Prime Time for Good Jobs

Global online retailer Amazon announced last month that July 15th and 16th will be “Prime Day,” dropping prices on millions of goods for members of its Prime service. It’s workforce of 650,000 people will face the monumental task of packing and shipping it all out.

Amazon says that its online retail dominance is due to “Amazing People and Amazing Technology”.  In our community, many of those people work at huge facilities in Hillsboro, Portland, and Troutdale.  Workers report dire conditions at these and other Amazon facilities, including unbearable heat or freezing cold conditions, insufficient bathroom access, poverty wages, not enough hours, and a competitive work culture that raises serious safety concerns.  

Managers claim they can’t control the temperature in Amazon rented buildings, like the Portland facility. Prime Day, falling in the summer, purposefully creates a massive increase in sales and an incredible strain on workers that rivals the winter holidays. With only 5 toilets for the more than three hundred workers at the Portland facility, conditions are, shall we say, sub-Prime!  

These Amazon workers make $15.00 an hour, after the company raised wages last year (while simultaneously eliminating some benefits and bonuses that workers enjoyed). Workers report that most Amazon workers at the Portland area facilities work 5.95 hours per shift, making them ineligible for benefits like health insurance and paid time off. That puts the typical Amazon worker at $23,205 in annual wages, $10,000 below the cost to rent an average one bedroom apartment. 

Amazon likes to put its technology into competition with its people, running sorting and packing competitions like the “Big Iron Challenge” where workers try to beat Big Iron, a robot, in productivity scores. Workers that beat Big Iron get “Amazon Bucks” that can only be used to buy company branded items like bags and t-shirts. Workplace safety culture suffers when companies promote competitions like the Big Iron Challenge because they encourage speed over safety.  

Fortunately, Amazon workers in our community and elsewhere are organizing to improve their conditions. Jobs With Justice is part of a national and global effort bringing together unions, worker centers, and non-profit organizations to lift up Amazon workers fighting for better jobs.  Locally, workers and their supporters have set up the Amazon Workers’ Solidarity Campaign to get the word out about their efforts.  

All Oregonians should support justice for Amazon workers. Public officials here have given Amazon over $200 million in tax breaks for its warehouses and data centers. We’ve gambled resources that could have gone to schools and vital public services for these jobs. Meanwhile, Amazon is booming as people increasingly shop online, capturing 50% of all U.S. online sales while founder and CEO Jeff Bezos recently became the richest person in the world, worth an amazing $120 Billion.  

We all need to come together to support Amazon workers’ fight for safe, well paid jobs that are worth the public resources we’ve invested. It’s Prime time for good jobs at Amazon.

That feeling when you’re drowning and someone throws you a life jacket

When I heard that Elizabeth Warren proposed a student debt relief plan that would cancel about 75% of all student debt, I got hopeful. When Bernie Sanders proposed canceling 100% of all student debt, I got excited! If you’re one of the 45 million people in the US with student debt…I imagine you felt the same way.

There are plenty of reasons to support canceling student debt. One commonly cited reason is that it would just be good for the economy. For example, canceling student debt would lead to a boost in GDP by an average of $86 billion to $108 billion annually over the next 10 years” and “it would reduce the unemployment rate by about 0.3%.”

Improved macroeconomic indicators are great and all, but more money for rich people to gamble on the stock market isn’t what rouses me to action. As a working person who has struggled for two decades to make payments I often couldn’t afford, and who still has tens of thousands of dollars in student debt… a bigger GDP just isn’t what is important to me, or I’d venture to say most working class people, about these proposals.

What is important to working people is the prospect of no longer feeling like we’re constantly drowning! It would mean a vast improvement in quality of life just for its affect on our chronic anxiety issues alone! It would be a breath of fresh air to not feel like the education we dedicated ourselves to was just an expensive mistake!

The extra $400 per month in working families’ pockets would mean we could actually save money for emergencies. We could enjoy more evenings out with friends and families. Maybe we’ll even be able to afford an actual vacation. 

It would mean that for the next two or three years we’ll be able to afford the rent, even as it continues to constantly climb up while our wages stay stagnant

It could mean being able to help my own now adult child pay for college so she doesn’t have to live this student debt nightmare.

Proposals to cancel student debt are important to working people who are living paycheck-to-paycheck, struggling to make ends meet, and always one mistake away homelessness. But make no mistake, the working class cannot sit back and wait for politicians to throw us a bone. If we do then that might mean waiting around listening to sweet …nothings… for years to come. 

Being thrown a life jacket in an ocean of rising debt won’t solve the problem. Solidarity is our life raft, and we have to build it together. Working people must come together and organize. We need to be in the streets, we need to engage in direct action and civil disobedience, go on strike, and build the overwhelming grassroots pressure that it will take to save our ship from drowning in student debt!

Workers Deserve Just Cause Discipline

In the last month and a half, I have witnessed 6 workers in the fast food industry in Portland be terminated.

What trespass had they committed to invoke the Management equivalent of capital punishment? They were all guilty of fighting for their fellow workers to have safe working conditions,  be able to pay their bills, and to maybe…just maybe… avoid the indignities of living paycheck-to-paycheck in 2019 America.

All of them were either members of the Little Big Union (who only recently took their campaign public), or the Burgerville Workers Union (in the midst of the fight for a historic first union contract), and none of them deserved the shameful treatment they received.

In the sadness of thinking about their plight, and the long fights ahead to right the wrongs that were done, I couldn’t help but think about a disempowering phrase that has been trained into the reflexes of my generation.  Repeated countless times to workers who came of age during the Great Recession, sometimes as well-meaning advice, other times as a thinly veiled threat…

Just be thankful you have a job.

On the surface not an altogether shocking phrase, I’d contend that the implications between each word are odious. Right now less than 8% of the private sector workforce in America are Union members.  I believe this speaks to the reality that many of my peers have learned to keep their heads down in the face of abuse, drudgery, and unbearable stress… rather than glimpse side-to-side, and fight back in unity!

One of the many paradigm shifting Union realities that has made a difference in my life, has been understanding Just Cause Discipline, which has become a standard feature in practically all Union contracts. On occasion I’ve noticed longtime Labor activists not fully explain the remarkable difference that it can mean to young workers who have known nothing but its alternative, namely At-Will Employment.

The crux of At-Will Employment is this: an employer can at any time and for any reason, even the mere end of their will to keep you employed, or no reason at all, terminate you without cause.  Besides the most blatant discrimination involving legally protected classes, there is essentially no legal remedy – nothing – that a worker fired by an at-will employer can do when they get a pink slip.

This is, in a microcosm, essentially a system that enshrines the absence of due process.  That absent of facts, representation with counsel, appeal rights… summary judgment can be issued from on-high, and that’s that!

That notion offends me, so much so that I’ll take it a step further and say that At-Will Employment is an evil and should be confronted as such.  Just Cause Discipline in a contract enshrines basic fairness that should be the reality for every worker.

Just Cause Discipline (far from the anti-Union trope of making it impossible to fire anyone), means all instances of discipline from Management must be evaluated against 7 objective tests:

  1. Was the employee warned about potential consequences?
  2. Was the rule or order reasonably related to efficient and safe operations?
  3. Did management investigate before disciplining?
  4. Was the investigation fair and objective?
  5. Did the investigation produce substantial proof of guilt?
  6. Were the rules, orders, and penalties applied evenhandedly?
  7. Was the penalty commensurate to the seriousness of the offense and the past record?

There is no promise in the world that a boss can make that will ensure that the simple questions posed above are followed and enforced. Knowing that those 7 fair questions guide the discipline that I may receive has freed me from feeling like I arrive at work insecure, threatened, and powerless.  In truth, that sense of freedom and workplace democracy is what I want for every single worker that I know, and is part of why I organize and continue to fight!

Stop Investing Oregon’s Public Money in Endeavour Capital

The Oregon Investment Council (OIC) oversees the investment and allocation of all State of Oregon trust funds, including the retirement investments for public workers, or PERS.

Did you know that OIC has been investing State of Oregon retirement funds with the Portland-based private equity firm Endeavour Capital?

Private equity firms like Endeavour are designed to extract wealth from communities for the sole benefit of the 1%. Endeavour is the majority owner of Portland’s local union busting grocery chain, New Seasons Market. It’s also the majority owner of one of the largest bail bond companies in the nation, Aladdin Bail Bonds. If that isn’t a bad enough wrap sheet, this private equity firm is also a repeat investor in for-profit educational companies.

Click Here to sign the petition demanding the OIC stop investing our future in Endeavour Capital

Public workers across Oregon have dedicated years of their working lives to serving the common good, and now part of their future is being tied into the interest of something quite opposite. Endeavour Capital and the companies it owns have:

  • Hired an aggressive union busting consultant to intimidate New Seasons workers in Portland and maintained an overtly hostile position toward employees organizing for improved working conditions in Oregon and Washington
  • profited off mass incarceration and private bail bonds
  • contributed almost $800,000 to a political action committee in California to defeat legislation meant to protect people from bail bond profiteers
  • Profited off of the for-profit education scam

Endeavour has also received significant investment from the Murdock Charitable Trust, which has funded extremist anti-LGBTQ causes like the so-called “ex-gay therapy” (or “conversion therapy”).

These actions are offensive to the ideals of justice that are at the core JwJ’s work, and at the core of our community. It is unconscionable that our public retirement funds are being invested in a company that profits off such disgusting businesses and business practices.

Our public workers deserve better.  We are asking that the OIC listen to people of good will, act as responsible fiduciaries for Oregon’s future, act justly, and divest from Endeavour Capital.

Click Here to sign the petition demanding the OIC stop investing our future in Endeavour Capital

Portland must reject JTTF once and for all

Portland’s continued participation in the JTTF betrays our community values, negates our city’s claims that we’re a sanctuary for immigrants, and diverts public-safety resources into an unaccountable structure that has an alarming history of civil rights abuses.

NoTaskForceOregon’s labor movement proudly put significant effort into defeating Measure 105 and racial profiling in the November 2018 election. Organized workers know that we can create safety and security through solidarity with one another.

Measure 105’s backers tried to mislead Oregonians that the measure would make Oregon secure by increasing profiling of immigrants. Increasing profiling in our state would have a devastating impact on immigrant and refugee communities and communities of color, which is why so many of us were jubilant to see 105 fail by a huge margin. Measure 105 did not reflect our community’s values.

For context, Measure 105 failed by almost 2-to-1 statewide, and in Multnomah County the result was even more lopsided — 82 percent of Multnomah County voters rejected the measure. It was a resounding victory and a moment when our community said “no” to the hate and fear-mongering coming from the Oval Office and local white supremacists empowered by the 2016 election.

I believe the community that spoke up so clearly against racial profiling in November is similarly ready to reject Portland’s continued involvement in the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Born out of the Islamophobia of the early 2000s, the FBI created the JTTF to collaborate with police in major cities. Portland has had a tumultuous relationship with the task force ever since, leaving in 2005 and rejoining six years later.

Portland’s continued participation in the JTTF betrays our community values, negates our city’s claims that we’re a sanctuary for immigrants, and diverts public-safety resources into an unaccountable structure that has an alarming history of civil rights abuses.

Our community values our neighbors, rejects nativism and white supremacy, and seeks transparent and accessible public services. None of the sparse information the FBI has revealed about Portland’s involvement in the JTTF gives any comfort that the task force matches our city’s values.

The crowning “accomplishment” of the JTTF, of the little that has been shared, is that it discovered a discontented Somali teenager from Beaverton, helped him plan an attack on the city, then arrested him for following their guidance.

Our city leaders, mindful of our 30-year history of being a sanctuary state, have repeatedly grilled the FBI on whether or not it uses immigration status as part of its counterterrorism mandate. In recent statements the FBI representatives of the JTTF disclosed that they would, in fact, use immigration status against whoever they may be investigating. Their admission should raise red flags about the legal basis and the morality of participating in the JTTF.

Obviously, if Portland police were approached with credible evidence of an imminent threat, they should work with the FBI in responding to that emergency event, which is the traditional role of local law enforcement. However, ongoing collaboration with the FBI through the JTTF does not make any of us safer.

Portland’s city leaders should once and for all end our participation in the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

It doesn’t reflect our values and is not a good use of our law enforcement resources.

Will Layng lives in Portland and is executive director of Portland Jobs With Justice. Reach him at Will@jwjpdx.org


This article was originally published in the Portland Tribune

Time for Tenant Rights in Oregon: Proposal is a Start, But Needs Work

This year Oregon will likely become the first and only state in the U.S. to limit rent increases. When our state legislature passes this law there is no question that it will be something worth celebrating. Not only will it be an historic landmark in the struggle for tenant rights but for the first time everyone in our state, not just in the City of Portland, will have protection against sudden, frequent, and exorbitant rent increases. Just like being the first state to limit rent increases, extending tenant rights to smaller cities and to the rural areas of our state is an equally important achievement in the struggle for housing justice.

If the proposal put forward by Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, House Speaker Tina Kotek, and Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson passes as is it would also limit no-cause evictions statewide. No-cause evictions have been a major source of housing instability in Oregon. When I tell friends in other states about the struggle here in Oregon to end no-cause evictions, they are left jaw-dropped by the idea that a landlord can just evict you for no reason, whenever they want to.

tenantrightsAs a labor-community organization, we at Portland Jobs with Justice believe that union members should understand the importance of ending no-cause evictions better than anyone. Unions have fought and continue to fight hard to ensure that all union contracts have just termination clauses that ensure no union member will be fired without just cause. Even more than only just cause, our union contracts spell out step-by-step the disciplinary process in which employers must engage in good faith before a termination can be deemed just. Why wouldn’t we want the same protections in our homes that we have in our jobs? Just cause is a basic protection that needs to be extended to all workers in all workplaces, union or not. Similarly all tenants need this basic protection and to ensure stability in their homes and their lives.

These are important reasons why we at Portland JwJ support the passage of a strong statewide tenants’ rights bill here in Oregon this legislative session. But while we believe the current proposal is a good starting point for that conversation, it is important that we view this proposal as just that, a starting point and not the final product. The final bill that gets passed into law undoubtedly needs to do much more to protects tenants here in Oregon.

Limiting rent increases is so important, not just here in Portland but throughout the state. However, limiting them to 7% per year plus inflation as proposed means that many working families, seniors and people with disabilities who are on fixed incomes, and people living in poverty generally will be priced out of their homes and their neighborhoods within only a few short years at most. This is as true in Pendleton and Klamath City as it is in Portland, Salem, or Eugene. Limited rent increases statewide  to 7% per year plus inflation may be historic in geographic scope, but it doesn’t actually solve the very massive problem of out of control rental inflation. On the contrary, it only kicks the can of displacement further down the road. Families certainly are not seeing annual raises in their paychecks of 7% per year plus inflation. We are lucky if we even get a cost of living adjustment let alone an actual raise, and even less a raise as large as 7%.

renters marchAnother glaring problem with the currently proposed limit on rent increases is that it exempts all new buildings for 15 years after they are built. With recent large increases in Oregon’s population, and the massive building boom over the past decade in cities from Portland to Bend, there is no doubt that this exemption will leave out tens of thousands of families across the state who will still be subject to unlimited and out of control rent increases at the whim of their landlords. This is not right, it is not just, and it is a piece of the proposal that needs to change. A good example and benchmark might be New York City. As pointed out by the Willamette Week, landlords there were limited to increasing rent by 1.5% last year, which is about the same rate as general inflation was for the year.

The just cause eviction policy in the current proposal is another piece that is at the same time both of vital importance and in need of stronger revision. As is, the proposal still permits no-cause evictions during the first year of a tenant’s residency in a new home. A year is also the standard term of a lease, at least in the Portland area. So you essentially have to make it through your whole first lease at a new home, decide you want to stay, and assuming that your landlord decides to renew your lease then you are finally protected from no-cause evictions. A year gives landlords too much time to evict families for no reason, and unfortunately leaves tenants with at least an entire year of instability and uncertainty every time they have to move.

This loophole is concerning for a number of reasons. Will we see a spike in no-cause evictions within the first year of residency? Or will there be a significant uptick in landlords refusing to renew leases in order to skirt around just-cause eviction law? A year is too long and this is something in the current proposal that needs to be strengthened if not eliminated altogether. To be fair, even most union contracts and union jobs have probationary periods before just-cause policy kicks in, where an employee can be fired for no cause. If some similar probationary period is a must for just-cause eviction policy in rental housing, then at most 3 months seems like a reasonable amount of time for a landlord to ensure their new tenant will pay the rent without forcing tenants to live a life of perpetual housing instability.

Written by Justin Norton-Kertson, Portland Jobs with Justice Solidarity Organizer.

Does Burgerville really ‘serve with love’?

Growing up in a Presbyterian family in Atlanta in the ’80s, I learned important lessons about faith, religion, and food. One thing I learned was that after the blessing before dinner, it was best to avoid talk of religion until we finished eating. Very few things can make you feel less welcome than someone trying to stuff their religious beliefs down your throat along with your mashed potatoes.

As the Executive Director of Portland Jobs with Justice, I’ve been surprised to learn that Vancouver-based Burgerville and its longtime leader, Tom Mears, think very differently about religion and food. Mears wrote a book in 2017 called ‘Serve With Love,’ which tells the story of how Burgerville transformed itself into a “mission led” company, based on lofty principles: upholding the dignity of all, making health care available for employees, and helping workers grow and succeed.

Burgerville has been hostile to workers’ organizing, and has been slow in negotiating a contract with workers at the unionized stores

While most Christians would support those principles at face value, we should look deeper at what Mears’ book is actually serving up.  The book is promoted by a global organization called the Nehemiah Project, which exists to train “kingdom companies” in “Biblical entrepreneurship(™)”. And if you are scratching your head wondering what that means, you can pay the Nehemiah Project $3,770 to get certified in it at one of their seminars!

BVWU Charity
Supporters of Burgerville workers outside of Burgerville CEO Tom Mears church. They spoke to churchgoers about how many Burgerville workers experience houselessness and food insecurity, even as they work full time hours.

Like a day-old french fry, it gets more unappetizing. Burgerville workers throughout the Portland area have been involved in a two year effort to organize a union to win fair wages and enough hours to be able to support themselves, affordable health care so they can take care of themselves, and a voice at work.  Workers have won elections to recognize their union at two stores and recently won another election at a third store in Portland. However, Burgerville has been hostile to workers’ organizing, and has been slow in negotiating a contract with workers at the unionized stores. The company’s anti-union campaign led to an ongoing boycott and regular strikes and pickets at several stores.

Turns out that Mears is just part of the Christian corporate filler involved in this recipe.  The website for Serve With Love has an endorsement from a retired Wells Fargo executive, Jeff Grubb. Grubb is a paid trustee of another Vancouver-based entity, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, a $1.2 billion endowed foundation.  The Murdock Trust, among many laudable grants and investments, granted almost $1 million to the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ hate group founded by James Dobson. They also gave nearly $500,000 to the Freedom Foundation, an anti-worker group opposing minimum wage improvements, paid sick days, and public employee unions.

Dealing fairly with real life employees demanding justice and ending connections with hate groups and anti-worker foundations seem like great ways to live out Mears’ and Burgerville’s words.  We can talk about Biblical entrepreneurship(™) after everyone has eaten.

By Will Layng, Executive Director of Portland Jobs with Justice

Rebuke of Mayor’s Protest Limits is a Victory for the Left

Portland’s City Council recently voted 3-2 against a proposal by Mayor Ted Wheeler, and backed by Police Chief Danielle Outlaw, to give him new powers to limit the time, place, and size of protests in an effort to curb large and violent brawls at downtown public protests.

Those brawls between fascist street gangs like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer on the one hand and anti-fascist activists on the other, have grown in frequency, size, and intensity over the past year. Many people out there may wonder why rejecting the proposal is a victory for the Left. Don’t we want to stop fascist street gangs from organizing in our town, from marching and brawling in our streets, from threatening and attacking people? Wouldn’t this new ordinance have given the Mayor and the police the power to do that?

SolidaritySquadLogoORedAs the Solidarity Organizer for Portland Jobs with Justice, I’d like to briefly explore why the answer is not that simple and why this is indeed a victory for Portland’s Left.

We have seen Mayor Wheeler provide free and private use of public bus services to these fascist street gangs.

We have seen time and again the Portland Police use disproportionate and violent, deadly force against the Left when we come out to protest fascists. We’ve seen the Chief defend that use of use of force by publicly mocking the Left and all but pledging allegiance to the defense of an armed right wing.

It seems to me that what we have learned from all this experience is that whatever new powers the Mayor and Chief have will undoubtedly be used disproportionately against the Left in our attempts to defend our community from the fascist creep.

If that is true then the path forward that leads us to an end of violence and street brawls in Portland certainly does not include giving the Mayor and Police Chief new, quasi-dictatorial, unconstitutional powers that they would undoubtedly use in the future to justify further and greater violence against the Left.

The path forward lies in continuing to build the relationships and coalitions needed to engage in mass mobilizations that counter, shut down, and deny space and a platform to the fascist street gangs that are invading our community. The path forward is to come together and build a united front so big that racism and fascism drown in a sea of popular resistance.

Let’s get to work and build that movement together!

Help JwJ in the struggle to protect our community and to fight for economic, racial, and gender justice. Make a donation to Portland JwJ and take the JwJ Solidarity Pledge to show up five times per year for other people’s struggles!

Building Sanctuary In Our Movement

Ballots have arrived at the homes of voters across Oregon, and while there are many important ballot measures and candidate races to consider, I wanted to take a moment today to speak specifically and personally to a measure that I know has concerned a great number of people in our coalition.  

My name is Robert Camarillo, I’m the Executive Secretary of the Oregon Building Trades Council, and I also serve as the Immigrant Rights Chair at Portland Jobs with Justice.  Our coalition has endorsed NO on Measure 105, which, if passed, would stand to repeal Oregon’s 30 year old sanctuary state law. Not only is defeating Measure 105 important as a means to protect our current law, but moreover, I believe that a NO vote is important in speaking to what we want to build and become.  

The Labor movement has at our core the value that an injury to one is an injury to all. From the shop floors, construction sites, kitchens and offices, so many of us can call to mind moments in our own working lives where solidarity among workers created moments of sanctuary from unfair treatment.

The proponents of Measure 105 would want to see our vision of solidarity destroyed, to call to the worst of our fears and inclinations. I say no, and that solidarity is built upon defending all workers.

I say that this fight is one we can win, and we will do so by calling to the better angels of our nature. Solidarity will protect and build sanctuary, moving closer towards the just society we envision.  I am proud to be the son of immigrants, I am proud to be organizing in the Labor movement, and I ask that you join me and Portland Jobs with Justice in voting NO on 105.

In solidarity and with hope for the future,

Robert Camarillo

This is What Solidarity Looks Like

IMG_2326Following on the heels of a wave of successful and massive statewide teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona, teacher’s across southwest Washington went on strike after districts tried to keep money in the bank that had been handed down by the state legislature specifically to pay for raises and more teachers.

Despite that fact that teachers pay for supplies out of their own pockets, have to work second and third jobs to pay their bills, and are generally overworked, the bad bosses at the district offices thought padding their rainy day funds was more important than living wages for teachers.

At Portland Jobs with Justice we knew it was going to be a tough fight and indeed districts held out, some even filed injunctions to try to force teachers back to work. But we also knew that with students, parents, and the rest of the community firmly behind teachers who were ready to fight, that they would win.

JwJStrikeCaravanGroupWhen we learned that teachers across the river were striking we immediately began organizing community support, and on day two of the strike dozens of Portlanders joined the Solidarity Squad Flying Caravan. Over the river and #RedforEd, the caravan stopped at three different schools (an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school) in the Evergreen School District to provide strike support and walk the picket line with teachers.

For the next two weeks, community members continued to show up and walk the picket line in solidarity with striking teachers. Because solidarity is how we build movements that can win.

IMG_2196The Washington teacher strikes shutdown dozens of schools in 9 districts. Over 6,000 teachers went on strike and the start of the school year was delayed by two weeks for over 100,000 students. We were right, it was a tough fight. But the teachers stayed strong, they fought hard, and they showed us what it means to organize to win.

When courts ruled in favor of injunctions and ordered teachers in Longview and Battleground back to work, the teachers voted overwhelmingly to violate the injunction, risk arrest, and remain on strike. It is no surprise that within a day or two of that vote, districts began to cave.

Because when we strike, we win.