First, the bad news.
The Just Enforcement Act (HB 2205) crashed and burned after a bruising work session. This is the bill that would have allowed workers to step into the role of the state and enforce worker protection laws when the state lacks the capacity or will to do it themselves. Representative Karin Power is forming a work group to study the enforcement issue in the interim. This is far from what we hoped, but we will try to use the work group to highlight the existing problems with BOLI’s enforcement, and potentially Oregon OSHA’s too. We will need all of your support when we bring the bill back, likely in the 2022 short session. This bill was a Fair Shot priority and we received incredible support through that coalition.
Oregon’s Equity Investment Act (HB 3112) did not pass this session. The Act’s top priority was utilizing growing cannabis tax revenue to fund economic justice and self-determination for Black, Indigenous, and Latinx Oregonians. The bill set aside nearly $50M per year and growing to fund programs that invest in homeownership, job training and placement, and business funding and support across every industry for Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities. The bill also addressed other equity gaps in Oregon, including equitable, automatic expungement for cannabis possession crimes no longer illegal and cannabis equity licenses to allow the groups least likely to own a business the opportunity to create generational wealth from Oregon’s fastest growing industry.
Farmworker overtime (HB 2358) also died. This was one of PCUN’s top priority bills. The bill made it further in the process than JEA, getting voted out of the Rules Committee just two weeks ago, but ran into questions from centrist Democrats concerned about farmers’ economic viability. Advocates will not stop fighting for this basic and long overdue protection. PCUN, NWJP, AFL and others will be working hard in the interim on a number of ideas to make this happen soon.
Now for some good news…
I am excited about a number of bills, but I think the new retaliation protection for safety and health reporting is the most exciting. Due to incredible advocacy by Oregon AFL-CIO, including testimony from NWJP clients, Oregon became the first state to pass a “rebuttable presumption” of retaliation after one reports a safety/health issue. On June 15, 2021, Governor Kate Brown signed into law Senate Bill (SB) 483. This will shift the burden from the employee to prove they were retaliated against to the employer to prove they had a non-retaliatory reason for taking an adverse action within 60 days of safety/health reporting. SB 483 is a groundbreaking law that grew out of Safe Jobs Oregon advocacy at the start of the pandemic. It is in effect now!
Those employer updates also highlight the strong new law on non-competition agreements (SB 169). Again due to Oregon AFL’s leadership, Oregon made non-competition agreements void (instead of voidable as they were in the past) except in very limited circumstances. These agreements are meant to be used when high-earning employees have trade secrets but they were being used to keep barbers, car detailers, janitors and other workers in low-wage jobs from working in their industries at all. Now, all agreements for workers earning less than $100,533 are immediately canceled. For the small number of non-competition agreements that are valid, they can only be 12 months long instead of 18.
And a quick recap of other important bills:
- The wage security fund (BOLI’s fund to pay wages owed when companies go out of business) can now be used to pay any BOLI final orders and judgments up to $10,000. This was Rep. Julie Fahey’s bill (HB 2818) and supported by the Coalition to Stop Wage Theft.
- The way prevailing wage is calculated has been simplified, a priority for the Building Trades. (SB 493)
- Construction/hiring hall sick time for workers passed. (SB 558)
- OFLA was expanded (HB 2474): workers can now use the Oregon Family Leave Act during public emergencies after 30 days of work (instead of 180) and for when a child’s daycare or school is closed.
- Cover All People expands Medicaid to qualifying undocumented people. (HB 3352)