The second full week of the legislative session was tremendously eventful as our union’s efforts to preserve services, fund our contracts, and protect benefits ran up against the anti-worker attacks of some of Oregon’s largest corporations.
Making Every Dollar Count: $277M that could go to the services we provide
Tuesday, SEIU joined with nine other organizations to release a study on how to improve the efficiency of services our members provide. Improvements in contractor accountability, staffing ratios for middle managers, and improved tax collections by the Department of Revenue would free up $277M that could be used for services that middle-class and vulnerable Oregonians rely on.
Groups as varied as Oregon PTA, AARP, Oregon Student Association, and, from the business community, Oregon Health Care Association joined labor unions to endorse recommendations on efficiency generated by front-line workers.
Two years ago, our union released a report called Moving Oregon Forward. Two years ago, we released the report on our own and we had a big victory, but only on middle management staffing ratios. This year, a broad coalition of groups signed on, and there is widespread interest among legislative leaders and the Kitzhaber administration in tackling a number of these issues. As providers of publicly funded services, we have a special responsibility to taxpayers to fight to make sure that quality services are being provided efficiently.
Member Lobby Days Kick Off
Front-line workers came to the capitol Tuesday and Wednesday to educate legislators about what is really going on in state government. In just two days, nearly half of Oregon’s legislators talked face-to-face with a front-line worker from SEIU.
State hospital workers did a tremendous job educating legislators about the erosion in the quality of care for severely mentally ill Oregonians. Design flaws and staffing shortages at the new state hospital in Salem create an extremely dangerous atmosphere for patients, mental health technicians, custodial staff, and other front-line workers. Our members are working hard to improve working conditions and the quality of care at the state hospital and to make sure that the taxpayer investment at the state hospital under construction in Junction City is protected from the same design errors.
ODOT workers lobbied on government efficiency, lobbying for bills that would make contractors more accountable, and exposing a failed pilot project contracting out highway maintenance. Workers have done a great job identifying potential cost savings that can be re-invested in vital services, wages, and benefits.
Our Oregon Unveils Tax Fairness Package
Thursday, Our Oregon released opinion research that underscores voter support for publicly funded services. In overwhelming numbers, voters oppose cuts to homecare, schools, youth corrections, and public safety. Further, they support tax increases on the wealthy and big corporations to pay for these services. The four key proposals that have broad voter support (with the amount of General Fund dollars that could be raised):
- Place a cap on itemized tax deductions for wealthy taxpayers ($150M to $250M)
- Place a cap on mortgage interest deduction for mortgages over $400,000 ($70M)
- Implement a 1% gross receipts tax on corporations with revenue over $100,000,000 ($600M)
- End the practice of corporations buying and selling tax credits which they did not earn (research ongoing).
Click on these links to get the inside story: http://ouroregon.org/sites/ouroregon.org/files/fckeditor/file/2013%20Budget%20Flyer.pdf
The Attacks on Workers Continue
The Oregon Business Council (OBC) has been busy lobbying legislators to cut present and future pension payments to seniors and to currently-employed public employees. They claim that cost-of-living adjustments for seniors on a fixed income should be cut instead of raising taxes on big corporations and wealthy individuals. Public employer contributions for pensions have increased because of the 2008 economic crash caused by Wall Street and big banks. OBC appears to be silent on efforts by the state to prosecute fraud that robbed the funds that seniors rely on. Shockingly, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and US Bank all have seats on the Oregon Business Council Board of Directors.
A lot of our allies in the legislature are standing firm against these outrageous attacks, but they are under tremendous pressure.
Our job is to make it very difficult to vote for cuts to schools, health care and public safety. It has to be tougher for legislators to vote to cut pensions to seniors who have worked hard all their lives than it is to raise taxes on the wealthy and big corporations.
“We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the gen
eration that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.”
—Barack Obama, January 21, 2013