by Melissa Unger and Mike Powers
In 2018 we worked with a group of 300 SEIU 503 leaders to produce a five-year plan. Our goals were to grow our union, raise the bar in every program or organization we represent, and improve the lives of all Oregonians. No biggie.
The central framing of the plan is as true today as it was in 2018: Corporations and the rich continue to succeed in this economy while working families, Black and brown communities, young people, immigrants and women are falling behind. A lack of investment in rural communities deepens the rural-urban divide. And the most powerful people in the country are determined to keep things the way they are.
Unions, on the other hand, are among the best positioned organizations to change these dynamics. But we can’t go it alone. We must work systematically to lift up everyone—no matter what we look like or where we live—in order to make meaningful change for the members of SEIU 503.
COVID-19 hit one year into our five-year plan, and it only made the situation worse. But right now, maybe more than any other time in recent history, we can see the gathering forces of a movement that could lead to rapid change. The signs are everywhere.
We look to the nearly 100,000 workers who voted to strike this year in what the media dubbed #Striketober. It could be a watershed moment for the labor movement. We look to the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, a sign that months of grassroots action can make a difference, even if only for a small victory in the long fight for racial justice. We look to the Build Back Better agenda, another step forward in another long fight, this one for a green economy that creates good, union jobs.
Our union has made many short-term gains. The I Am Essential campaign not only improved the lives of the 72,000 people in our union, it raised standards across hundreds of critical services that millions of Oregonians rely on. It also represents a boon to our State’s economy, with money going directly into our communities instead of leaving Oregon for the off-shore bank accounts of the very rich.
We are just getting started. Next year, SEIU 503 will elect new officers and hold our biannual General Council, setting the leadership and vision for the next 2 years. We have big plans to grow by continuing to organize new unions in the long-term care sector. We have big, ambitious plans to transform public services from state agencies to homecare to local governments. And we will continue to embed racial justice into our movement, because racial justice is union work.
The state of our Union is strong, and the future is bright for SEIU 503 members, our families, and our communities. We look forward to working with you to build a better Oregon.