhaps one of the best we have ever seen. At $15.3 billion total funds and 10,000 FTE, this budget makes critical investments in nearly all program areas, and in particular in Child Welfare and Self Sufficiency. Throughout the pandemic, thousands of Oregonians have relied on services administered by ODHS like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) benefits, the Oregon Health Plan, Temporary Assistance for Need Families (TANF), and Employment Related Daycare (ERDC). Due to increasing caseloads for these programs, the Legislature added more than 500 total positions across ODHS, with the most positions being added in Self Sufficiency to help meet increased workloads. We also saw investments in positions at Child Welfare for training and the Independent Living Program, as well as increases in staffing in Aging and People with Disabilities to address increased workloads.
ODOT/DMV: Throughout most of the pandemic SEIU members at the DMV continued to show up to work in person, ensuring that Oregonians had access to critical resources that keep our economy moving like driver’s license renewals, drive tests, and vehicle registrations. Significantly, the pandemic also coincided with the implementation of two key policies: REAL ID and House Bill 2015, Driver’s Licenses for All. Through strong advocacy from our members at the DMV, the Legislature extended more than 80 limited duration positions to support the agency in catching up on a backlog of applications that came in during COVID.
DOGAMI: The 2021-2023 Governor’s Recommended Budget proposed eliminating the Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) as a standalone agency, reducing staffing, and transferring its functions to other state agencies. Through the incredible organizing of our members, including dozens of letters from the public, the Legislature chose to disagree with the Governor’s plan, and instead keep DOGAMI as an independent agency with more stable resources from the General Fund to ensure their critical work can continue.
Forestry: Oregon continues to feel the impacts of the historic and devastating 2020 Labor Day wildfires, and communities across our state need relief. The Legislature allocated millions of dollars to recovery efforts, including investments at the Department of Forestry. There are: permanent increases in budget and finance staff to help the Agency continue to improve its financial practices, including recouping fire costs; 17 new permanent positions in the Fire Protection Division to increase training, coordination, and support general increased workload demands; investments in firefighter life safety infrastructure and equipment; and continued funding of 19 positions added in the 2019-2021 interim that are now made permanent and are intended to promote shared stewardship on federal forestland. Finally, there is a $14 million Special Purpose Appropriation (SPA) to the Legislative Emergency Board for expected 2021-2023 severity costs.
State Worker Benefits: We came into the Legislative session this year prepared to play significant defense on both PERS (Public Employees Retirement System) and PEBB (Public Employees’ Benefit Board), and fortunately were able to stop the few bills that were introduced that would have impacted our members’ benefits, as well as pass a few technical fixes that were needed this year.
- First, we successfully defended against the passage of HB 2810 which would have required PEBB and OEBB (Oregon Educators Benefit Board) – but no other health plans – to pilot global budgets for all members statewide. With a global budget, hospitals and health care providers would receive a set fixed amount for health care outcomes rather than payments based on the volume of services they perform. While we generally support the concept of paying for quality outcomes instead of volume, forcing PEBB and OEBB alone to pilot this concept would create a major upheaval in the benefits offered to members — and would not have any benefit for the rest of the state’s healthcare system. Instead, we will participate in an interim workgroup to explore using a geographic model to pilot the global budget with all payers and providers within a given community, county, or region.
- Second, SB 845 would have changed the composition of the PEBB board by adding a member with experience in administering health benefit plans. This change would have been disruptive to PEBB’s record of success providing quality benefits affordable to employers and members with an equal number of labor and management representatives on the board.
Worker Protection: HB 3047, anti-doxxing bill: The COVID-19 pandemic affected SEIU members across the state in many ways both personally and professionally, especially as public health guidance continued to change and many members were put in a position of enforcement of those rules with the public at large. This includes SEIU members at Oregon OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), who continue to mask up and do their jobs enforcing workplace safety rules, including COVID guidance. These members came to their union because they were experiencing extremely unsafe working conditions, including threats of violence and being “doxxed” by the public. “Doxxing” is when someone takes a person’s private, personal information including their address and other identifying information and puts that information online with the intent to encourage others to intimidate and harass them. This tactic is dangerous and puts our members at serious risk, which is why we supported House Bill 3047, which gives people who are doxxed the ability to pursue legal action against their harassers. This bill passed with bipartisan support and was signed by the Governor on June 15th.