Times are tough. That much is certain.
From recent elections and fights to preserve labor rights across the country, to the Occupy Movement taking shape in cities large and small, it’s clear that Americans aren’t satisfied with the status quo.
The Occupy movement has received a great deal of media coverage for its size and longevity and even the setup and operation of their camps. The true intent of the protest is to call attention to the social and economic inequalities in America, to demand support of public workers programs, to increase taxes for the wealthiest 1% of Americans, and to remove corporate money from American politics. If you’ve been to an Occupy event in your area, you’ve probably seen fellow union members and maybe even fellow nurses.
Occupy is just one of many responses to the attacks on the working class that we’ve seen in Ohio, Wisconsin and even here in Oregon. It’s a clear sign that Americans have had enough. Many elected leaders have blamed public employees for the dire budget crises many states across the country are facing. Although Oregon has seen its fair share of anti-union legislation introduced in the legislature, we have yet to see our legislature pass devastating laws stripping public employee union members of their ability to collectively bargain. Ohio and Wisconsin were not so lucky. Earlier this year, the Ohio legislatures passed a law prohibiting public employees from bargaining health care, pension and vital working conditions, such as staffing levels for nurses.
Oregon quickly recognized that an attack on workers in Wisconsin or Ohio is an attack on workers everywhere. Just because we’ve been lucky to avoid such blatant attacks on unions here, doesn’t mean we couldn’t be next. Oregon nurses stood by their colleagues in Ohio, calling Ohio nurses, discussing the important role collective bargaining plays in ensuring employee and patient safety and reminding them to get out and vote on election day. Nearly every Ohio nurse we spoke with thanked us for calling, and for standing with them. On Tuesday, November 8th, Ohioans sent a strong, nationwide message when they voted overwhelmingly to overturn anti-union legislation and restore the collective bargaining rights for Ohio’s public employees.
Some people have asked why we got involved, since the majority of Oregon nurses are privately employed. Fights like this one require a broad coalition, and we’re proud to stand with our fellow union members in both the public and private sector. Many ONA members, particularly those at OHSU and in County Health Departments are public employees, and as such are especially vulnerable to similar attacks.
Right here in Oregon we are preparing for an anti-union ballot measure attack of our own, threatening to strip public employees of ability to voluntarily make contributions through a paycheck deduction system to their union or charitable organization. Bill Sizemore and other likeminded individuals have worked to place this measure on the ballot year after year and it looks like they are back at it again. In the past we’ve always managed to fend these attacks off but not without spending a great deal of money and resources. Thanks in large part to the groundwork we’ve laid in the past, and new laws increasing the transparency of Oregon’s ballot measure system, we have advance notice of Sizemore’s efforts and can begin to prepare to fight back. As always, ONA is actively working with the rest of the labor community to ensure that—should this measure qualify for the ballot—we have the resources and the campaign in place to defeat it and to protect the rights of employees to make voluntary contributions to their union or a charity of their choice.