Every Dollar Counts: So Where's the Senate?

By Jeanette Bethune of Portland, Oregon. Jeanette has taught Early Head Start for twelve years. Recently, her fellow EHS workers created the new AFSMCE Local 3475 and elected her the union’s first president.

Today, if a state contractor gets a $1,000,000 contract to provide, say, Early Head Start classes, they can either:

a. watch every penny, getting updated textbooks, art supplies, band-aids and sleeping mats, and attracting good teachers with pay and benefits; or

b. divert as much of those contract funds as they want to harassing their teachers about whether to join a union.

Today, it is 100% legal in Oregon for a state contractor to take public dollars away from a program to fund a campaign of harassment against their employees.

This is what happened to me and my fellow Early Head Start teachers when we tried to join a union. That's wrong, and a bill that would stop it has stalled in the State Senate.

As an Early Head Start teacher for the past 12 years, I have helped hundreds of low-income kids prepare for school and, I hope, lead productive lives. In a program like ours, every dollar counts.

So imagine how my heart sank again and again when I saw our program spending tens of thousands of dollars in staff time and publications barraging me and my fellow teachers with a sustained campaign of harassment: closed door meetings, abusive language, and threats of firings that went on daily, month after month. Despite losing several staff members to the stress, we still voted more than 2-1 to form an AFSCME local, and I was elected president.

When the dust settled, we heard that $64,000 in public funds had been taken away from our Early Head Start kids. The contractor instead spent that money adding stress to teachers' lives in hopes of making us back down.

Because of this misuse of public funds:

What a waste, and clearly not what legislators or the tax-paying pubic intended. Perhaps that's why federal law already prohibits Head Start and other federal agencies from taking program funds away to run propaganda campaigns.

In March, I testified in support of HB 2892, the Oregon AFL-CIO's State Financial Accountability Act, which would provide similar protection on the state level. The Act says that when a business gets a state contract to provide a service, they must use the funds on the intended service during the length of the contract.

Makes perfect sense, right?

That's what I thought. But more than a month after the Oregon House of Representatives passed the State Financial Accountability Act, it has not been acted on in the State Senate.

That makes no sense.

Comments

  • Barbara Byrd (unverified)
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    Wow, I can't believe a bill that makes so much sense for taxpayers as well as workers has been allowed to stall. The Senate has 3 weeks left. Let's get on it and pass this needed legislation!

  • George Seldes (unverified)
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    Ah, but you have to question the premise---do we really act like every dollar counts? See the biofuels subsidy bill, HB 2210, which the good governor says will move out of Senate Finance this week. Say bye-bye to many many dollars, coming straight out of tax collections.

    http://blog.onwardoregon.org/the-only-thing-we-learn-from-history/

    We'd have a lot more dollars for things like Healthy Children and Head Start if we weren't tripping over ourselves to push subsidies to turn spraypaint a thin green facade over fossil fuels to be used to power SUVs.

  • (Show?)

    If a private or public employer doesn't want to have a union, that's their right. However, they shouldn't be allowed to use public funds to do their dirty work.

    Hundreds of thousands of workers in Oregon would join a union today if they weren't being harrassed,threatened and fired by their employers while the laws that are supposed to protect workers rights to decide aren't being enforced.

    It just makes no sense for public money to be used to fund anti-union campaigns.

    Let the employees decide for themselves whether or not they want a union and use taxpayer dollars for what they were intended for.

  • Scott tabor (unverified)
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    What a waste! It is way beyond time that Oregon should step up to the plate and allow workers their right to organize with out being harassed. The State Legislature should remember, here in Oregon, Union Voters turn out in a very high percentage at each election. Lets use our tax dollars for what they are intended for!

  • Hilary Mortensen (unverified)
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    It's hard to even know what to say. I sat with Jeanette and also testified on behalf of this bill, along with going through the same anti-union campaign at EHS, and can't believe that our elected officials are sitting on it. It seems like a no-brainer, use taxpayer dollars for what they granted for. Don’t pay employers to harass employees. Employees have the right to decide on whether they want to unionize or not.

  • berlinwinter (unverified)
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    It seems that the only thing that some lawmakers bristle at more than unaccountable spending of taxpayer money, is the notion that employees might form a union. Voting against this is essentially saying that wasting tax money is okay, as long as it is used to prevent workers from getting too uppity. If you’re a Republican this odd set of priorities would make ideological sense, I suppose, but what excuse do the Democrats who oppose this legislation have?

    If you have ever talked face-to-face with someone who has tried to form a union at work—someone who has had to endure intimidation on a daily basis—I don’t see how you could be against something that tries to bring that person some relief. Even if you haven’t ever met someone who tried to form a union, how can you be okay with employers literally spending thousands upon thousands of taxpayer dollars to hire expensive union-busting law firms when they are supposed to be providing us with basic public services?

  • (Show?)

    It's not that Democrats are opposing it - they haven't brought it to the floor.

    Has anyone been able to get any information from the Senate about when they plan to bring it to the floor? We do still have some time, it's not as if the session is over.

    However, we should all make sure to contact our senators and let them know we want to see this come to a vote.

    It may just be that they haven't gotten to it yet. But it may also be that someone's holding it back.

  • Rick Hunter (unverified)
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    Mark Schwebke says:

    "Let the employees decide for themselves whether or not they want a union and use taxpayer dollars for what they were intended for."

    YOu heard it right here at blueoregon folks: a ringing endorsement of making Oregon a Right to Work/Union Dues Checkoff state. I agree 100%!!!

  • marina (unverified)
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    As a single mother of 2, I was appalled to hear what is currently happening with HB 2892. Early Head Start is one of the many valuable programs that seems to constantly be scraping by, and yet here they are allowed to waste money harassing their employees! Who holds these Contractors accountable when they are spending money that is supposed to go to educating our children? HB 2892 needs to continue moving and get passed, to protect the education of our children and those educating them. The Senate needs to stay focused so when they are determining the budgets of our educators the money is spent to do just that, not to harass those that are trying to exercise their rights as workers. Harassment is not something I would teach my children, and I don’t think the state should allow grown adults to get away with it either.

  • (Show?)

    Uh, Rick, I hope you were being sarcastic, but of course, you just took my statement out of context as any off-base malcontent is prone to do and twisted the words around to mean exactly oppososite of what I did say... Nice try though.

    However, I meant what I said, if employees don't want a union in their workplace, that's ok. The difference between you and me is that would entail an election where the employer isn't being an anti-union bully and the employee isn't faced with being fired simply for advocating a union and an election.

    The last time I checked, workplace abuse complaints were running about 30,000 employer complaints compared to about 30 union abuse complaints in the past couple of years.

  • nutmeg (unverified)
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    So Jeanette, what funds would you have the contractor/employer use in their campaign. Under the NLRA they have the right to present their side.

    If y'all won representation then good for you. I also assume that you won't want the contractor using public funds to run the union automatic check-off request for dues to be with held from paychecks? Lets keep it real here.

  • berlinwinter (unverified)
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    "So Jeanette, what funds would you have the contractor/employer use in their campaign. Under the NLRA they have the right to present their side."

    Nutmeg, the employer "presenting it's side" is one thing; they have staff meetings, memos, and eight hours of an employees day, every day, to do that as much as they want. It's a completely other thing for that employer to spend state funds on law firms who exploit every legal trick in the book and intimidate employees with retribution for speaking up.

    It's not for nothing that employees undertake forming a union. When people organize they usually do so to achieve respect and a voice that they do not currently have at work. Hearing the "employer's side" (as if this is an exercise from a high school debate class) can't change the fact that people have been enduring their employer's disrespect for God knows how long.

    One last thing I would ask you to think about here: if an employer has to hire a anti-union law firm to communicate with its employees in the first place, would you not agree that there is already a pretty fundamental break-down in communication between management and their employees?

  • (Show?)

    what funds would you have the contractor/employer use in their campaign. Under the NLRA they have the right to present their side.

    The bill protects the employer's free speech. They can still spend as much of their OWN funds as they want, saying anything they want. It just makes sure they are spending the taxpayer's dollar on the service they have promised to provide.

    Example: If Company X gets a $100,000 contract to provide a service, they must spend $100,000 providing the service (of course, that includes operating costs and profit.)

    If they want to spend $30,000 on an anti-union campaign, they can still do it. But if HB 2892 passes, they would need to use their own funds -- not siphon the public funds and leave only $70,000 for the service.

  • varner (unverified)
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    On the NLRA (National Labor Relations Act):

    The NLRA covers private sector union activity but non-federal public sector in Oregon is covered by the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA).

    The bill being discussed in this thread amends PECBA, not the NLRA, which is Federal legislation. Because of this, the law being discussed here only applies to public sector workers in Oregon.

    At the Federal level the roughly equivalent and very important legislation we need action on is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which I believe has also been discussed here on BlueOregon.

  • Rob Milesnick (unverified)
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    Thank you for the bringing this situation to light, Jeanette.

    I see the problem as two disturbing issues. The first is the alarming news that it appears Early Head Start, a respected and successful program, used funds outside the scope of that for which the Oregon legislature appropriated them. This is plainly not right, and resulted in a loss of much-needed aid to Oregon kids. I too strongly support the State Financial Accountability Act, and I encourage the legislature to stop what is happening to Early Head Start and other similarly situated programs immediately.

    The second disturbing issue here is the attempt to influence and frustrate the lawful desire of the Early Head Start workers to unionize. The right to organize--that some employers try to frustrate, complicate, and outright deny--is essential to the force and vibrancy of the middle class in Multnomah County and throughout the state and country. The strength in union numbers has been greatly diminished by tactics like those apparently employed by the Early Head Start management. Employers manufacture largely artificial roadblocks to prevent groups of workers from coming together, and it must stop. That American workers should organize is, in fact, so fundamental it is reflected in our national motto. “E Pluribus Unum:” From the many, one.

    Rob Milesnick

  • (Show?)

    Mark Schwebke:

    If a private or public employer doesn't want to have a union, that's their right.

    Actually, it's not, if you mean anything beyond holding the desire.

    If workers decide they want to bargain collectively, that is their right under the law, subject to certain conditions about how to make that decision.

    The Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932 forbids employers from making not unionizing a condition of employment. It is illegal for employers to fire or punish or threaten workers for seeking to form unions. Private employers violate this law with near impunity on a massive scale due to extreme dysfunction of the NLRB.

    The right to form unions free of employer interference is also a fundamental human right under international law, a human right that the United States fails miserably to uphold.

    I don't how the mechanisms under PEBCA compare to those under the NLRA and would be interested if varner could say more about that. Also it would be interesting to know about the status of employees of state contractors -- are they actually public employees under Oregon law?

  • (Show?)

    Chris,

    The law is one thing, enforcing it is another. I think you are quite correct in your interpretation of Norris-LaGuardia and in the basic right to form unions.

    In the real world, neither of these concepts are enforced or respected by the majority of employers...

    If it were, there would be no need for state laws regarding protection of union organizing.

  • nutmeg (unverified)
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    I'll grant you that there is generally a basic problem with communication and leadership when there are 45 - 70 per cent who sign cards. However, there are also those out there who view it as a power grab an opportunity to increase retirement, benefits and wages.

    The representation process is tilted in favor of the union and those pushing for representation - it was deliberately set up that way. The union brings in high priced organizers supported by AFL-CIO dues; why can't the company engaged a consultant PR or specialist law firm?

    <h2>I do notice that everyone sidestepped my other question. If you don't want public $$$$ used to campign against a union during the representation campign, why is it OK to use public $$$$ in furtherance of the automatic check off of union dues when the union wins representation? You can't have it both ways folks - that wouldn't be 'progressive'.</h2>
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