Published: November 25, 2019

SEIU members won outstanding contracts, expanded member representation, and made their union stronger in 2019. With exciting new developments on the horizon, 2020 could be even better.

On September 30, Thuy Huyen woke up early and saw a text message on her phone. After fighting with management for five months, and voting to authorize a strike, she and her coworkers at Portland State University had finally won a new contract.

“I remember jumping up and down in my bed,” Thuy said. “I was so excited that I texted my mom. The extra money will make a big difference, but it was also this rush of excitement knowing that we took on something as powerful as the state university system and actually won.”

This year, our Union settled the best round of contracts in over a decade, winning meaningful wage increases and other important changes for tens of thousands of families in Oregon. On average, SEIU members at State agencies and universities won wage increases between 10 and 15 percent, and protected or expanded benefits like healthcare, paid time off and inclement weather. Homecare workers broke ground by creating a brand new retirement plan through Oregon Saves, and won a first-in-the-nation safety policy to protect people when they’re working in someone’s home. Other public employees, care providers, and non-profits around the state also settled new contracts.

These victories were made possible by the hard work of thousands of SEIU members who volunteered their time on bargaining teams, showed up to events, or took actions online to lift up our Union.

“If not the Union, then who?” said Steve Demarest, an employee of the Oregon Employment Department and current statewide president of SEIU 503. “Nobody is out there advocating for working people in this country, except for working people. It has to be us, together in union, that fight for a better life.”

2019 was not all roses for the labor movement. Across the country the power of working people is at an all-time low. Income inequality and corporate power has reached historic highs. Regular people – white, Black and brown – are falling behind, as power and wealth are increasingly concentrated in the hands of just a few individuals. All of the avenues to win back power, such as voting, joining a union or changing policy, are being blocked.

“All this progress at our Union is coming at a time when our members are under attack,” said Melissa Unger, executive director of SEIU 503. “Groups like the Freedom Foundation (Opt Out Today) want the State Legislature to cut our benefits and privatize public sector jobs, and their strategy for getting there is trying to take away our members’ power.”

Despite aggressive tactics like visiting union members at home, so called “opt out” campaigns have been unsuccessful. Our Union continues to deliver strong contracts that move Oregon forward.

“I know that the way forward is to be united,” Thuy Huyen said. “One thing that’s true for every SEIU member is that we’re strong together.”