Letter to Providence:
January 29, 2021
Dear Jennifer Burrows, Oregon Regional Chief Nursing Officer, Providence Health & Services in Oregon:
We are members of the Portland Area Workers’ Rights Board. We represent a broad spectrum of political, faith, academic, legal, and community leaders, all of whom are committed to fighting for community labor standards that respect the dignity of all workers.
In this regard, we have grown ever more concerned about the unwillingness of Providence Health & Services to respect the safety of its own employees, in this case its nurses. This is especially alarming given the role that nurses play as frontline workers during this pandemic.
We have read articles in local newspapers, heard stories on local media, and spoken directly to Providence nurses working throughout the state and staff of the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA), and it is clear to us that Providence is failing to provide its nurses with safe working conditions, putting both them and those they serve at great risk. Moreover, unlike other health providers like Kaiser and OHSU, Providence remains a regional outlier in its unwillingness to meet and actively work with nurses from the Oregon Nurses Association to implement their COVID-19 Bill of Rights.
Providence Health & Services has failed to provide nurses with needed personal protective devices. In the case of masks, for example, many nurses have been forced to wear ones inappropriately sized or heavily worn from repeated use. It has also failed to ensure timely testing of nurses to determine whether they have been infected, through their work with patients and other staff, with the coronavirus. It has failed to adequately compensate nurses who must take time away from work because of possible or actual infection. It has ignored the enormous emotional and physical costs suffered by nurses from overwork, inadequate safety standards, and ever changing policy pronouncements. And, by refusing to sign an agreement which guarantees these critical protections, Providence is robbing nurses of the certainty and stability which comes with an enforceable union contract.
Providence nurses, in demanding that Providence work with them to ensure the availability of personal protective equipment, safe staffing practices, guaranteed access to rapid point-of-care testing and consistent notification of exposures or possible exposures, appropriate time off and workers compensation for Covid-19 exposure, and respect for nurse input and accountability, are only asking Providence Health & Services to take the pandemic seriously and act appropriately.
The coronavirus case load continues to rise throughout the state. We call on Providence administrators to sit down now with representatives from ONA and sign an agreement to implement nurses’ COVID-19 Bill of Rights. Nurses and their patients desperately need these protections. If an agreement is not signed within one week, which should be more than enough time to make the right choice, we are committed to organizing a major community forum at which nurses and patients can tell their stories, and share their concerns and frustrations with Providence. And we will do our best to ensure that local and state media, political and business leaders, and concerned Oregonians are appropriately educated about Providence’s intransigence during this time of pandemic crisis.
Bill Bigelow, Curriculum Editor, Rethinking Schools
Johanna Brenner, Professor of Sociology/ WGSS Emerita, Portland State University
Senator Michael Dembrow, Oregon Senate District 23
Barbara Dudley, Oregon Working Families Party, Senior Policy Advisor
Veronica Dujon, Professor of Sociology, Portland State University
Ranfis Giannettino Villatoro, Community Organizer, Blue Green Alliance
Avel Louise Gordly, Former Oregon State Senator
Martin Hart-Landsberg, Professor Emeritus of Economics, Lewis and Clark College
Catherine Highet, Highet Law, LLC
Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, Multnomah County
Maura Kelly, Portland State University
Mary C. King, Professor of Economics Emerita, Portland State University
Rev. Mark Knutson, Augustana Lutheran Church
Msgr. Chuck Lienert, Priest of the Archdiocese of Portland
Nikki Mandell, Professor of History Emerita, University of Wisconsin- Whitewater
Commissioner Sharon Meieran, MD, JD, Multnomah County
Rev. Jack Mosbrucker, Archdiocese of Portland, Retired
Huy Ong, Executive Director of OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon
Dr. José Padín, Portland State University
Verna Porter, retired RN, Alliance for Retired Americans
The Rev. Cecil Charles Prescod, Ainsworth United Church of Christ
Former Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum
The Reverend Dr. Patricia Ross, United Church of Christ, Retired
The Reverend Eugene Ross, United Church of Christ, Retired
Rev. John Schwiebert, Metanoia Peace Community, United Methodist Church
Rev. Lynne Smouse López, Ainsworth United Church of Christ
Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, Multnomah County
Dr. David L. Wheeler, American Baptist theologian, Eastern University
Chris Wold, Professor of Law, Lewis & Clark Law School
Rev. Connie Yost, President, Farm Worker Ministry Northwest
Fr. Dave Zeger, St. Andrew Catholic Church
Lisa Vance, Chief Executive Officer, Providence Health & Services Oregon
Dan Mueller, Senior Labor & Employment Counsel, Providence Health & Services Oregon
Lynda Pond, President, Oregon Nurses Association
Sarah Laslett, Executive Director, Oregon Nurses Association
Tom Doyle, General Counsel, Oregon Nurses Association
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 1. 2021
Contact: Dr. Veronica Dujon
Workers’ Rights Board Chair
PORTLAND-AREA WORKERS’ RIGHTS BOARD CALLS ON PROVIDENCE HEALTH & SERVICES IN OREGON TO NEGOTIATE COVID PROTECTIONS FOR NURSES
Providence remains a regional outlier in its unwillingness to meet and actively work with nurses from the Oregon Nurses Association to implement their COVID-19 Bill of Rights.
PORTLAND, OREGON. February 1, 2021- The Portland Area Workers’ Rights Board represents a broad spectrum of political, faith, academic, legal, and community leaders, all of whom are committed to fighting for community labor standards that respect the dignity of all workers. After reading a stream of media stories and hearing alarming testimony from nurses it is clear to us that Providence is failing to provide its nurses with safe working conditions, putting both them and those they serve at great risk.
The Workers’ Rights Board has sent a letter to Chief Nursing Officer of Providence Health and Systems, Jennifer Burrows, calling on Providence administrators to immediately sit down with representatives from the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) and sign an agreement to implement nurses’ COVID-19 Bill of Rights. The Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) represents more than 4,000 nurses working at Providence’s Oregon health care facilities and more than 15,000 Oregon nurses and health care workers.
Providence nurses, in demanding that Providence work with them to ensure the availability of personal protective equipment, safe staffing practices, guaranteed access to rapid point-of-care testing and consistent notification of exposures or possible exposures, appropriate time off and workers compensation for Covid-19 exposure, and respect for nurse input and accountability, are only asking Providence Health & Services to take the pandemic seriously and act appropriately. As it is, Providence is a regional outlier, refusing to do what other health providers like Kaiser and OHSU have already done.
Veronica Dujon, a Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Workers’ Rights Board said: “As Workers’ Rights Board members we’re hoping Providence will honor its own mission and values of compassion, justice and integrity and care for their frontline caregivers who risk their lives on our behalf. An agreement is in the best interest of our wider community, not only for Providence nurses.”
“We are incredibly grateful our community stands with Oregon’s nurses. Hearing leaders from all walks of life speak up for strong COVID-19 safety standards says volumes about our community’s priorities,” said Oregon Nurses Association President Lynda Pond, RNC. “Without COVID-19 safety standards, nurses are walking a tightrope without a net. Providence needs to support nurses to prove it cares about caregivers and our community. It’s time for Providence to pick up a pen and sign a COVID-19 safety agreement to protect Oregon’s nurses, patients and our communities.”
If Providence does not sign an agreement with ONA within one week, the Workers’ Rights Board is committed to organizing a major community forum at which nurses and patients can publicly tell their stories, and share their concerns and frustrations. We will do our best to ensure that local and state media, political and business leaders, and concerned Oregonians are appropriately educated about Providence’s intransigence during this time of pandemic crisis.
Just Enforcement Will Empower Workers to Enforce Their Rights
by Sarah Kowaleski, JwJ Coalition Organizer
All workers should be able to entrust that their rights will be protected and that the state will enforce laws meant to protect them. Throughout the pandemic, state agencies received record numbers of reports of workplace abuse and health and safety violations. During 2020, OR OSHA received complaints from 23 of the 35 largest workplace COVID outbreaks but were only able to investigate two. OR OSHA received ten times as many complaints as they do in a normal year.
Essential workers have made life-saving sacrifices and keep us nourished, cared for, and safe. Yet mortality rates for jobs in the food and agriculture industries, disproportionately immigrant workers, have jumped nearly 40% during the pandemic. When frontline and essential workers work in industries which have seen the most widespread workplace outbreaks of COVID-19, robust safety enforcement is essential to public health for our entire community.
Essential and immigrant workers also disproportionately labor for low wages and face wage theft. That is, they are cheated out of their pay by bad bosses. Despite hundreds of claims of stolen wages filed every year, employers only pay penalties in 1% of claims determined to be valid. As a result, lawbreaking employers have little incentive to do the right thing. When labor laws are poorly enforced, workers, especially the most marginalized, lose confidence that the system will protect them. This tailspin drives workers into dire circumstances and disadvantages honest businesses who play by the rules. It is precisely the communities with the least means, and who face the most structural and language barriers to collective organization whose rights have been heartlessly disregarded.
Because it’s clear that the state lacks the capacity to enforce existing labor law, the legislature should enact the Just Enforcement Act (House Bill 2205). This legislation allows workers and organizations to enforce labor laws when the state cannot do so. Providing an avenue for workers to partner with trusted community organizations to file suits on the state’s behalf would empower workers to speak out without fear of retaliation or losing their jobs. Workers recover 30-40% of the civil penalties collected from bosses who break the rules, and the state agency would reinvest the remainder to expand investigative staff and conduct community outreach. Workers and advocates will be empowered, more violations will be caught, and a culture of compliance will create better working conditions for all.
Jobs with Justice is dedicated to protecting the rights of working people and this landmark legislation will make workplaces more safe and just. Our community must demand that legislators support House Bill 2205, Just Enforcement Act, in defense of all workers’ rights.
By Sarah Kowaleski
A Narrow Proposition
This November in California, multi-billionaire Gig corporations such as Uber, Lyft, Postmates, DoorDash and Instacart spent more than $200 million to back a deceptive California state proposition known as Prop 22. This was a corporate backlash to a new law in California, known as AB5, that rightly classified gig workers as employees. Despite all of their millions and resorting to deceptive tactics, gig corporations won, narrowly. Only 58% of California voters backed Prop 22, the gig-worker proposition.
Prop 22 has both enabled gig corporations to continue misclassifying their workers as “contractors” and has given the industry a playbook they hope to replicate in the face of rising Labor movements worldwide.
What’s in it for Gig Employers?
Proposition 22 was based around the fear that their workers, given the proper wages and protections of employees would annihilate the gig business model based on hyper exploitation. Uber and the like see their ‘success’ with Prop 22 in California as a way to thwart regulations that apply to every other employer. In fact, just after the win, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told analysts, “We feel strongly that this is the right approach, and it’s a priority for us to work with governments across the U.S. and the world to make this a reality.” 32 other states already use the same legal test to determine worker classification as California’s, so Gig corporations are keen to export this approach to other states. They know that “not real employee” status is inferior to “employee” status, so they wish to enshrine this everywhere, permanently.
What’s at stake for Labor and communities?
Measures like Prop 22 allow wealthy corporations to deny their drivers rights and protections like paid sick leave, workers compensation, and unemployment benefits. What’s at stake include good union jobs that pay fair wages, and small businesses, as gig corporations drive down standards in order to drive up their competitive advantage. Gig corporations want to maximize their profit and expand their low-pay, no-protection business model to virtually every industry, leading to unprecedented job loss and a race to the bottom.
Now, gig corporations are pouring resources into state legislation and forming industry lobby groups such as the App-Based Work Alliance, to accomplish their goal of rolling back workers’ rights and to pre-emptively stifle worker organizing and consumer advocacy for stronger protections. This makes us all less safe by eliminating safety protections for riders and drivers and any liability these wealthy corporations have to consumers.
Stay tuned for ways you can support Gig workers organizing, pushing back on greedy corporate plans to erode the rights of employees. We must not take these rights for granted!
By Rev. Cecil Charles Prescod and Will Layng
(This article was originally published on 7/28/20 on the national JwJ website)
Every day and night over the last two months, Portland, Oregon– our city and home–has seen mass protests against police brutality in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The protests involve Portlanders from all over the city, taking place at schools, courthouses, parks, and in the streets. It’s an uprising that threatens to sweep out the racist policing that has brutalized our community for decades.
The eyes of the nation and the world turned to our city and the uprising on July 16 when video emerged of camouflaged U.S. Marshals, attached to the Department of Homeland Security, abducting protesters and attacking demonstrators outside the federal courthouse in downtown Portland.
On Monday, July 20, thousands of demonstrators gathered downtown to protest federal and local police attacks on non-violent protesters, including blocs of moms and dads who joined the uprising to support Don’t Shoot PDX, a Portland Jobs With Justice- allied civil rights group who has helped lead the uprising in the streets. Thousands lifted flashlights into the air and sang the historic movement song “We Shall Overcome” in an uplifting moment of solidarity. Soon after they were tear gassed by a mix of federal and local police. Undeterred, they returned the next night and each night since.
Oregon became a state in 1859 and joined the Civil War on behalf of the Union. Yet its founding had less to do with ending slavery and freedom for Black people, and more to do with white people desiring a homeland separate from Black people. While moving quickly to decimate and relocate indigenous tribes, the state’s original constitution also explicitly banned Black people from residing in Oregon.
The generations of police violence against Black people in our community are part of our inheritance from Oregon’s racist origins. Over the last two decades, we have seen a growing movement to organize against and challenge racist police violence and the killing of Black community members such as Kendra James, James Jahar Perez, Keaton Otis, and Aaron Campbell. The nationwide attention on police brutality has empowered local organizing efforts.
Over the years, Portland JWJ has worked to bring a workers’ right perspective to police oversight and accountability efforts in our community. The Portland Police Association, the “union” for police officers, has long been an advocate for violent police tactics and a defender of racist police. We’ve seen our local labor movement take real steps to be part of efforts at reforming our criminal justice system, including efforts to limit the power of police associations.
For us, as we work to raise awareness about union contract campaigns and organizing campaigns, the same communities we mobilize will say things like “why should we support that union when the police union attacks us and no one from labor says anything?” For us to build true solidarity, we know that we have to be willing to challenge injustice at all the intersections where it emerges to have a stronger workers’ rights movement.
As the federal menace in Oregon became more visible, many speculated that it was primarily a political stunt by President Trump to try and show “law and order” cred in the face of lagging poll numbers. Other reporting shows that the President wants to build a federal police force with the ability to carry out unchecked and uninvited domestic extrajudicial activities.
Our experience in Portland shows that we in the labor movement cannot and will not allow that to happen. Imagine if the next time we are striking and picketing an employer for a fair contract, and Homeland Security arrives to whisk away our leaders? The rise of fascism in the United States must remind us that democracy, whether in the workplace or our politics, is a threat to fascist regimes, and regimes will use forces as we see in Portland today to smash our democracies.
That’s why we are so proud of our community for showing up night after night. We’re bringing our leafblowers, we’re bringing helmets and umbrellas and food. We’re feeding each other, we’re gathering in blocs by trades, our faith communities are showing up, we’re wearing masks, and keeping each other safe. The police forces are armed with military weaponry and apparently feel bound by no laws. We are a city of #EverydayAntifascists; we affirm the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “we shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice,” and the existential reality that #BlackLivesMatter.
Ways you can take action:
Rev. Cecil Charles Prescod is the chair of the Faith Labor Committee of Portland Jobs With Justice
Will Layng is the Executive Director of Portland Jobs With Justice
Here at Portland Jobs with Justice we wholeheartedly support police accountability, and we have a history of doing so. We were part of the network that successfully fought to get Portland out of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and we are actively engaged with our allies pushing the city to use contract negotiations with the Portland Police Association to win increased and much needed accountability and transparency around the use of force and bias-based (i.e. racist and discriminatory) policing. We have endorsed the demands issued by the Portland African American Leadership Forum and Unite Oregon to cut at least $50 million from the Portland Police Bureau budget and reinvest the money back into the black community.
In the weeks that have passed since the horrific murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, and in the wake of the brutally violent crackdown on protesters by police departments across the country, the landscape around police reform work has shifted significantly. Seen as radical and fringe just a couple months ago, demands to defund and abolish the police have very quickly entered mainstream conversations.
Our organization has not taken a position on police abolition. However, in light of these sudden and significant shifts in what is possible with regards to police reform and the increased attention on the demand to defund and abolish police, we feel it is important to explore what it means and what it might look like to abolish the police and create a community-centered and non-violent alternative to public safety.
A Shift in How Communities View Policing
The demands to defund and abolish police aren’t just topics of discussion, they’ve become practical points of action. Last week in response to protests and cries for defunding, the Los Angeles city council cut $100-150 million from L.A.’s police budget.
School districts in cities like Minneapolis, Portland, Denver, Oakland, and Seattle have severed ties with police.
The Minneapolis City Council has taken a number of steps on the path toward completely dismantling it’s police department to create a community-centered, non-violent alternative to public safety.
Despite common fears, abolishing the police does not necessarily mean instantly firing all law enforcement officers and sitting back to watch cities descend into chaos. It means following the lead of city’s like Minneapolis and organizations like Freedom to Thrive, and begin to re-imagine and shift our perception of what public safety looks like and how we can achieve it. It means we find better and non-violent ways to solve social problems.
The Violent Nature of Modern Policing
The problem doesn’t seem to be poor training. We’ve put a lot of money into more training, better training, and other reforms that don’t strike at the root of the problem. Increasing diversity in police forces has failed to end police violence. Body cameras have failed to prevent police from using excessive force. Anti-bias training has not solved the problem of systemic racism in police institutions with a history rooted in slave patrols and the enforcement of Jim Crow laws.
The problem seems to be that policing itself is inherently violent and doesn’t work. Our modern concept of policing and public safety is based on the idea that social problems should be solved by people who are armed with deadly weapons, and who are granted authority from the government to threaten and to actually use violence against people to force their compliance.
If policing itself is inherently violent and is the problem, then what is an alternative that gets rid of that problem and also creates real public safety in our communities?
The answer to what it means to abolish the police and how it could be accomplished lies in changing our priorities and implementing various ideas and policies that reduce our reliance on police by shifting the responsibility for public safety into other agencies, programs, and practices that don’t rely on violence and the use of force. Read More
Two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s estimated that 100,000 U.S. residents have died of complications of COVID-19. Over 90% of patients hospitalized for COVID suffer at least one underlying condition, primarily hypertension, obesity, lung disease, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease.
The effects on our community go far beyond the medical issues, almost overnight turning a low unemployment rate into the highest unemployment rate since The Great Depression, with the shuttering of entire industries. Similar to how our bodies are suffering unequally from COVID, our community is suffering unequally due to underlying conditions made plain and more severe by the virus.
In medicine, diagnosis is the first step toward a cure, and there are emerging cures for some of our community’s underlying conditions as well.
Underlying Condition #1 – Poverty and Racism
The U.S. social safety net, already tattered by decades of cuts to public services, is clearly not able to support us as our economic conditions deteriorate. Although Oregon seems to be an outlier, with layoffs due to COVID tracking with the overall racial breakdown of the workforce, nationwide layoffs and furloughs are hitting people of color harder in the same way that infections and deaths from the virus are hitting them harder. This impact has everything to do with structural racism and racial capitalism. Across the political spectrum, we now see an imperative for broad scale investments to strengthen social safety net programs and services. We knew that “we are all in this together” even before the pandemic, and now is the time to build a movement to successfully restructure public policy and ensure we have a strong safety net to help resolve underlying poverty, racism (including devastating effects on Indigenous communities), and gendered economic disparities.
Underlying Condition #2- Disregard for Workers’ Rights
There is a paradox to calling poorly compensated workers in grocery stores, nursing homes, meat packing plants, farms, and child care facilities “heroes” and “essential” — an inconsistency that is glaringly apparent to union members and workers’ rights advocates. Essential work needs basic protections, and work is safer for us all when workers themselves have a voice in their workplace. For decades, employers have attacked workers’ rights, reducing the percentage of workers who are part of traditional unions to less than 11% of the workforce. Yet workers in low wage jobs, essential workers across the country, are now taking collective action to protect themselves — and they are winning, often without the backing of a union. A revitalization of militant labor organizing is underway. We should support them by requiring that health and safety standards are enforced by workers’ councils at all workplaces. These councils should have the power to change practices or cease work if they deem it unsafe.
Underlying Condition #3- “Gig” Employment
Over the last decade we have also allowed gig platforms like Uber and Lyft to grow and operate without basic worker protections like healthcare, paid sick leave, and unemployment benefits. All of this took place within a logic of innovation and ‘job creation’ following the last recession. It’s clear now that this was a colossal mistake, as we scramble to provide benefits for workers whose employers resisted paying into the unemployment insurance system and public benefits.
Underlying Condition #4 – Health Care
Our employer based health care funding system was not working for us before the pandemic, and that fact has been made even more clear in the face of widespread unemployment. Now is the time to permanently disconnect our health care from employment. Support is growing for the federal Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act, to ensure that anyone who loses coverage due to the pandemic is covered by Medicare, a clear and necessary measure to keep us healthy and safe.
Our Time To Make Our Own Solutions
As artist, trickster, healer, and friend of Portland JwJ Ricardo Levins Morales said on his blog: “…the resources we’ve needed were here all along. Trillions of dollars that were never offered to house, clothe, feed and heal us, appear out of thin air when the survival of the aristocracy is at stake…. Why is access to all our basic needs in the hands of predators in the first place? Why not ours?” Our community’s and our bodies’ underlying conditions can be treated, and now is our time to make our own solutions.