As we wrap up this turbulent year, we want to share accounts of our collaboration with a few of our partners in the fight against worker exploitation.
First up is Terry W. Lansing from the Bakers’ Union:
Dear Supporter of Workers’ Rights --
I am writing to share a small example of the work that NWJP does and how it brings about big changes for all Oregon workers and their families.
Throughout the year 2015, the Oregon AFL-CIO and the National AFL-CIO worked with our Bakers & Grain Millers Local 114 in an ambitious campaign to assist the workers employed at Portland Specialty Baking (PSB), to join together to form a Union to improve their wages, benefits, job safety, and other concerns. Of the 188 workers at this bakery, almost all were immigrants and refugees, and for many, this was their first job in the United States. Over a dozen languages were spoken among the workforce. This bakery was profiteering from the labor of some of the most defenseless workers in our society. Preying on language and cultural differences, PSB maintained difficult working conditions, long hours, and brutal and shifting schedules.
While our mass meetings with multiple translators were effective, the company-hired union buster was just as effective at intimidating the workers with lies such as the union would take away all of their vacation pay if they got fired. In the end, the union buster successfully scared the workers away from joining together, but there were many heroic workers who would not stand down.
That is where NWJP came in. In interviewing these bakery workers, the NWJP attorneys made a startling discovery: the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries (BOLI) was giving erroneous instructions to all manufacturing employers regarding how to pay overtime under Oregon law. Workers were being shorted overtime wages. There are two Oregon overtime laws for manufacturing: overtime after 10 hours in a day; and overtime after 40 hours in a week. BOLI instructed employers to only pay the higher of the two, not both overtime wages independently. And this has been going on for decades. NWJP argued that this is not right and stated their case to BOLI. And Oregon BOLI agreed, and revised the instruction to employers.
If a worker in manufacturing worked 11 hours for 5 days, under the wrong instruction, the worker would get paid 5 hours of overtime. Under the NWJP discovery, the worker would get 9 hours of overtime. This was a huge win by NWJP for all Oregon manufacturing workers. But like anything else, it does not end here.
When BOLI issued the new instructions, the business community erupted in outrage. Their lobbyists immediately petitioned the Oregon Legislature for relief and a return to the original instructions. Thus began a political journey spearheaded by the Oregon AFL-CIO and working with the NWJP attorneys to protect the new instructions or get something better. It was a bruising 2016 legislative session of proposals and counter proposals. The end result: the Legislature gave back the previous overtime pay rule, but in exchange the Legislature approved HB 3485 which enacted strict limits on mandatory and permitted hours in a work day and work week with a $3000 penalty per incident (a law with real teeth in it). But the law went further: in recognition that labor unions are the true voice of a group of collective workers, the law exempted employers with a represented work force so they could negotiate for themselves what works best. If employers with non-union work forces did not like these new restrictions, these employers could recognize their workers in a Union and negotiate something different. This was another huge win for workers in manufacturing, because once Union, they could negotiate all terms and conditions of work.
In addition, NWJP also filed a class action law suit on behalf of all Portland Specialty Bakery workers, past and present, regarding numerous other legal violations, and this is ongoing.
You can see how much energy and work NWJP does on behalf of all workers. In this example, what started as a drive to assist the most defenseless of workers, ended up being a progressive change to Oregon work week laws for all of Oregon’s manufacturing workers.
Please support the Northwest Workers' Justice Project for all they do.
Terry W. Lansing
BCTGM Local 114
Terry gives NWJP a great deal of credit, but it’s only because of the partnerships with organizations like the Bakers’ Union that we are able to make significant advances like this.
With your support, we can develop even more partnerships, and win even bigger battles! As we saw in the recent election, the Northwest is ready to lead the way – we soundly defeated the anti-immigrant Measure 105, and elected pro-worker candidates at all levels locally. But we certainly have our hands full if we want to build a better future for all workers.
As NWJP celebrates our 15th anniversary, we are asking everyone to join us as we commit to another 15 years of solidarity. I am hoping that you will help us by donating $15 a month to support our ongoing work.
D. Michael Dale
P.S. NWJP is a non-profit that receives no funding from the government, and depends on the strong support of champions for justice like you in order to stand with workers like those at Portland Specialty baking. You can help by donating online to the NEED Fund to support NWJP’s work at www.nwjp.org/get-involved
If you would like to make a non-tax-deductible gift directly to NWJP, please send a check made out to "NWJP" to 812 SW Washington, Ste. 225, Portland, OR 97205. Tax-deductible donations to support our work can be made to our 501(c)(3) partner, NEED Fund.