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The e-lert is published periodically and sent directly only to those who request to receive it. A typical e-lert includes mostly legislative and political updates, with an occasional Council 75 or other labor-related anecdote. Click here if you would like to be added to the e-lert direct distribution list.

E-lert for Feb. 28
Feb 28, 2014
It didn't take long for state Rep

e-lert No. 4     ¥     Feb. 28, 2014
Edited by Don Loving, Oregon AFSCME Communications Director
The 2014 "short session" of the Oregon Legislature may be winding down, but we've had some big victories this past week! Our so-called "Corrections Gun Bill" passed the Senate on Thursday, then passed the House today (Friday), so it's on its way to the governor. On Wednesday, members of Local 1246 got their long-awaited "day in court," so to speak, to present legislators the low-down on a variety of issues they face in the state-operated IDD group homes. Several members participated in one way or another, including longtime activist Gordon Lorsung (pictured right) who testified before the committee. March 9 is the constitutional deadline for this session to adjourn, but it may happen by the end of next week.


This week's highlights ...


*   *  


DOC GUN BILL ON THE WAY TO KITZHABER — AFSCME's "Corrections Gun Bill" appears to be on its way to becoming law, as the Oregon Senate passed the measure 28-1 on Feb. 27, with state Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) the lone "nay" vote. The Senate version included a minor amendment, which meant the Oregon House needed to concur. That happened this (Friday) morning, on a vote count of 58-1, with tighter gun control advocate Rep. Carolyn Tomei (D-Milwaukie) the only one opposed. The bill is now on its way to Gov. John Kitzhaber; Kitzhaber has indicated he will sign the bill.


The measure, HB 4035, allows Oregon state correctional officers the ability to bring firearms onto DOC property and keep them locked in their cars. It's a personal safety issue for AFSCME Corrections members, who frequently travel long distances to and from work at Oregon's many far-flung rural prisons. The Department of Corrections fought AFSCME the entire way on the measure, telling lawmakers it "needed more time to study" the issue.


"This is a huge win as the Department tried to kill it at every step," said Oregon AFSCME Executive Director Ken Allen. "Our legislative team did a great job with member-leaders getting this passed."


The issue was brought to a head with the November 2011 murder of Buddy Herron, a Local 3361 (Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution) member who was killed on his way to work in November 2011 when he stopped to help an apparent stranded motorist. That motorist was a 19-year-old already with a long criminal record who panicked when he saw Herron's badge and uniform.


The Senate amendment added language allowing for the measure "if the Department of Corrections has not provided a secure and locked location for storing firearms owned by corrections officers," which currently the DOC does not. Longtime AFSCME Corrections lobbyist Mary Botkin said the union did not oppose that amendment.


As passed, HB 4035 allows COs to keep guns in their vehicles on DOC property with three caveats:


  • The officer must be at the DOC building in his/her official capacity;


  • The officer must have a valid Oregon concealed weapons permit; and


  • The firearm must be secured and locked in a trunk, glove compartment, center console or other lockable container.


You can read the full text of the bill at


"So, who would've thought Mary Botkin would be the only person to pass a gun bill this session?" teased state Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend).


State Rep. Jeff Barker (D-Aloha), a former Portland Police Officer, dropped HB 4035 at AFSCME's request and ushered the bill through the House. He also testified for the bill in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Botkin says Barker has promised to move the amended version for concurrence on the House floor.


AFSCME attempted to move a similar bill through the 2013 session, but was stymied when the leadership of both chambers decided no gun bills of any kind would be heard last year.


"This has been a long and frustrating fight, but it proves if you have the moxie and persistence, you can get things done," said Botkin. "This is a great victory for our officers, and AFSCME is proud to have fought this fight successfully on behalf of our members."


*   *   *


DOC BUDGET GAP NARROWED — More good news for our Corrections members: Botkin has succeeded in closing the Department's budget hole from over $90 million to $14 million for now, which she reluctantly claims is a manageable number.


"Am I happy? No, people know me better than that," says Botkin. "But in the long view, we have numbers we can work with, and there is no threat of a prison closure. No one wanted to say it out loud, but when they were talking about $80 million, $90 million, $100 million, the only way you can get there with a number that big is to start closing institutions."


Botkin is still concerned about on-the-job safety and staffing issues within the institutions. The DOC told lawmakers it will help bridge the gap by continuing to work on reducing overtime and leaving vacancies unfilled.


"I need to know if there are security risks out there that we can prove due to continuous vacancies or understaffing," said Botkin. "For example, we hear that one officer is being required to watch two housing units. The DOC says that's only happening occasionally in unusual circumstances, whereas I'm 'hearing' it's more permanent than that. But if it is, I need documentation. I need our members to be diligent in reporting to their staff reps these kinds of situations. I have assurances from several legislators that, down the road, there could be more money if we can prove our understaffing concerns. So please, everyone keep that in mind."


*   *   *


LOCAL 1246 TAKES CENTER STAGE — Oregon AFSCME Local 1246, which represents employees in the state-operated IDD group homes, had a chance to directly outline on-the-job issues to legislators Feb. 26 during a 30-minute presentation before the House Health Care Committee. Local 1246's presentation was shepherded by Council 75 Political Coordinator Ralph Groener and Oregon AFSCME Staff Representative Randy Ridderbusch.


As of Jan. 3, the state has changed the name of the State-Operated Community Program (SOCP) to the Stabilization and Crisis Unit (SACU), and the agency name change itself signifies the root of many problems. The nature and behaviors of the clients currently being placed in the SACU homes has changed dramatically within the past decade.


SOCP was developed in the early 1990s and was kick-started forward in 2000, when the old Fairview Training Center, Oregon's large South Salem campus for what were then known as MR/DD clients was shut down. Most former Fairview clients went to private community group homes, but the 150 clients that were the most medically fragile or presented the most aggressive behavorial issues were mandated to state-operated homes under the SOCP. Over time, many of the former difficult Fairview clients became more docile with age and have been moved to private group homes, while many of the medically fragile clients from Fairview have passed away.


"In their place today are younger, stronger, more aggressive clients," said Local 1246's Trina Brink, a Behavioral Specialist in one of the Portland group homes. "When one of these difficult clients acts out, it can take five staff to restrain him — which leaves other clients unattended during that time. These situations make it impossible for us to meet the benchmarks for therapeutic care and keep all of the clients on track."


Gordon Lorsung, a Behavioral Specialist in another Portland-based home, walked legislators through a series of Google Earth and similar photos, showing the homes' proximity to schools and, frequently, the distance from emergency responders when there are issues. Lorsung also relayed an recent incident where a client "escaped" into the community, police were called but refused to intercede when the client cornered herself in a neighborhood bamboo jungle. "These clients are not our jurisdiction, you go get her," he was told. He did, and came out bleeding in several places from being struck by the client with bamboo swatches.


"As I came out, one of the officers yelled, 'Put cuffs on her,' which of course we aren't allowed to do," said Lorsung. "As she continued to fight and almost broke free again, an officer did eventually aid me and did put her in handcuffs until we were able to sedate her."


While clients don't get away from the homes often, Local 1246 President Matt Orser testified that Lorsung's anecdote was all too typical when it comes to restraining clients. Members are restricted to outdated OIS (Oregon Intervention System) techniques that simply don't work with these new types of aggressive clients, testified Orser, who is an OIS trainer for SACU. As a result, staff members are the recipients of frequent on-the-job injuries. Orser invited his Local 1246 colleagues in the audience to stand; they did, each adorned with blue-and-white tape signifying injuries they had received from clients.


"Yet if we fight back or use any technique other than OIS protocols — which don't work with these new clients — we can be written up for abuse and lose our job," said Orser. "We have clients who grew up on the street and learned how to fight. Look at these people behind me — do they look like street fighters?" 


AFSCME contends that "abuse" and "neglect" laws need to be re-examined. Current interpretations of the laws are stacked against the line staff workers. A "conviction" of either charge  — no matter how minor, no matter what the extenuating circumstances — can lead to a worker being literally blacklisted on a statewide database. At the least, says Orser, the law needs to be updated to acknowledge levels of neglect and abuse, i.e. Abuse 1, Neglect 2, etc. Such designations would clarify incidental events from more serious issues.


The union is hoping for an interim legislative work group to study these and other issues and report back to the 2015 full legislative session with proposed legislation for change.


*   *   *


WORKERS' COMP BILL MOVES — An important measure for injured workers should hit the Senate floor soon. HB 4104 mandates expedited pre-authorization of workers' compensation claims when there's a disagreement between agencies and insurance companies.


"This has been a big issue for our members, especially at places such as Oregon State Hospital and the state-operated group homes, where our folks are frequently injured on-the-job by clients," said Botkin. "But in many cases, they have not been getting prompt and appropriate medical care and treatment through the worker's comp system. This has led to more and more employees bypassing the system and not filing claims, going instead to their own health care provider."


Botkin notes that when injured workers don't file claims, it skews the reports of on-the-job injuries, underreporting them, making it harder to convince legislators there's a problem. It also adds to the cost of health care.


"I fully understand why people do it — they're hurt and they want treatment," said Botkin. "What HB 4104 will do is say if workers' comp hasn't accepted a claim in a timely fashion, health care providers must do so, and they can argue it out with workers' comp after the fact rather than hold up treatment authorization."


HB 4104 has passed its Senate committee with a "do pass" recommendation and should reach the Senate floor early next week. It passed the House by a 43-14 on Feb. 14.


*   *   *


KUDOS TO WHISNANT — We reported last week that HB 4036, the measure that would have mandated certain assault situations at the Oregon State Hospital be prosecuted as felonies rather than treated as misdemeanors was stalled, given its complexities and the short session timeframe. It's an important bill to members of Local 3295, which represents registered nurses at the state hospital.


The bill is still stalled, but not due to a lack of effort from Rep. Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver), who tried to revive the bill in the House Rules Committee on Feb. 27.


"We want to thank Rep. Whisnant for his efforts," said Botkin. "He did everything he could to get the bill pulled out and moving. That's difficult to do when you're in the minority party, and ultimately he was unsuccessful, but we much appreciate the effort. It does show that our policy of working with people who work with us, regardless of party affiliation, works to our advantage."


AFSCME is dedicated to proposing news OSH legislation at the full 2015 session.


*   *   *


LONGER, SHORTER? — There is a bill floating around that would add 10 days to each even-numbered year session, but subtract 10 from odd years. It doesn't appear to have the legs to pass this session. 2014 is only the second such "short session." Voters passed Ballot Measure 71 in 2010, which moved the state away from biannual sessions only along with frequent "emergency" gatherings. Now, lawmakers meet for 160 calendar days in odd-numbered years, and for 35 calendar days in even-numbered years. The proposal would change those parameters to 150 and 45 days, respectively. Council 75 Political Director Joe Baessler, Botkin and Groener all agree it appears lawmakers should be done by Friday of next week (March 7).


*   *   *


SHAMELESS PLUGS — We end this e-lert with a reminder that we would certainly like you, our activist members, to be sure and download our mobile app and "Like" our Facebook page. Both are great ways to keep informed about the happenings within your union!


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Page Last Updated: Feb 28, 2014 (14:50:02)

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