SEIU Local 503, Oregon Public Employees Union has been bargaining for a first contract for the employees at Northwest Regional Education Laboratories (NWREL) in Portland since February, 2001. SEIU members at NWREL are the people who analyze K-12 education programs across this country to ensure that quality education is delivered in our public schools. The 160 employees of NWREL voted 2 to 1 to strike if an agreement could not be reached by the end of yesterday's bargaining session.
Bargaining concluded at 4am November 9 with no settlement. The last issue to be resolved is union security. The employer insists on an "open shop" allowing workers the rights and benefits under the union contract, including union representation, but without union membership. The clients of NWREL are public schools. Teachers' collective bargaining agreements across this country operate under the "agency shop" rule, know as "fairshare" in the public sector. To deny this to the employees of NWREL only sets up an atmosphere of divisiveness and resentment. "We could reach agreement on all the economic issues but the employer has been unmovable on the union shop issue. They are refusing to negotiate the most basic of union contract provisions," said SEIU negotiator Lisa Siegel.
The significance of this issue is huge. Union security is the most basic building block for workers to have a real voice on the job. Having meaningful input into how their work is done is why these employees organized. The law requires all unions to negotiate on behalf of all workers in the bargaining unit, regardless of whether a particular worker supports the union or not. If there is a contract violation, the union must equally and fairly represent all workers, again, whether the employee is a member of the union or not. Management's position is designed to divide and weaken the union. They know that unions derive their strength through their collective activity. Without union shop, when we stand up for pay and benefit increases or a voice in decision-making, only part of the workers will pay for the costs of representation. It would be like saying, "I want good schools for my children, but I don't want to pay for them. Let my neighbors pay for their children and mine." In democratic institutions, like unions, we all live with a majority vote. In this bargaining unit, the employees overwhelmingly voted to support union security in their collective bargaining agreement.
The strike began Friday, November 9 at 8am. Siegel said, "We have strong support from our members. We urge management of NWREL to come back to the bargaining table to reach a settlement."