Our Political Education and Action Committee (PEAC) has been active in the political realm this year, running endorsements, getting out PAC donations, and looking over what’s at stake in the state’s electoral races. As a “deep Blue” state, we often assume that Oregon is safe for progressive issues that affect healthcare workers, but this can be a bit of a mirage. In statewide races, we actually are usually skating on paper thin margins. In this year’s Governor’s race, the Democrat, Tina Kotek, is having the gap closed dangerously close by her opponent, an anti-union extremist with ties to the Freedom Foundation.
This close election is a testament to why our members should get involved in supporting our political allies when it is necessary, and now is a good time to step up. The Kotek campaign is going to be critical for some of the pieces of our agenda over the next several years. While some organizations rubber stamp progressive politicians, OFNHP is a member-driven union that lets our members’ voices and issues choose our direction. We intend to hold politicians accountable and we know that our power is on the shop floor, not the ballot box. But that doesn’t mean that getting allies elected is not part of a diverse strategy that can help us win big in our campaigns.
Having Kotek elected as Governor is essential for winning some of the most important victories we need ahead of us. First, we are working with a coalition of other unions, namely SEIU Local 49 and the Oregon Nurses Association, on a staffing bill that will hopefully ensure a baseline expectation of staffing ratios and will include an enforcement mechanism. For a dynamic bill like this to become a law, we need an ally in the Governor’s office, and that simply will not happen if Kotek is not elected.
As Patient Defenders, we know that it is important that our patients have access to the services they need and that they get the aftercare that’s important. Our state’s homecare, personal support, and rehab system is dependent on the way that Medicaid/Medicare dollars are spent, the ability of the staff at those workplaces to secure good contracts that lead to staffing retention, and that the entire post-acute care model is properly funded. Without this, we are going to see our patients get less support, care coordinators will see even more dire situations for the patients they are hoping to discharge, and those in need could see their access to health insurance under attack. More than this, underfunded departments like Child Welfare could take further hits, meaning that the kids that populate our pediatric clinics are going to be in worse shape. Access to reproductive care is also a key issue for our members, and an anti-choice politician could further take the choice away from patients and clinicians, making healthcare decisions into a political football leveled against our communities.
The evidence is clear: if Kotek’s opponent is elected then this will spell disaster for the staffing crisis.
Kotek’s opponent is funded by a fringe anti-union group, and if she gets her way it will be all out war on organized labor. We are the most important organization fighting for healthcare workers and our patients in Oregon, and a far-right extremist Governor could undermine our ability to build power and make changes. There is a reason that labor unions and healthcare organizations are standing with the Kotek campaign with almost no exceptions.
The Oregon Republican Party has aligned itself with dangerous radicals in the militia movement who have chosen to leave the state rather than engage in the legislative process, and this is not the kind of political scene that can sustain a properly functioning state. We need an ally that will ensure that our fights are their fights, just like what happened when we were in our Kaiser Permanente contract battle. There, we had leaders like Maxine Dexter arrange a large-scale legislator and senatorial letter, which included Tina Kotek, and showed that they were in support of a fair contract for KP staff and were against the destructive “two-tier” pay system the healthcare executives have introduced.
We are encouraging our members to get involved in phone banking and canvassing through our Oregon AFL-CIO to ensure that our candidate wins this election. It is an easy way to support progressive changes and to ensure that your rights, jobs, and healthcare are protected. You can come in for just a few hours, make some calls or knock on some doors, and do your part and ensure a better future for Oregon. We need every support we can get in our fight for safe staffing and good patient care, so let’s make sure we win this so we can go back to organizing on the shop floors. Email PEAC@OFNHP.org to learn more.