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Washington County workers face challenges

On Labor Day, thousands of Oregon’s workers gathered across the state at picnics to enjoy a day off and to reflect on how far we have come — as a nation, as a state and as a community. It was also a day of reflection about how far we must go to make sure all workers are able to enter the middle class.

From podiums and stages across the state, we heard from leaders and elected officials on how Oregon can grow and how our families can get ahead. Many speakers noted the upcoming 2014 ballot as one place where we can put workers’ rights in the spotlight and start working for positive changes for our whole state. There will be multiple issues on the ballot next year that could help Oregon workers get ahead — or at least keep up. We’ll need a county-by-county approach to make it happen, though, and it’s clear we have a lot of work to do in Washington County.

Washington County is a hub of agriculture, and some of the workers who keep the agricultural industry moving are not documented. That means they can’t get a drivers’ license and get to work safely — or keep the roads safe for licensed drivers. Oregon’s Legislature changed that law in the last session by giving all Oregonians the ability to apply for a drivers’ card, but unfortunately, some people who are against immigration reform and angry at immigrants in our communities want to reverse the law. We’ll be fighting against that initiative, to keep Oregon’s roads safe and make sure everyone has a safe way to get to and from the job.

A lot of out-of-state money is rolling in to Oregon — more than a year before the election — to put measures on the 2014 ballot that would be harmful to workers across many industries, including nurses, firefighters, police officers and teachers. These ballot measures would take away their ability to bargain for decent wages, benefits and safe working conditions. We must work to keep Washington County’s public services working as best they can, for our safety, for our kids and for the future of our community. That means we’ll be working hard to make sure people who provide those services can advocate for changes that make our services better.

Another area of focus will be the freedom to marry. By extending the right to marry to ALL of Oregon’s couples, we’re giving everyone an equal shake at receiving important federal benefits, such as Social Security. This stabilizes the work force and strengthens local communities, and the Oregon AFL-CIO is proud to be at the forefront of the fight for marriage equality.

Jobs are vital to Washington County’s future — and we know no one has the time or the will to fight these other fights if they don’t have a job. The expansion at Intel has provided a much needed influx of jobs in our community, mainly in the construction and building trades. As the work on Intel wraps up, it is paramount that those workers have other projects to work on. Infrastructure improvements would provide needed opportunities, while at the same time making our communities more desirable for businesses looking for places to expand and ensuring Washington County’s agricultural products get to market expediently.

This year’s Labor Day should have kicked off a year where we ensure all workers in our state and across Washington County see improvements — not setbacks. We need to build a stronger middle class, where everyone can put food on the table and not have to live check to check, or rely on services to help make ends meet. All workers should have a strong voice at their workplace and in their community.

We hope Washington County will stand with workers across the state as we look toward next Labor Day and hope to see improvements for all Oregonians.

Tom Chamberlain is president of Oregon’s American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).




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  • 29 Jul 2014

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