By Sen. Doug Whitsett
The most audacious bill yet introduced in the current Legislative session may well be Senate Bill 666. The aptly numbered bill was introduced in the committee on General Government and Small Business Protection late last week. It seeks to establish foster parents as public employees for purposes of labor activities.
Notwithstanding the fact that by the provisions of Oregon law, foster parents are not public employees, the bill provides that foster parents are public employees for the sole purpose of including them in public employee unions.
The Oregon Constitution limits the number of public employees to no more than one and one half percent of the state population. This calculates to no more than about 57,000 state employees. For that reason, SB 666 makes it clear that foster parents are not, for any other purpose, considered to be public employees of the state of Oregon, or any other public body.
Only those foster parents who maintain a state certification to provide foster care in their own homes would be included in the public employee union bargaining unit. The labor contracts for these foster parents would be negotiated by the Department of Administrative Services representing the state and by an appropriate bargaining unit of foster parents. That appropriate bargaining unit would almost certainly be the Service Employees International Union local 503.
If passed, SB 666 would provide that the parents in as many as 4,400 Oregon foster homes could be added to the rolls of the public employee union. This would serve to swell the membership of the SEIU by yet another six to seven thousand dues paying members.
Two landmark bills opened the floodgates for this kind of unrestricted public employee union expansion in Oregon.
HB 2891, the 2007 “card check” bill, eliminated the opportunity for a secret ballot to decide whether workers wished to join a union. The act provides that a union must be joined when one more than fifty percent of the eligible workers have signed an intent card.
A union spokesman states that “With card-check, you have to have a true majority whereas in an election just those who choose to vote get to decide”. With card check you get a union without the extra step of holding an actual election.
No restrictions appear to exist regarding how much, and what kind, of pressure may be applied to help a worker decide to sign the intent card. The card check legislation passed with only one Republican vote in the entire legislature. The most recent example of card check unionization occurred at Klamath Community College where 70 employees were included in the union without a secret ballot vote.
HB 3279 was enacted in 2009 and provided that adult foster home providers could be considered public employees only for the purpose of joining the union. These home care providers are not public employees for any purpose other than being subjected to unionization.
According to the Northwest Labor Press, at least 43,000 Oregon state employees are union represented while only a few thousand are not union members. If the public employee unions are to continue to grow, and continue to expand their political influence, they must enlarge the pool of potential union members. During the past two years, the SEIU used the card check process to become the bargaining agent for more than 7,500 Oregon foster care union dues paying members. The 2009 legislative gift of adult foster care providers afforded the opportunity to increase their union membership by about 7,500 workers who are legally not public employees.
SB 666 would potentially add yet another gift of 6,500 workers to their union membership who are also not legally public employees. This bill has little chance of being enacted because the Republican Party should have enough votes to stop it movement. However, the progress toward total control of our state government that the public employment unions have achieved in the past four years is something that all voters should consider.
Please remember, if you do not stand up for rural Oregon no one will