The first woman to lead the nation's largest labor federation, a former Oregonian herself, came to Portland to show organized labor's support for Democrat Tina Kotek's candidacy for governor.
AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler says Kotek has demonstrated her support for paid sick leave (2015), a higher state minimum wage (2016) and paid family and medical leave (2019), plus other issues of concern to working families during her 15 years in the Oregon Legislature, a record nine of them as speaker of the House.
"I'm honored to be here with our champion, who has a proven track record throughout her career," Shuler said at a gathering Thursday, Oct. 20, at Oregon AFL-CIO headquarters in Portland. "We want to make sure that continues."
As mail ballots go out to voters this week for the Nov. 8 election, Kotek and Republican Christine Drazan of Canby, also a former House GOP leader, are in a tight race, according to public opinion surveys. Betsy Johnson, a former Democrat and legislator turned nonaffiliated candidate, is trailing but vows to stay in the running.
Oregon voters have not elected a Republican governor since Vic Atiyeh won a second term in 1982. That Democratic streak, the longest for either major party in Oregon history, is in jeopardy. Only one of those 10 races ended in a landslide for the Democrat.
Aside from the Democratic Governors Association, which at nearly $6 million in cash and services is Kotek's largest contributor, national unions — mostly affiliated with the AFL-CIO — have given $3 million so far. That amount excludes money from Oregon-based unions such as the Oregon Education Association and Local 503 of Service Employees International Union, which represents the largest group of state government workers.
The totals raised by the three candidates will set a record, though that's happened in each of the past several elections for governor.
Get out the vote
But Sheller said what labor unions also bring to the campaign are volunteers to make sure voters return their ballots by Election Day. (Postmarks by Nov. 8 will count under a new law, but elections officials must receive them by Nov. 15.)
Though she did not specify it, Shuler said such efforts could do for Kotek what union efforts did for Democrat John Kitzhaber's 22,000-vote victory over Republican Chris Dudley in 2010 for Kitzhaber's record-setting third term as governor. It was the closest contest for Oregon governor since 1956.
"People take for granted that these races are going to take care of themselves. But we are coming down to very narrow margins," Shuler said.
"Look at the amount of money that is being spent on attack ads. But we can beat big money every time at the grassroots. That's what we do in the labor movement — knock on doors, make those phone calls and talk to people at work sites about the issues. Once you know where she stands on the issues, there is no choice except her — because she is with workers every time."
The $3 million from national union political action committees breaks down:
Service Employees International Union, $1 million; Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, $600,000; American Federation of Teachers, $500,000; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, $250,000; SEIU United Health Care Workers West, $150,000; Northwest Regional Organizing Coalition of Laborers International Union of North America, $125,000; National Education Association, $100,000; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, $75,000; Amalgamated Transit Union, Electricians PAC Local 48, United Association of Journeymen and Pipe Fitters, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, $50,000 each.
Shuler began her working career in 1993 at Portland General Electric, where both her father and mother were employed. She was secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO when president Richard Trumka died suddenly last year and she succeeded him.
Kotek said she supported and Johnson opposed paid sick leave and the three-tiered minimum wage.
Drazan was elected to the House in 2018.
Kotek supported and the other candidates opposed extending the requirement for prevailing wages to be paid on publicly financed projects statewide in 2021. They also were on opposing sides of 2021 legislation for hospitals to come up with alternate nurse-staffing plans based on crisis standards of care, allowing them to bypass regular staffing plans required under a 2015 law, when a state or national emergency is declared. Both bills passed largely with Democratic votes.
"Part of our conversation today is about who is going to be on the side of Oregonians and Oregon's working families. I have the track record to show that candidate is me," Kotek said.
"It is because I value those basic things everybody needs — making sure that when they work hard and play by the rules, they can put food on the table, pay their rent and have that good health insurance that everyone should deserve. It's been a guiding light for me in my work in the Legislature, and it will definitely stay that way as our next governor."
Shuler and Kotek were at a roundtable discussion with three workers: Courtney Newberg, an apprentice about to become a journeyman with Iron Workers Local 29; Jayesh Palshikar, an emergency-room nurse at Oregon Health & Science University-Hillsboro, with the Oregon Nurses Association; and Becca Roberts, a crisis intervention specialist at Lines for Life in Portland, with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.