Published: September 14, 2020

“Why is our union involved in politics?” Members of all political stripes often ask about our union’s political activity. Sometimes the connection between who is elected to public office and the contracts we bargain for is difficult to see. In 2020, it’s crystal clear. 

Due to the pandemic, Oregon is facing an unprecedented $4.4 billion shortfall in our state budget over the next biennium. Shortfalls can result in cuts that lead to layoffs, furloughs, and bad contracts. The magnitude of this economic forecast has led legislative leaders to declare that the next budget will be “painful” and “draconian” without a lot of help. The best tools we have to mitigate this disaster require political action by SEIU 503 members.

Substantial federal resources to support states is the most equitable way to reduce Oregon’s projected budget shortfall, but the President and U.S. Senate leaders have shown no willingness to assist states. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will provide our nation with leaders who understand the pandemic’s impact on states and working people across America, including SEIU members here in Oregon, and center our country’s recovery on us, not corporations or the ultra-rich. The Presidential race is of the highest importance to SEIU 503 members winning fair contracts when we bargain next year. 

Even with new national leadership, Oregon is still unlikely to receive enough federal funding to fill the historic holes in our budget. Pursuing new state revenue is possible, but in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, we won’t be able to raise sufficient new revenue to maintain current funding levels. There’s more work to do at the local level.

Oregon’s projected $4.4 billion shortfall does not include $350 million that could be generated through a modest increase in the tobacco tax, including finally taxing vaping products, to help fund the Oregon Health Plan. Vote “yes” on Measure 108 to secure this greatly-needed funding stream for healthcare for low-income Oregonians, including many SEIU members, and help prevent teens from becoming addicted to nicotine.

Tough decisions will have to be made by the Oregon Legislature in 2021. We need to elect people who share our values and value our services to be in charge of Oregon’s budget process. One way SEIU 503 members can make a big difference is by electing one of our own, personal support worker Deb Patterson, to Oregon Senate District 10 (Salem). Deb’s victory would alter the power structure of our legislature and help place control in the hands of workers rather than corporations. This is a major race for our Union and we can all do our part to help Deb win!

Now, more than ever, SEIU 503 members need true champions at every level of government. The stakes could not be higher for our members, our families, and the people who rely on the services we provide. November 3, 2020 is a bargaining session for every one of us. Vote like your job depends on it.