March 10, 2013

Oregon Retirees Hear From Two Politicians: One Friend And One Foe

At the annual gathering of the Oregon Alliance For Retired Americans there were two featured speakers.  The first was my favorite, the Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian. He clearly felt comfortable talking to this group of union activists who find themselves retired but are still fighting the battles. He started by touting the work he has done in high schools to promote training for the skilled trades and ideas he has to expand apprenticeship programs through grants and partnership with businesses. He wasn't put off by my question about the continuing gender segregation in the workforce and that the only women I know in these non traditional jobs were hired in the 1970's because of Affirmative Action. He assured me a lot of women and girls were participating in the high school programs but admitted that did not mean the businesses were hiring them. He wasn't quite ready for Affirmative Action requirements in these grants to employers but he listened and I think we could pursue with him at least keeping statistics on how many women are being hired through these partnerships he has set up.  He then went on to talk about the importance of the union movement and showed his knowledge of union history and the upsurge in the 1930's and 40's.  But possibly the most impressive part of his talk was when he referred to the current attack on PERS recipients by emphasizing that it is a "bi-partisan attack". He added that he had been a Democratic member of the State Legislature but reiterated that he understood that the attack is coming from both political parties.  It was  a statement of solidarity with our struggle.

It was in strong contrast to a clearly uncomfortable Democrat State Representative Michael Dembrow.  He started out by claiming he did not know he was talking about PERS.  This was a lie as his topic was  publicized as "Health Care And PERS In The Oregon Legislature".  He then nervously laughed and asked if he could talk about guns instead.  No attendees laughed. So he launched into his talk on his work around Health Care For All and took questions. He would have continued with this topic if a question about the Democrats and PERS had not been interjected. At that point he launched into a defense of the  Democrat's proposals, saying how great it will be to have education fully funded. Maybe he thought he could do a little divide and conquer among the retirees.  It didn't work out that way. The strongest statement came from a retired teacher who gave him a lesson in how negotiations work.  She included a summary of what contractual obligations he was violating with the attacks on PERS recipients.  When she asked what negotiating they did with Phil Knight the gathering exploded with shouts of "there were none" and "he wrote his own legislation". Clearly the outrage was clear. His statement when wrapping up didn't go over so well, "Can't you put yourselves in my shoes?" - Not really!!

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