Published: September 4, 2020

This weekend, as we celebrate Labor Day, SEIU 503 members across Oregon are reflecting on the victories we’ve won and the challenges that lie ahead. 

Over the past two years, most workers represented by SEIU 503 have chosen to remain in Union. By doing so, we have strengthened our position at the bargaining table and achieved major victories. 

Recent wins: 

  1. 2019 contracts – the best in a decade. SEIU 503 members won wage increases, protected or improved their benefits, and increased the level of representation they receive through their union.
  2. Member Assistance Center. We created the Member Assistance Center to ensure that SEIU 503 members could contact their union and get their questions answered on the first try.
  3. Student Success Act. We lobbied the State Legislature to pass the Student Success Act, which raised new revenue for education and public services by making corporations pay their fair share of taxes.
  4. A bold agenda for the future. Member leaders struck a bold path forward for our union at a first-ever virtual General Council this summer. 

Our progress toward a brighter future continues to this day. But there’s no denying that COVID has presented new challenges and thrown major roadblocks in our way. 

None loom quite as large as the State budget deficit. Oregon’s top economists predict that the State will enter 2021 budget negotiations with a $4 billion shortfall. Legislators will need to make cuts and find new revenue in order to pass a balanced budget. Historically, these “cuts budgets” have resulted in wage freezes for SEIU members, cuts to our benefits, or even layoffs. 

SEIU 503 members from Roseburg pose outside the State Capitol in May 2019

Our best shot at protecting ourselves and our families in this environment is to secure federal relief dollars. In June, House Democrats passed the HEROES Act, which included $1 trillion for state and local governments. Oregon’s share of this relief package would likely protect us from the worst consequences of the budget shortfall, but unfortunately Senate Republicans and the White House have blocked its passage. Joe Biden – who received an endorsement from SEIU’s National Executive Board – supports the HEROES Act, noting that we need to “get state and local governments the funding they need to keep millions of people on the job.” SEIU 503 members will be watching the election closely in November. A Biden win could provide the federal resources we need to escape 2021 without major cuts to our jobs and the services we provide. 

In addition to the state budget, ongoing concerns about safety, access to leave, child care and other COVID-related issues continue to dominate our lives. We periodically update our COVID-19 resources page with the latest information for SEIU 503 members. 

SEIU 503 members whose families have been financially impacted by COVID-19 may qualify for cash assistance from our Union’s COVID-19 Hardship Fund. Click here for more information.

Our union, along with the rest of the nation, is grappling with a reckoning on race, spurred on by the largely peaceful protests following the murder of George Floyd, the recent violence in Kenosha and Portland, and the divisive rhetoric from anti-union groups who seek to capitalize on this moment to divide us. Whether you’re white, Black or brown, the rich and powerful in this country want you pointing fingers at one another, because then it’s harder to see that we are all struggling together. 

In June our Board of Directors passed a resolution on racial justice, which recommits SEIU 503 to working with the Black lives movement, and supporting the movement’s demands for racial and economic justice. 

As we move into the fall we know our nation will continue to be divided. We know the political rhetoric will run hot. As a unifier, SEIU 503 gets its power from members coming together and recognizing that we have a common interest in bargaining fair wages, benefits and working conditions with our employers so we can take care of our families. That will be a challenge in this environment. But if the last few months are any indication, SEIU 503 members are up to the task.