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Statement from OEA and SEIU on the Withdrawal of 2014 Initiatives

While Oregon will not see a specific attack on working people on the November ballot, the fight for the state’s working families and our students has never been more critical.

Corporate profits are at an all time high, but more and more working families are struggling to stay in the middle class. Nearly all of the income gains since the end of the recession have gone to just the top 1%, while the rest of us struggle to get ahead.

Even worse, deep-pocketed corporate interests around the country continue to wage attacks on workers, pushing an agenda that would slash wages and benefits while undermining these workers’ ability to come together to protect themselves, their students, and the vulnerable Oregonians we all serve.

We also cannot forget that Oregon’s priorities continue to be woefully underfunded—and it’s middle-class families being hurt.

Oregon has some of the largest class sizes in the country, and one of the shortest school years. College tuition has skyrocketed as the state has slashed funding for higher education, leaving struggling families to carry the cost.  With cuts to programs like childcare for working families and food stamps, too many families are struggling to make ends meet every month.

It is clear that we need significant new revenue for Oregon’s schools and critical services.

As advocates for working people, public education, and an economy that works for the middle class, the Oregon Education Association and the Service Employees International Union will be working closely together to secure more funding for schools and the services that Oregon’s communities need and deserve. We’ll be fighting to make sure that big corporations and those who are not paying their share are doing their part. And we’ll fight to keep Oregon the kind of place where working parents can realistically dream of a better tomorrow for their kids.

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Homecare Choice Bill passes House

On March 7, the Oregon House passed Senate Bill 1542 on a 44-14 bipartisan vote. The bill now moves to Gov. Kitzhaber for signing.

The bill—co-sponsored by Senator Rosenbaum, Senator Beyer, Senator Steiner Hayward and Representative Gallegos, and supported by SEIU—helps aging Oregonians and people with disabilities get quality, affordable in-home care by expanding access to the Oregon Home Care Commission Registry and Referral System.

Currently, only individuals whose care is provided by Medicaid may hire caregivers through the registry.

“Access to quality, affordable in-home care can make the difference between staying at home and having to move into a care facility or a family member’s home,” said Lee Meyers, a retired homecare worker who testified on the bill. “The ability to choose and hire caregivers through the Oregon Home Care Commission Registry and Referral System means increased independence and a better quality of life for aging Oregonians and people with disabilities.”

Individuals without Medicaid assistance currently have only two options to hire homecare workers: hiring a caregiver through an agency, or advertising and hiring on their own. By providing access to a trained, background-checked workforce, SB 1542 provides security to individuals looking for quality, affordable in-home care.

“Recently, my family’s life was changed when my son was in an accident, and as he was getting ready to leave the hospital we began to look for a care provider to help him with daily tasks – bathing, dressing, cooking, eating,” said Tom Chamberlain, President of the Oregon AFL-CIO. “As a parent, I wanted to make sure that we hired someone who he’d be comfortable with, and who would help him maintain his dignity through these experiences.  But most of all I worried about finding someone who wouldn’t take advantage of him or of our family.  SB 1542 will provide peace-of-mind to Oregonians throughout the state by helping them find experienced, background-checked in-home caregivers.”

SB 1542 also puts the state in charge of handling the administrative aspects of the in-home caregiver’s employment, including payroll, legal documentation, withholding and filing taxes, workers compensation and unemployment. Because the state is only recouping administrative costs rather than trying to make a profit, the costs to consumers will be lower, enabling more Oregonians to afford in-home care.

In non-metro areas, it is currently difficult for individuals to find caregivers. The Oregon Home Care Commission Registry and Referral system includes qualified caregivers in all 36 counties, enhancing access to in-home care throughout the state.

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Special session “a disgrace”

On October 2, the Oregon legislature knuckled under and attacked low-wage workers and retirees by capping PERS cost-of-living-adjustments, while at the same time providing a large tax break to wealthy business owners. SEIU 503 Executive Director Heather Conroy issued the following brief statement in response:

“Today’s ‘special’ session bill package is nothing other than a disgrace to our state. Pulling the rug out from under low-wage seniors while giving more tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations isn’t the Oregon way.”

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Oregonian: Oregon public universities, classified workers agree on tentative contract, averting strike

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University system settles with SEIU Local 503, strike averted

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Oregonian: SEIU reaches tentative labor agreement with Oregon officials

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OUS student services workers settle agreement, averting strike

After a long and often contentious eight-month bargaining period, students services workers (non-teaching campus workers like librarians, lab techs, administrative assistants and custodians) and Oregon University System bargaining teams reached a tentative agreement at 2:30 a.m. on Sept. 26.

In light of the agreement, workers have stepped down from a strike that would have taken place system-wide on the first day of classes.

According to Marc Nisenfeld, a development engineer at Portland State University and chair of the SEIU 503 bargaining team, student services workers were simply looking for a fair deal after five years of wage freezes. “The economy has turned around, and people are moving forward. Administrators are moving forward. Goodness knows the Duck’s locker room is moving forward. All we ask is that we don’t fall further behind,” said Nisenfeld.

At the center of negotiations had been the issue of the “step system.” Classified student services workers are hired at an artificially low rate of pay, and put on a “step system” that they follow for the first nine years of their career, at which point they reach the market rate for their work.

Management had proposed doubling the period of time to reach the top of the scale to eighteen years. This agreement maintains the system at nine years.

The agreement also allows for very modest cost-of-living adjustments–1.5% and 2%–to take place toward the end of 2013 and 2014, respectively.

According to Nisenfeld, “Our goal throughout this process hasn’t been to strike–no one wants to strike. Our goal has been to achieve a settlement that moves our members toward economic security and improves our campus communities. We believe this agreement achieves that.”

The tentative agreement will now move to the 4,332 student services workers represented by SEIU 503 for a vote.

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OUS, Workers Union Meet for Labor Talks

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Special Session: Wrong for Oregon

The following statement was issued by SEIU 503 President Rob Sisk and Executive Director Heather Conroy in response to Gov. Kitzhaber’s announcement of a special legislative session:

Robbing low-income seniors of their ability to pay the bills is not an Oregon value. People who have worked hard all their lives should not have to worry about falling behind in their golden years. Yet that’s exactly what today’s PERS proposal would inflict on state workers and retirees.

This proposal—a plan that would disproportionately impact low- and moderate-wage seniors and workers—is especially egregious in light of a proposed revenue package that keeps Oregon’s corporate tax burden at the second lowest in the country.

While students are being crammed into classrooms and our universities remain crucially underfunded, it’s time for big business and corporations to pick up their part of our shared sacrifice. The revenue proposal being discussed doesn’t get us anywhere near that.

Add to these concerns the possibility for long-term, “Business Energy Tax Credit”-style unintended consequences of proposed tax breaks, and the bottom line is clear: This proposal is wrong for seniors, it’s wrong for working families, and it’s wrong for Oregon.

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University makes plans for possible workers’ strike

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