Government Affairs


Elliot Levin, Legislative Advocate, 800-783-0017 - ext. 128

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Measure 101 Passes! Plus short session begins

Following the Jan. 23 passage of Measure 101 which secured Medicaid funding for the year, the Oregon legislature convened this week for the 2018 short session. With Measure 101 passed, this frees the 2018 Legislature to focus on other priorities, including job training, educational investments, and potentially work on carbon pricing.

Local 17 is tracking several issues closely, including the prescription drug price transparency bill,which passed out of the House Committee on Health Care with bipartisan support. This issue has been discussed for several years, and Local 17 is hopeful that bringing transparency to prescription drug pricing will help address an area of spending that has been taking an ever increasing portion of our health care dollars.

While public employee retirement benefit reform has been the subject of much heated discussion in Salem in recent years, it appears unlikely that the legislature will undertake such an effort during the short session. We understand that PERS is a critical part of our members’ benefit packages we will stay closely attuned to any proposals to change these benefits.

We will continue to follow this legislative session, and please watch this page for additional updates throughout session.

Oregon budget still undecided with three weeks remaining

With the July 10th end of the 2017 Oregon legislative session less than three weeks away, the major budget and revenue questions remain to be solved. The Legislature has passed components of the budget including the health care component, but a significant portion of the $1.4 billion dollar shortfall for the biennium still exists. So called “cost-containment” concepts to cut PERS/OPSRP benefits are still being discussed. However, Democrats have made clear that these proposals will not be given consideration until there is significant movement on getting new revenue, likely in the form of increased corporate taxes, during the remaining days of this session. However, because new revenue will require a bi-partison compromise, Republicans can prevent revenue progress awaiting movement on PERS/OPSRP. At this point, the solution to this situation is difficult to predict, and with little time for such a solution, it seems likely that we will see minor changes, rather than major adjustments, though even that is uncertain.

In addition, the transportation package contained in HB 2017 would provide approximately $8.2 billion in new revenue over 10 years, representing a long-range plan for funding Oregon’s transportation infrastructure. The Portland Bureau of Transportation would significantly benefit from a transportation funding package, and Local 17 supports new revenue, though some of the details in the current package remain problematic. However, with budget, revenue, and PERS/OPSRP pieces yet to fall into place, the transportation package’s future remains uncertain as well.

With little time left in session and four major monetary items being balanced, the legislature has a significant amount of work to do, causing quite a bit of uncertainty. It is possible that there will be an extension in the form of a special session, either immediately following this session or at a later date in the fall. Regardless, Local 17 will continue to closely track the activities of the legislature and advocate for the interests of City of Portland employees.

New revenue proposal aims to raise the commercial activities tax

Following the release of the Oregon Legislature’s joint "cost containment" memo at the end of April, House Democrats released a revenue proposal on May 4. Under the name “Oregon Education Investment Initiative,” this proposal aims to generate $2.1 billion this biennium by raising the commercial activities tax. The tax would be graduated based on the size of the business, with businesses under $5 million in Oregon sales paying a flat rate of $250, while larger businesses would pay 0.95% of sales. This is a similar proposal to Measure 97, which instead exempted small businesses entirely while charging a higher rate to very large companies.

While we have yet to take a formal position, Local 17 supports the concepts of this proposal that would seek to fund vital public services through a more equitable tax structure. Large businesses in Oregon currently pay one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the country, and it is necessary that they contribute their fair share to the services that all Oregonians, including those same businesses, rely upon. Moreover, we strongly oppose severe cuts to public employee benefits as the primary way of balancing the budget, and we hope that significant revenue reform will allow Oregon government agencies to continue to provide the high quality services to the public into the future.

Local 17 concerned about legislature's cost containment plan and impact on public employees

On April 21, a bi-partisan group of members of the Oregon Ways and Means committee released a memo describing “cost containment methods” to alleviate the State’s looming budget deficit. Unfortunately, these recommendations would leave public employees bearing the majority of weight of the cuts. Amongst other ideas, the the group made the following recommendations which would harshly impact public employees:

  • Strictly limiting the number of State employees
  • Cutting retirement benefits for current and future PERS/OPSRP members
  • Limiting PEBB/OWEB health benefits
  • Constraining collective bargaining rights of State employees around wages

Some of these ideas would target State of Oregon employees specifically and are not as threatening to City of Portland employees. However, to the extent that there is a shared interest between public employees in recognizing the value of public service, Local 17 opposes the concept that public employees should bear the burden of cuts without significant new revenue proposals being discussed. We are disappointed that this group of legislators has sent the signal that the State’s long-term, structural budget problems should be solved by attacking the wages and benefits of workers who have dedicated their lives to strengthening their communities. We will continue to support options for fairly distributed new revenue sources that will maintain the services that will ultimately fuel growth and prosperity in the future, while providing support for those in need today.

PERS Update

PERS reform remains a subject of discussion both in the 2017 Legislature and in the media. Having received questions specifically about SB 559 and SB 560, we would like to provide a bit more information about the current status of PERS discussions in Salem.

We’ve been tracking SB 559 and 560 closely since they were introduced in February, including submitting written testimony to legislators regarding the bills at the time of their public hearings. There has been strong opposition from all of the public sector unions in the state; we’ve made it very clear to legislators that labor stands in opposition to these bills.

Both bills have now moved from the Senate Workforce Committee to Ways and Means without recommendations on passage. However, we believe that neither one has a serious chance of being passed in any form nearly as drastic as currently written. While Salem can be an unpredictable place and there may be some kind of compromise possible, any compromise would be significantly less harmful than SB 559 and 560.

Additionally, there has been some concern about the timing of when the bills would take effect. The bills were originally written with an emergency clause that would have made them take effect immediately on July 1st. Recognizing the adverse impact this would have on current employees weighing their retirement options, the current set of amendments aimed to remove those emergency clauses so they would take effect at a later date (probably January 1, 2018). There was discussion right up to the Workforce Committee vote about whether this was handled this correctly, but Chair Taylor made it very clear that it was the intent of the committee that the bills would not be passed under an emergency clause and therefore would not go into effect until later in the year.

Local 17 is very much opposed to cutting benefits to active PERS/OPSRP members retirees as a method of fixing the problems with the retirement system, and we, with the rest of Oregons public sector unions, are applying pressure in the ways that we can in Salem.

If you or your coworkers have any questions on this matter, please contact Local 17 Oregon Legislative Advocate Elliot Levin.

Combating contracting out; extending collective bargaining rights

Two bills that Local 17 has been tracking that are currently being considered by the Oregon Legislature are HB 3203 which would make it more difficult for public agencies to contract out work, and HB 3170 which would extend collective bargaining rights to certain faculty of Oregon universities.

HB 3203 had a public hearing on April 5th, and Local 17 joined the City of Portland in testifying against the bill as currently written. We believe that the current $125,000 cap on performing work in-house has become detrimental to public budgets particularly in the City of Portland, where even small projects can exceed that limit. While HB 3203 does not move that limit as currently written, it would make it more difficult for a public agency to perform the analysis necessary for performing work above that limit in-house, and we believe this is a change in the wrong direction. Read Local 17’s written testimony.

HB 3170 would extend collective bargaining rights to faculty of Oregon colleges and universities that have previously been classified as supervisors due to responsibilities overseeing research and teaching assistants. While this measure would not directly impact Local 17 members, we believe that extending collective bargaining rights to these employees is a positive step forward. Oregon is one of only 15 states with collective bargaining statutes for public employees that forbids supervisors from being members of unions. Read our written testimony on HB 3170.

Local 17 supports prescription drug price transparency bill in Salem

On March 3, the Oregon House Committee on Health Care held a hearing for HB 2387, a bill that would make Oregon a leader in the effort to contain the rapid growth of prescription drug prices.

Sponsored by Representative Rob Nosse (D-Portland), HB 2387 is the culmination of months of work between stakeholders and legislators prior to the current session. It would limit co-pays for patients, set a boundary for prices that drug companies can charge to insurance companies, and require transparency about the reasons for cost increases. Read Local 17's letter of support here.

Local 17 supports efforts to contain drug prices because we have seen first hand the impacts of skyrocketing costs on our members’ health benefits. In the City of Portland, for example, this year’s medical costs increased by less than 1%, but almost 10% increases were seen in prescription drug costs year-over-year. The increased costs must then be absorbed by our members and the employer.

Local 17 is working in both Oregon and Washington to support bills currently in the state legislatures, and is connected with unions in California and Nevada advocating for similar goals.

Oregon legislative session has begun; so have attacks on retirement benefits

Public employees pack the halls of the legislature in Salem outside of the hearing for SB559 and 560.

Senator Tim Knopp (R-Bend) has introduced two pieces of legislation aimed at significantly cutting PERS benefits. Senate Bill (SB) 559 and 560 would change the final PERS average calculation to 5 years from 3 years, and eliminate the PERS IAP, respectively.

On Feb. 13, hundreds of public employees rallied to the hearings to demonstrate their opposition to balancing the State’s PERS liabilities on the backs of working families and retirees. Union members filled the halls of the Salem capitol, far exceeding the limits of both the hearing room and the overflow rooms provided. Speakers against the bills included firefighters, service employees, and teachers. Local 17 will be taking steps to oppose both SB 559 and 560, and stands in opposition to any plan that would unfairly target public employee benefits. Read our letter to the Senate Committee on Workforce.

Meanwhile, the legislature has been meeting to discuss potential revenue increase plans, including one such plan that would send a new tax proposal to the voters for approval. Local 17 remains hopeful that there will be significant revenue reform this year in order to help alleviate the State’s chronic deficits. We believe that Salem lawmakers need to take responsibility for the budgetary problems that the State and local governments who rely on State funding currently face, and we are urging decisive action to correct critical gaps in public revenue.

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