Trainor: Working Oregonians deserve bold action this Labor Day
The stories have become so commonplace they often go unnoticed. We know through newspapers, television, and social media that we are in a crisis. We see it on the masked faces of children in school, unsure that another way of life is possible. We see it in full emergency rooms, beds rolled into hallways, and ambulances told to go somewhere else. We see it in the shadows beneath the eyes of workers toiling long hours for supremely profitable corporations, no longer given thanks or called heroes for carrying a heavy load during what we used to call unprecedented times. The numbing effect of so much change, transition, and trauma takes a collective toll on us all.
Working people from every background and in every sector of our economy are carrying us through this moment in time, and they deserve to be honored and respected every day and especially on Labor Day. We all need to take action to honor them.
I have found so much inspiration in the bravery of workers in Northeast Portland at Nabisco who commanded respect by walking out of the factory in early August onto a picket line. These workers were forced on strike, over simply holding the line for fairness, respect, and safety in their workplace after years of watching their work get sent out of the country in search of cheaper and more dangerous labor. And they did so after over a year of working grueling shifts in pandemic conditions so that families across the country could enjoy snacks we have come to expect as a staple on grocery shelves, all while Nabisco and its parent company, Mondelez, made record profits.
Their bravery is commendable, and their fight for economic equality is part of the disappearing analysis of the pandemic: The compensation of a CEO is 350 times higher than that of the average worker. Portland's Nabisco strike set off a wave of activism, with the majority of Nabisco facilities in the United States joining the picket line. I believe it will inspire more workers to decide "enough is enough" and fight for their rights at work as well, and hope this Labor Day is a time of inspiration for working people. Unfortunately for many workers, the ability to experience the life changing, transformative power of joining a union is hard to come by, despite half of non-union workers being ready to join together in one for better pay, benefits and working conditions.
Every day, I am deeply inspired by and grateful for the continued strength and sacrifice of health care workers. As we know, the surge of COVID-19 has pushed Oregon's hospitals to a crisis point. With less hospital beds per capita than most other states, we were not ready for the initial COVID-19 outbreak and certainly not prepared for the Delta variant which has spread rapidly among the unvaccinated. The headlines have been full of health care workers and leaders describing unfathomable circumstances to accommodate new patients, and it's critical that every day — but particularly this Labor Day — we all reflect on what that means for frontline workers and their families.
The bold changes needed for our communities, state, and country must be tackled by each and every one of us. From the desperately needed labor law reforms found in the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, to ensuring our roads, bridges and the care economy are funded through both infrastructure packages, to finally making sure democracy is both upheld and executed through voting rights and filibuster reform — these are all pieces to the puzzle of building a stronger Oregon and country. Oregon workers are lucky to have a number of champions in our Congressional delegation and we are closely watching those members who may not support each of these critical policies. Because these are the kinds of bold changes workers expect, especially this Labor Day.
Graham Trainor is president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, the statewide federation of labor unions representing more than 300,000 Oregonians.
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