When the 2019 legislative session began in January, SEIU 503 laid out an ambitious agenda at the Oregon State Capitol. Our work supporting candidates who support workers resulted in a pro-union governor and a pro-worker supermajority in the House and Senate and some big wins for SEIU members and all workers in the Capitol.
Despite the pro-union governor and legislature, public worker retirement benefits were cut. This is absolutely unacceptable. Our Union is moving forward with legal action to challenge these cuts. We are also bargaining for strong contracts that result in an increase in overall compensation. All workers deserve a fair, stable, and adequate retirement and we will continue that fight.
2019 was also a year of historic wins for our Union and our state. Most importantly, we put ourselves in a strong position to win contracts that will improve wages and benefits for tens of thousands of Oregon families.
Our success this legislative session is the direct result of our members letting their voices be heard at the Capitol. We held 7 lobby days, with more than 250 members participating, and assisted with 3 coalition lobby days. Our May 20th United for A Better Oregon Rally brought 1,500 members, consumers, and allies to the Capitol, setting the stage for our bargaining campaigns for strong contracts.
Highlights from the 2019 legislative session include:
- Money for strong contracts
- Funding for key services
- Passing a statewide bill that holds private agency homecare to standards our homecare workers are held to
- Winning a reversal on the decision to cut double coverage benefits
- Paid Family and Medical Leave
- Strong housing protections
Read more about our victories, challenges, and next steps below.
REVENUE FOR STRONG CONTRACTS
After a decade of efforts, SEIU 503 was part of a coalition that led to Oregon passing significant revenue reform. The Student Success Act will generate $1 billion each year in new revenue to be invested in K-12 education and free tension from the overall budget to invest in the services our members provide and fair contracts for the workers who provide them. We are working with allies to make sure we defend this policy if corporations put it on the ballot.
This year’s State Employee and Care Provider bargaining pots were double what they were in the last budget the largest our union has secured in over a decade, and will be absolutely critical to our bargaining team’s ability to win wage increases this summer.
REVENUE FOR QUALITY SERVICES
Our advocacy resulted in university funding increasing by $100 million, going from $737 million for the present biennium to $836.7 million for 2019-2021. Additionally, SEIU worked hard to secure a budget not that requires additional oversight and accountability in how universities spend their funds, encouraging them to put students and workers above athletics and administrators.
SEIU 503 led the charge for Oregon to finally address its foster crisis. The advocacy of our members resulted in an additional 345 positions in DHS Child Welfare, of which 272 are front-line workers. This investment will protect Oregon’s most vulnerable kids and ease the burden of unmanageable caseloads on our members.
While our bill to move Oregon State Hospital staff into Police & Fire PERS unfortunately did not move forward this session, we were able to do some significant work to describe the scope of staffing challenges at OSH that put patients and staff at risk. Additionally, the legislature passed Senate Bill 24 that will significantly limit the number of “aid and assist” patients sent to the hospital by increasing the threshold for sending folks accused of committing violations and misdemeanors to the State Hospital, and reinforcing timelines for admission, evaluation, and discharge.
After the Legislature decided to eliminate Double Coverage last legislative session, our union launched an effort to restore coordinated family health coverage for public employees, which resulted in the passage of HB2266 this year. Without a union, nobody would have fought to fix the Legislature’s mistake on double coverage. But when the law passed, our union stood up to change it.
Our right to be a member of a union is extremely important to bargaining for strong contracts. HB 2016, the Public Worker Protection Act codifies best practices in labor management, dedicating time for workers to receive representation from their union and improving communications channels. This was a major victory for Oregon workers.
SEIU Local 503 supported two major bills this session to help reduce harassment & discrimination in the workplace: Senate Bills 479 and 726.
SB 726 was supported by a broad coalition of organizations led by AFL-CIO, and made a number of changes to state law that will help all Oregon workers, including prohibiting nondisclosure agreements that take away workers’ rights and requiring every employer to adopt written policies and procedures for addressing complaints of workplace harassment. SB 479 was authored by Senators Sara Gelser and Tim Knopp and provides similar protections specifically for public workers.
The Care Agenda is SEIU 503’s campaign win game-changing investments in Oregon’s long-term care system, resulting in quality care and quality jobs.
The main priority in the Care Agenda, SB 669, will standardize training for all home care workers and add levers for accountability and enforcement for bad employers in the private home care market. This is a major win that will impact tens of thousands of the most vulnerable Oregonians and the workers who care for them.
SB 725 will add clarity to what is an ambiguous process of the weighted test in background checks for care providers.
FAIR SHOT AGENDA
As part of the Fair Shot Coalition, our Union fought for and won historic victories that impact members, the people we serve, and communities across Oregon, including:
Back in February, we drove the passage of the first comprehensive statewide tenants’ protection bill in the nation. SB 609 prohibits no-cause evictions and caps annual rent increases across Oregon.
SEIU 503 helped pass the strongest paid family and medical leave program in the country. Oregon workers, including low-wage workers, will be able to take 12 weeks of paid time off to care for a loved one or themselves.
We were also able to pass Driver’s Licenses for All, which will allow people to obtain a driver’s license regardless of their immigration status, making our roads safer for everyone.
Before the Affordable Care Act passed, Oregon hospitals provided hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars of charity care, free or discounted care to low-income, uninsured, or underinsured Oregonians who couldn’t afford care. Since the expansion of Medicaid under the Oregon Health Plan, nearly 95% of Oregonians have access to medical insurance and care. As a result, hospital spending on charity care and community benefits has gone down by nearly half.
However, these same hospitals have also seen record profits – nearly $30 million between 2013 and 2017 – despite the fact that nearly all of them are non-profits. House Bill 3076, a top priority of our sister union SEIU Local 49, will address this disparity by requiring non-profit hospitals in Oregon to provide a minimum level of charity care and community benefit.
House Bill 2658 requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to give at least 60-day notice before raising the prices of certain prescription drugs. Dozens of Oregonians affected by high drug prices testified in support of the bill, in addition to the thousands who made phone calls and sent emails to their lawmakers.
House Bill 2270 will refer a measure to Oregon voters that would increase the cigarette tax by $2 per pack and establish a new wholesale tax on electronic cigarettes. If passed by voters, the measure will dedicate revenue to funding health care, in addition to tobacco cessation and prevention programs.
COMING UP SHORT
While 2019 saw historic wins that were years and even decades in the making, we also came up short in stopping an attack on our member’s retirement benefits.
In February, corporate lobbying groups proposed 6% cuts to the Individual Account Program (IAP), eliminating pensions entirely, and even floated a proposal to eliminate PERS debt that would require massive cuts to services. In April, Governor Brown introduced a plan that incorporated some of our members’ concerns by reducing the cut to 3.5% and introducing plans to share the burden. Our members and allies sent over 75,000 emails to legislators to protect our retirement.
This full court press by corporations to severely cut public worker retirement ultimately led to the Legislature, including many of our advocates, cutting public worker retirement by 1.5% to 3%. While the cut is far less severe than earlier proposals, it hurts and is not acceptable. The new plan does help by dedicating sports betting revenue to paying down the PERS debt and adopts a longer amortization schedule (which is a complicated way of saying that the state is giving itself more time to pay off its debt).
Past PERS cuts have been struck down by courts and our Union will utilize the justice system to ensure that all of the changes to PERS in this legislation are legal. We fought at the Legislature, and are prepared to keep fighting in court and at the bargaining table.