Oregon Set to Ensure Freedom to Form Unions for Public Employees

Jun 12, 2007, By Mike Hall: Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) is poised to sign legislation that will give the state’s public employees the freedom to form a union when the majority of employees at a workplace put their signatures on union authorization cards.

Yesterday, the Oregon Senate approved the majority sign-up legislation, which also allows workers to opt for an election if they so choose. It now goes back to the House, which approved it earlier, to bring it in line with the Senate bill. Kulongoski has promised to sign the legislation.

In May, the New Hampshire Legislature also approved majority sign-up for public employees. Both bills are similar to the majority sign-up provisions for private-sector workers in the federal Employee Free Choice Act. Majority sign-up is much faster than the government-run balloting process and leaves less time for employers to harass and intimidate workers so they will back off from joining a union.

As Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney says:

The right to organize played a critical role in building our middle class. If a majority of employees want to form a union, Oregon will respect that choice. It’s just common sense.

Oregon union members mobilized outreach to lawmakers through e-mail, letters, phone calls and personal visits to win passage of the bill. Says Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain:

More than 300 workers across Oregon helped lobby their elected officials, often telling their stories of abuse at the hands of employers. This vote protects the secret ballot and helps balance the playing field….

Workers appreciate the freedom and choices granted by majority sign-up. They can still have a traditional union election and secret ballot if they want one, but they also have the chance to have their union recognized when a majority of them have signed authorization forms.

In May, during a campaign swing through Oregon, presidential candidate John Edwards threw his support behind the bill. In a letter to Chamberlain, he wrote:

By protecting a worker’s right to join a union, we give more Americans the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty and into the middle class, which is why I have been all over this country the past few years working with over 20 national unions organizing thousands of workers into unions.

Says Oregon Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown (D):

This is a simple matter of majority rule. If a majority of workers agree to be represented by the union, then they should be.

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