Oregon ‘right-to-work’ initiative dropped

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PORTLAND, Ore. (PAI) - Sponsors of two anti-union initiative petitions - including a so-called right-to-work measure for public employees - agreed to withdraw their measures aimed at the Oregon ballot in November. In exchange, a labor-backed coalition that sponsored pro-union counter-measures agreed to do the same. The announcement was made Mar. 3 by Gov. John Kitzhaber (D).

In all, 13 measures were withdrawn. Most were still waiting for the Secretary of State to certify them. The right-to-work measure, Initiative Petition 9, had been certified and was in the early stages of collecting signatures. None of the 13 had qualified for the ballot.

Kitzhaber's announcement follows an agreement he brokered in February between the Service Employees (SEIU) and many of the state's largest hospitals. Following that agreement, an additional five ballot initiative petitions were withdrawn.

Kitzhaber, who is up for re-election this year, has talked for more than a year about wanting to keep the initiatives off the ballot in order to avoid a bruising, expensive ballot measure battle. He began formal discussions with initiative sponsors several months ago.

"This is an unprecedented moment in Oregon's long history of ballot measure politics," Kitzhaber said in a press release. "Over the last three years, we have shown time and time again that no matter how wide the ideological divide might be, people on different sides of issues are able to come together for the greater good of Oregon and our citizens."

At press time, the Secretary of State's website showed the following anti-union initiative petitions had been withdrawn: IP 1, which says public employees cannot contribute to unions using payroll deductions if funds are used for political purposes, and IP 9, dubbed the "Public Employee Choice Act." It would have removed any requirement that public employees pay union dues or any share of the costs that unions incur to represent them.

Similar right-to-work laws have been passed across the country in recent years, most notably in Michigan, Wisconsin - for public workers-and Indiana.

Also withdrawn were union-backed initiative petitions 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 29, 30, 32, 33, and 35. Our Oregon sponsored all but IP 35. Ten of the measures were different versions of proposals to raise taxes on big corporations and the wealthy. The others were counter-initiatives to IP 9. Under Oregon law, if two ballot measures contradict each other and both pass, the one that gets the most votes prevails.

IP 35, "Employee Rights At Work," was sponsored by Oregon AFSCME Council 75 Political Director Joe Baessler. It said that any initiative that alters laws on minimum wage, family leave, payroll deduction, or collective bargaining would be required to describe current law and specify whether the initiative enhances or restricts employee rights, a determination to be made by the state labor commissioner.

Two other initiatives - one pro-union and one anti-union - were not withdrawn.

Initiative Petition 2 is a constitutional amendment to prohibit public employees from using payroll deductions to transfer funds to/on behalf of unions.

Initiative Petition 36, "Protect Workers Right to Contribute," names SEIU Local 503 Political Director Arthur Towers as chief petitioner. IP 36 says "no law shall restrict the ability of employers and their employees (either individually or through their bargaining representative) to negotiate and agree upon terms governing payroll deductions."

Neither petition has been certified for signature gathering.

In a press release following Kitzhaber's announcement, Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain thanked everyone involved in the conversations that removed the measures from the ballot.

"I look forward to working with union members, community leaders, and employers in our state as we continue to chart the best path ahead for Oregon," he said.

"The best news out of this deal is that Oregon workers will not have to face a major, multi-million dollar attack from out-of-state corporate interests," said Scott Moore, spokesperson for Our Oregon. "While the Koch Brothers and ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) are moving these anti-worker laws around the country, we won't have to face that threat this year."

In a joint press release, the Oregon Education Association and SEIU said that "as advocates for working people, public education, and an economy that works for the middle class, (we) will be working closely together to secure more funding for schools and the services that Oregon's communities need and deserve.

"We'll be fighting to make sure that big corporations and those who are not paying their share are doing their part. And we'll fight to keep Oregon the kind of place where working parents can realistically dream of a better tomorrow for their kids," the two unions added.

Chamberlain cautioned the agreement doesn't mean labor will sit out the 2014 election.

"There are still important decisions to be made, and now that our state isn't fighting for the future of the middle class and our economic bottom line on the ballot, it is crucial to turn our attention to electing pro-worker leaders who can fend off battles like this in our legislature," he said.

Mike Gutwig is editor of The Northwest Labor Press.

Photo: Oregon AFL-CIO Facebook page.

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