SALEM, Ore. (Mar. 4, 2014) — Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber announced Monday that two anti-union initiatives, including a so-called “right-to-work” measure to weaken the state’s public employee unions, will be withdrawn after unions opposing those measures also agreed to withdraw several proposed initiatives that would raise taxes on wealthy individuals and large corporations.
“This is an unprecedented moment in Oregon’s long history of ballot measure politics,” Kitzhaber said in a statement. “Instead of spending millions on ballot measure battles, we have an agreement that provides an opportunity for people to work with one another on solving Oregon’s biggest problems. I appreciate the willingness of the measures’ sponsors to take this enormous step forward.”
The proposed Initiative 9 would have allowed non-union member public employees receiving required union representation to refuse to share representation costs. Such laws are designed to promote “free riders” and weaken unions, but they also lead to lower wages and benefits for both union and non-union workers. A comprehensive study by the Economic Policy Institute found that such laws “are associated with significantly lower wages and reduced chances of receiving employer-sponsored health insurance and pensions.”
Unions in Oregon were confident that Initiative 9 would have been defeated by voters, but expressed relief that they would not have to commit the money and resources necessary to engage in that campaign. Instead, they will be able to focus on other election priorities.
Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain released the following statement on Monday:
As we watch the national political fights, we’ve grown accustomed to assuming that the needs of the people won’t be put first. On the other hand, we’ve always known Oregon was a little bit different. Today’s announcement that two anti-worker measures will be withdrawn from the ballot shows that in Oregon people really do come first.
Today’s announcement should not fool anyone into thinking that working people will sit out the 2014 election, though. There are still important decisions to be made, and now that our state isn’t fighting for the future of the middle class and our economic bottom line on the ballot, it is crucial to turn our attention to electing pro-worker leaders who can fend off battles like this in our Legislature.
I want to thank everyone who was involved in the conversations that removed these measures from the ballot, including the Governor who brought together business and labor leaders to hash out this deal, and I look forward to working with union members, community leaders, and employers in our state as we continue to chart the best path ahead for Oregon.
The agreement to stand down is only temporary though. The public employee unions that supported the deal have indicated they may decide in 2016 to push for new taxes on the wealthy and on corporations.
“As advocates for working people, public education, and an economy that works for the middle class,” read a joint statement by the Oregon Education Association and SEIU Local 503,” (we) we will be working closely together to secure more funding for schools and the services that Oregon’s communities need and deserve. We’ll be fighting to make sure that big corporations and those who are not paying their share are doing their part. And we’ll fight to keep Oregon the kind of place where working parents can realistically dream of a better tomorrow for their kids.”
Likewise, Jill Gibson Odell, the Portland lawyer who sponsored the “right-to-work” initiative told The Oregonian that she expects to try again in two years.
The second proposed ballot measure aimed at weakening unions that will now be set aside would have taken away the political voice of public employee unions by prohibiting paycheck deductions for political purposes.