Oregon public employee unions file ballot measures to combat 'right to work' initiative
By Jeff Mapes
October 11, 2013
Two of Oregon's major public employee unions have filed a pair of ballot measures designed to act as a "poison pill" against a union-dues initiative that they don't like.
The measures were submitted to the Oregon secretary of state by officials from the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
They and other unions have been watching with concern the proposed ballot measure sponsored by a Portland attorney and backed by some conservative business figures.
Dubbed the "Public Employee Choice Act," that measure takes direct aim at the political and financial clout of organized labor by saying that government workers represented by unions can't be required to pay dues. Currently, represented workers have to pay dues, either as a union member or as a "fair-share" employee.
One measure filed by Joe Baessler, the political coordinator for Oregon AFSCME, says that workers can "negotiate agreements requiring all employees who receive the benefits of union representation to share in the costs of that representation."
The other was filed by Art Towers, the political director for SEIU Local 503 in Salem. It 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.
The use of "poison pill" initiatives is a tactic that has been used several times in Oregon and other states. Under Oregon law, when conflicting initiatives are passed by voters, the one that has the most votes hold sway.
So one way the unions could defeat the employee dues measure is to win more votes for one of their own measures. The Baessler measure also includes language reiterating popular provisions in current Oregon law -- such as that workers have the right to a minimum wage adjusted annually for inflation and the right to family leave.
"Basically what's going on is it seems pretty clear that the national attack on working families is coming to Oregon and these are two measures we are using to fight back," said Towers.
Jill Gibson Odell, the attorney sponsoring the union-dues measure, called the union initiatives an "extreme reaction on their part."
She aruged that the Baessler measure includes several provisions that could violate the state law requiring that initiatives deal with a single subject. Odell has said that she is not trying to attack workers but instead wants to give them the freedom to decide whether they want to support a union or not.
Baessler countered that Odell's measure may sound good but that it doesn't give voters a clear view of how workers could be harmed if public employees don't have to share in the cost of collective bargaining. The unions contend that workers in "right to work" states -- which prohibit contracts requiring workers to pay union dues -- wind up earning lower wages.
Baessler and Towers said it's too soon to tell if the unions would proceed with their measures. They said they filed the measures now because it takes several months to go through the process of obtaining a ballot title and gathering the signatures it takes to qualify for the November, 2014 ballot.
Odell, who filed her measure in March, is still fighting with the unions in court over the ballot title for the initiative and has not yet started signature-gathering.