Oregon AFSCME E-lert
June 15, 2015
Edited by Don Loving,
Council 75 Communications Director
Greetings! It’s an understatement to say it was a busy week last week at the Oregon Legislature. There were some good indications on an important bill for Local 1246 members … a fight appears to be looming over the DOC budget … a number of important pieces of legislation that will help all working Oregonians moved last week … and please, read to the end, as we have some sad news to pass along as well as an important request. Welcome to this week’s e-lert.
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LOOKING GOOD — All indications are that HB 2618 will move soon. That’s the AFSCME-sponsored measure to place SACU employees into the Police & Fire tier of PERS.
The Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Services, co-chaired by Sen. Alan Bates (D-Ashland) and Rep. Nancy Nathanson (D-Eugene), held a public hearing on the measure June 11. Testifying for the union were Executive Director Ken Allen, staff rep Randy Ridderbusch and Political Coordinator Eva Rippeteau. Backing them up in the audience were about 15 members of Local 1246 plus other union staff.
Allen told committee members that in his 38 years of representing public workers, the Local 1246 members who work in the Stabilization and Crisis Unit’s 23 community group homes have the most difficult jobs he’s ever seen.
“As you know, we represent most Corrections employees in Oregon, and I’m around those members a lot,” said Allen. “I’ve had many of them tell me they’d never work for SACU — and these are people who’ve spent their careers inside prison walls. These members are very deserving of the early retirement option that the P&F tier would offer.”
Riiderbusch echoed Allen’s comments, noting that he spent 10 years as a Corrections employee before beginning work as a union rep. Rippeteau walked committee members through the mechanics of the bill, noting the measure is prospective and as such, wouldn’t cost the state much “extra” money if some of the older employees chose to retire right away.
While the June 11 meeting was a public hearing only, Bates indicated the committee would hold a work session on HB 2618 soon. Several of the committee members expressed support for the measure, and thanked the Local 1246 members in attendance for the work they perform. Should the subcommittee approve the bill, it will move to the full Ways and Means Committee.
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BUDGET DRAMA — Things got interesting last Thursday afternoon when the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Public Safety held a work session on the Department of Corrections budget. The legislative fiscal office’s analyst reported that the DOC budget, which is well over $1 billion, represented an increase in raw numbers from the 2013-15 biennium but, when adjusted for inflation, was slightly less than last biennium in tern’s of providing current service levels.
With Council 75 Corrections Coordinator Tim Woolery and longtime public safety lobbyist Mary Botkin looking on, the analyst walked legislators through the multi-page budget highlights and answered questions, occasionally with clarifying help from DOC Director Colette Peters. But things heated up when the presentation ended.
Bates, a member of the public safety subcommittee, expressed concern that the budget only included 33 new correctional officer positions. AFSCME has been pushing for 100 new positions, the number Bates reiterated he’d like to see. Committee members Rep. Chris Gorsek (D-Troutdale) and Rep. Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver) quickly spoke up to agree with Bates, and Rep. Wayne Krieger (R-Gold Beach) nodded his head and said “Me, too.” All were particularly concerned when Peters admitted the budget proposal would do little-to-nothing in terms of relieving the DOC’s overtime expenses.
Mandatory overtime shifts have long been an issue of concern for Corrections members. Peters, in response to a query from Bates, said the DOC budgeted $15 million in overtime for the 2013-15 biennium but would end up spending $26 million.
Bates, Gorsek, Krieger and Whisnant all told committee co-chair Sen. Chip Shields (D-Portland) that they would provide him with a “courtesy yes vote” to move the budget (HB 5504) out of the subcommittee, but indicated they wanted to look at enhancements when the measure hits the full Ways and Means Committee. There will likely be some behind-the-scenes dickering before that happens.
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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT — Oregon’s entire public health delivery system will undergo an extensive assessment if HB 3100 becomes law, which looks increasingly likely. The measure, which is also in Ways and Means, carries a $500,000 price tag, which in the overall state budget picture is likely palatable to legislators.
“This is important to AFSCME because we have so many members, county employees in particular, that help deliver public health services in the state,” says Rippeteau. “Oregon ranks 47th nationally in an overall measurement of our public health system; we need to do better. HB 3100 would fund an important statewide assessment of basic needs, core capabilities and look at things like how to deliver services most efficiently.”
While Rippeteau says large counties will always have county-based public health systems, it likely makes more sense for smaller, rural counties to band together and either share some specialists or simply join together for regional public health provision.
Several reports say that Oregon is woefully unprepared for any type of disaster — major earthquake, tsunami or a widespread contagion. HB 3100 would examine those issues, too.
“The goal is to come back with a very good assessment of what needs to be done that the 2017 full-session Legislature can start attacking,” says Rippeteau.
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FAIR SHOT FOR ALL — Council 75 Political Director Joe Baessler reports that the Legislature took action last week on three policies that create economic opportunity for Oregon’s working families: expanding access to paid sick days, “banning the box” to create opportunities for people with prior convictions and arrests to find work, and making saving for retirement easier.
These are three of the top priority measures of the Fair Shot coalition, which includes AFSCME and other labor and community groups.
HB 3025, the “ban the box” legislation, passed the Senate floor late last week on 21-8 vote. The legislation will prohibit employers from including some questions about applicants’ criminal history on job applications. The Senate include some minor amendments, so the measure goes back to the House for concurrence, where it passed in April on a 33-27 count.
“There are some public safety jobs exempted from the bill,” said Baessler. “But we need to strike a balance given that people with prior convictions and arrests are regularly shut out of jobs because of one checked box on their job applications. Removing that ‘box’ will help otherwise qualified Oregonians to obtain the work they need to rebuild their lives and support their families.”
SB 454, the paid sick time bill, passed the Senate Wednesday 17-13 on a mostly party-line vote. As reported in earlier editions of the e-lert, SB 454 will create a statewide standard so workers all across Oregon can accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to 40 hours in a year.
Baessler reported last month that a “deal” was struck on SB 454 to allow the City of Portland’s lower employee threshold for sick days to stand. The measure now moves to the House.
HB 2960, the retirement security bill, passed the House 32-26 last week, with all of the “Aye” votes coming from Democrats. Baessler notes that currently, nearly half of all Oregonians do not have a retirement plan at work.
“As a result, many people are at risk of living in poverty when they retire — unable to cover basic living and medical expenses,” said Baessler. “This bill will help put Oregonians back in charge of their financial future.”
HB 2960 now moves to the Senate.
Baessler reports there’s also “renewed conversations” regarding increasing the minimum wage, another Fair Shot priority. The $15 minimum wage proposal introduced early in the session stalled, but Baessler says House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) is working to move some type of minimum wage legislation. One topic under discussion is removing the current statewide pre-exemption, which means individual communities would be free to pass their own local minimum wage standards.
“We’ll see where this ends up,” said Baessler. “The bottom line is, we support the highest minimum wage we can get.”
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PHONE CALLS, PLEASE — Rippeteau is urging members of Local 132 (Child Care Providers) and others to contact legislators regarding HB 2015, the expansion of the state’s employment-related day care.
“I know lots of people have called, and I appreciate that,” said Rippeteau. “But if you haven’t already called, or e-mailed, we could use a push right now.”
With HB 2015, AFSCME has been pushing to improve ERDC in two ways. One, to increase the subsidy rates paid via ERDC. Two, to increase the number of families that receive ERDC benefits.
“We’re asking for $62 million for full funding, which is an important distinction,” said Rippeteau. “There are currently 7,800 families receiving ERDV support, and another 3,400 on the waiting list. I’ve been hearing that there will be money for increased rates, but no money for increasing the number of eligible families. So the message to legislators is that we need to do both.”
There is always contact information for all legislators on the Oregon Legislature tab of the Council 75 website. You can also find a link there that will identify your legislators based on your home address if you are not sure whom to contact.
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PLEASE HELP — We end this e-lert on a very sad note, and with a plea for help. An AFSCME member has died, her husband has been arrested in an alleged domestic violence incident and the remaining family needs some aid in paying for her funeral.
The victim is 43-year-old Carmen Gomez, an employee of both Coast Rehabilitation and Rainbow Adult Living, and as such, was a double AFSCME member, paying dues to both Local 2746 (Coast Rehab) and Local 1766 (Rainbow). Police responded to a shooting report at her Gresham residence on June 3 at about 10:30 p.m. Gresham Police said Gomez died at the scene. Her husband, Gerardo Gomez Ventura, 44, was arrested and booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center on murder charges.
Gomez was an active union member at the privately operated IDD group homes. Gomez has four children, including two daughters who are AFSCME members — one works at Coast Rehab, the other at Rainbow.
“This is a tragedy, and we offer our thoughts, prayers and condolences to the family,” said Allen.
A GoFundMe account has been established to help the family cover memorial and burial services. Here is the link if you would like to donate.
“These folks have just effectively lost both parents and are trying to make their way through this mess the best way they can,” notes Council 75 staff rep Issa Simpson. “If you can help out at all it will be appreciated.”
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