The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread around the world, affecting the economy and the working people at the heart of all economic activity. Businesses are shutting down with no guarantee they will weather the storm and reopen, and workers are being laid off by the thousands as stay-at-home orders and the need for social and physical distancing take what should be obvious precedence over profit-driven economics. Yet in spite of the frightening and uncertain nature of these times, workers are organizing and winning important victories including hazard pay, paid sick leave, and more.
Here in Oregon and so many other places across the country, workers and other community members are forming mutual aid groups who are actively organizing and providing food, disinfectants, and other supplies to the community, especially to elder and immunocompromised people who especially should not risk going out into the public during this time. In addition these groups are organizing a rent strike and other policy campaigns designed to help workers and other vulnerable and marginalized people in this crisis. These impromptu organizations follow a long history of mutual aid organization during times of crisis, and are absolutely vital to efforts to stem the tide of this pandemic and keep our communities safe.
Workers are organizing in shops across the country to hold bad bosses accountable and ensure that front line workers in vital and essential occupations like food service are receiving paid sick days, hazard pay, and more. For example, members of the Burgerville Workers Union in at least one Portland area store have gone on strike due to dangerous under-staffing, inadequate sanitary conditions, and the corporate offices unwillingness to listen and respond to the needs of workers.
As a result of this crisis, people in the United States are waking up to the fact that grocery workers are vital, essential workers in our economy who deserve to be well paid and respected. In Oregon and Southwest Washington, UFCW Local 555 has been at the forefront of providing important and useful crisis information for grocery workers. The union and the front line grocery workers they represent are also leading the way with a series of recent and important victories in direct relation to the COVID-19 crisis. These victories include Hazard pay of an extra $2 per hour at Albertsons, Safeway, and Sherms stores as well as a hazard bonus for all Fred Meyer employees, an expansion of Fred Meyer’s emergency leave policy to include workers who have been told to self-quarantine by a healthcare professional, and store signage and floor markers and Fred Meyer check out stands to help ensure people are adhering to physical distancing guidelines while shopping for needed supplies.
Nationally, Amazon has become an important resource and supply line for people who are quarantined or unable to go out into the public due to age or having compromised immune systems. That makes it even more important for workers and community to be organizing to hold Amazon accountable, and that is exactly what is happening. In fact, this past week worker organizing at Amazon won paid time off for part-time warehouse workers and seasonal delivery drivers.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of discouraging workers from organizing in a time when businesses are struggling. But it is during times of crisis that the wealthy, capitalists, and business owners often attempt to pass off their risk and loss onto vulnerable workers, and the treatment of workers on the job declines as a result. Now more than ever, workers need to be organizing for better working conditions and a better world. Here at Jobs with Justice we are doing everything we can to help food service workers who want to organize to hold bad bosses accountable and provide mutual aid to those in need. If you are a food service worker and want to participate in these organizing efforts with us, please text “Community” to 503-782-6265 and we will update you and plug you into the movement accordingly!
Since its debut as an online retailer 10 years ago, Amazon has seeped its way into every aspect of our lives. From shopping to watching TV, from listening to music to calling the kids up from their rooms for dinner, Amazon is seemingly ever-present. But despite the many conveniences for Amazon customers, those who work in Amazon warehouses to make sure that our packages arrive the next day… or the same day, often have a different story to tell.
Amazon claims that they now pay their workers at least $15/hr. In fact here in Oregon they received $9.6 million in property tax exemptions at their Troutdale warehouse in exchange for an agreement to pay at least $15/hr, and that is in addition to other tax breaks they receive throughout the state. But don’t be fooled by fancy half-truths. Delivery drivers and Amazon warehouse workers often tell a different story when it comes to their wages. The problem is not just in Oregon of course. A recent report published by the Economic Roundtable shows that the average Amazon worker makes well less than $15/hr despite working for the company full time, and despite having a family to take care of.
Amazon claims that it provides a safe and quality work environment for all of its hundreds of thousands employees. But back, shoulder, wrist, and other injuries at Amazon warehouses are extremely common. Many Amazon warehouses have a serious injury rate that is double the national average and that isn’t even the worst of it. At the Troutdale warehouse just outside of Portland, 26 out of every 100 those workers filed for workers comp in 2018. That is more than six times the national average!
This clearly isn’t just a problem “out there.” As we can see it is a problem right here in the Portland area. Jamie Partridge–who is a retired postal worker, Portland JwJ board member, DSA member, and an organizer with the PDX Amazon Workers Solidarity Campaign–told The Oregonian that the PDX9 warehouse in Troutdale, Oregon “…like others, just has a high rate of repetitive motion and other types of injuries.”
The time has come for workers and the community to work together to confront Amazon and it’s exploitive business model. Workers around the world are already starting to fight back through strikes at Amazon warehouses.
In addition to direct worker action internationally, a national coalition called Athena, which is comprised of dozens of organizations including but not limited to Jobs with Justice, Fight for the Future, and Partnership for Working Families has come together to take on Amazon from multiple, interconnected angles. From surveillance technology and Amazon’s collaboration with ICE and Customs and Border Protection agencies in breaking up and detaining families in concentration camps, to horrible working conditions with poverty wages and high injury rates, to its massive size and the obvious issues concerning monopoly and antitrust law–Athena is ready for a fight, and so is Portland Jobs with Justice.
With the warrior spirit of Athena, we are coming together with the community and workers at the PDX Amazon Workers Solidarity Campaign to build pressure and make change here locally. Be sure to check in and stay tuned for updates and actions!
The Universal Preschool Now! (UP Now) 2020 ballot measure campaign is a grassroots, community-driven push to create a free, publicly funded, year-round universal preschool system for all kids in Multnomah County. Large metro areas like Washington D.C. and New York City have had extremely successful universal preschool programs for years now, and Chicago recently started rolling out their program in 2018. It’s time for the Portland area to do the right thing and join them!
UP Now’s well-thought-out plan has many benefits we can all get on board with. It will be publicly funded–without austerity measures–through tax increases that will only affect the top 5% of super wealthy income earners in the county. It will be a truly universal service, free to enroll any child regardless of family income on either end of the spectrum. The program will provide play-based, culturally-responsive and inclusive preschooling in multiple languages and in the parents’ choice of setting. This will not be a simple one-size fits all program. Rather, children of all abilities, languages, and backgrounds will be welcome and given the care they need and deserve.
As if that wasn’t enough to ensure support, check out what’s so exciting about this plan specifically for those who value Unions, workers’ rights, and economic justice.
A universal preschool program, one that is publicly funded with no cost for families at the point of service means that working families, single moms, and other single parents who are struggling to make ends meet–as well as student parents, unemployed parents, houseless parents, and legions of underemployed parents who are fighting to reach stable ground–have one less huge financial burden.
In addition, the UP Now plan ensures living wages for teachers in the program through a mandated $18/hr starting wage for all staff, and pay for teachers comparable to elementary school teachers This ensures that our county’s preschool workers won’t live in poverty, and can live in the communities they serve.
Does that wet the Union whistle and get you excited about the campaign? If not, then perhaps a system-wide neutrality agreement will do the trick. Yes you read that right – the UP Now measure requires union neutrality from Multnomah County and from any and all employers that take county money from the universal preschool program, regardless of whether they are preschools or other kinds of child care facilities that can offer a preschool program. That means that legally, preschool and other child care administrators won’t be allowed to fight back and get in the way. They won’t be able to prevent their employees from forming a union, nor can they stop family child care providers from joining the unions already representing others like them who accept public dollars like Employment Related Day Care funding. Neutrality will create a solid foundation for unionization throughout Multnomah County’s public preschool industry as well as the county’s general child care industry. With an established wage floor and union representation, we can get preschool and child care workers the pay and benefits they deserve. If those aren’t good enough reasons for Unions to get on board with the Universal Preschool Now campaign, then what is?
So grab your device (or a pen and some paper), a cup a coffee, and start drafting that endorsement resolution for your Local. Portland Jobs with Justice, AFSCME Local 88, Portland Association of Teachers, ILWU Oregon Area District Council, and CWA Local 7901 have already signed on. Let’s get your Union on board!
Click Here to get your Union connected with the UP Now campaign!
(title photo taken by Rick Belliveau)
The Portland Police Association is gearing up to launch negotiations for a renewed union contract for the Portland Police Bureau. Here at Jobs with Justice we know that Police Contracts are unlike most public sector contracts.
Police Union Contracts act as a shield to protect police from oversight or accountability (especially in cases of biases and police interactions with mentally ill people) while they continue to kill and harm community members with no consequence.
We think this means you should be informed and have an opportunity to weight in!
The Portland Police officers’ contract is negotiated by the City and the Portland Police Association (PPA). Their most recent contract expires in July 2020. Negotiations for a new contract will begin in January 2020.
As city employees, the police should be accountable to the residents of Portland for their actions, especially around issues of biased-based policing.
We’re calling on Portland City Council and the PPA to ensure that this contract negotiation process is transparent and seeks citizen feedback along the way.
Now some people might say…
“But the police are public sector employees and we support workers’ rights!”
We know that the police exist in a very specific position of unchecked power due to their ability to use deadly force, Portland’s long history of biased based policing, and the protections provided them in police union contracts across the nation.
“Supporting negotiations that increase oversight and employer power over the police violates the spirit of organizing and worker solidarity!”
We know that the police force has historically sided with the oppressive state over and over again. We know that the militarized police state has used varying degrees of force to silence workers using their 1st Amendment rights & fighting for more accountability for the police is an act of solidarity with the most marginalized workers.
“It’s a waste of tax payer money to negotiate against the powerful PPA”
We know that as city employees entering into negotiations with Portland’s elected officials, the police are essentially employed by the citizenship of the city who pay their wages through taxes. We know the police are overfunded and this is a worthwhile redirection of funds.
The issue of Police Union Contracts keeping officers from any meaningful consequences for their action is NOT unique to Portland. That’s why national researchers and experts on police violence have been tracking problematic policies in Police Union Contracts across the country.
At a presentation to Portland city council members on October 1, 2019 organizers from Campaign Zero (a data-informed platform presenting “comprehensive solutions to end police violence”) explained how Oregon state law regarding deadly force is among the most permissive in the nation.
We know that ensuring police are held accountable for their actions is an important part of showing solidarity to the most marginalized and oppressed workers in our communities.
That’s why we want you to be in the know. Because the power is with the people.
Keep an eye on our social media and the #ChangeTheContract campaign as we explore the policies we’re fighting for in the Portland Police Association contract, what they mean, and how they can be fixed. Together we can build and create a safer community with a police force that is more transparent and accountable to the people they serve.
Ricardo Levins Morales describes himself as a “healer and trickster organizer disguised as an artist.” The social justice artist is celebrating 50 years of artistry and activism, and he’s visiting Portland in November to attend Portland Jobs With Justice’s annual dinner as the keynote speaker.
Morales was born in Puerto Rico during the anti-colonial movement and spent his teenage years delving into the world of organized activism and protests in Chicago with visionary groups such as the Young Lords and the Black Panthers. He sees his art as “medicinal,” as a way to address trauma individually, collectively and historically.
Morales’ current organizing efforts beyond the art studio include workshops on trauma and resilience for organizers, creative and strategic training for organizing, sustainable activism, and mentoring young activists in his community and nationally.
Casey Miller: What do you believe makes a social protest effective – and how is this seen in your artwork?
Ricardo Levins Morales: It really depends. What are the conditions? What’s the balance of power for a protest in a concentration camp? It’s a lot different than a protest in a workplace. It depends on how much leeway you have, and how much organization you have. So there’s no single answer to that. It’s like saying asking what kind of medicine is most effective? What’s the condition of the patient, you know?
Miller: What artists and activists have influenced you over the years?
Morales: Oh my gosh. Well, I learned to do art by copying art. I dropped out of high school, so I never had any formal education in it. One of the main influences on me was one of the Puerto Rican screen printing masters. Screen printing is a highly advanced art in Puerto Rico, where I’m from. So, he was a major influence there. Also, cartoon artists, caricature artists, because I started out doing a lot of political caricatures.
In terms of activism, there’s a long line of political ancestors. My parents were both involved in the anti-colonial movement in Puerto Rico. When we moved to the States, when I was an adolescent, a major influence was Fred Hampton, who was the leader of the local chapter of the Black Panther Party. We did very creative coalition-building work across racial boundaries. That has still left an imprint on how I think about organizing.
Workers at New Seasons Market report that the iconic local grocery chain will be put up for sale soon by its private equity owner, Endeavour Capital – this is according to rumors filtering down from managers. That would make sense because Endeavour first invested in New Seasons in 2009 and typically sells off its portfolio companies within 5 to 10 years.
What future do you want for New Seasons? Scroll down to take our survey.
New Seasons Market was founded in 1999 by three Portland-area families and has since grown to 21 stores employing 3,300 workers, mostly in the Portland metro area. Customers have gravitated to its prepared foods and stated commitment to sustainability and progressive values. But, under Endeavour’s ownership, New Seasons has also faced criticism over its role in gentrification and for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on anti-union consultants.
When Endeavour Capital first invested in New Seasons in 2009, co-founder Brian Rohter claimed Endeavour was brought in to help transition New Seasons to some form of worker ownership. “At the end of this process,” he wrote, “the majority of the company will be owned by the original shareholders and staff members”. In 2012, when Endeavour became the majority owner, New Seasons CEO Lisa Sedlar predicted the company would achieve employee ownership within 5 years.
Now that a sale appears to be on the horizon, is employee ownership still on the table? With Endeavour’s sale process shrouded in secrecy, we have no way to know, but a sale could go any number of ways:
As New Seasons’ #SellByDate fast approaches, Jobs With Justice thinks workers, shoppers, and impacted communities should have a voice in the future of the company.
Full disclosure: At Jobs With Justice, we are excited about the potential for employee ownership to give employees real power to shape the future of the company in ways that are good for workers and the community. However, we also know that is not always what happens with ESOPs. So, we’re going to be doing some homework on the subject.
What do you think? Fill out our super short survey below! The survey has one section for community members, and one section for current employees of New Seasons.
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.
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!
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:
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!
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.
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:
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.