Kicking Off Conference 2016

Brad Avakian, Oregon’s labor commissioner and the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, salutes OSEA delegates prior to delivering the keynote address at Conference 2016.

Conference 2016 opening ceremonies were a smash on Thursday evening, with keynote speaker Brad Avakian underlining labor’s key role in the fight for a more just society.

Avakian, the state’s labor commissioner and the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, said he appreciated OSEA’s longstanding support, adding he has always had the backs of OSEA members and union members writ large.

He touted the efforts of the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) under his leadership, highlighting a multi-million dollar settlement against Daimler for racial discrimination as well as helping a babysitter recover $300 from a family that hadn’t paid her.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or who you work for,” Avakian said. “You deserve to get paid every dime you’ve earned.”

Avakian said we in labor win political battles by turning out to make phone calls, canvass and talk to neighbors about working-class values.

“Oregon knows that when it comes to taking care of the needs of real people, labor comes through every time,” Avakian said.

If elected secretary of state in November, Avakian promised to further break down barriers to voting by making information even more accessible and printing it in many more languages.

Avakian gave a shout out to Beaverton Chapter 48 as he described visiting the shop classroom he once inhabited as a student at Aloha High School. The classroom looked the same as it did in 1979, only the room was unused and dusty. Using this as a jumping-off point, he highlighted how his office has helped to bring back shop classes in many Oregon schools.

Other speakers brought the latest academic research as well a statewide perspective on labor issues.

Bob Bussel, director of the Labor and Education Research Center (LERC) at the University of Oregon, said union members provide the spark that lights a fire under those in power.

“Instead of turning down the flame, you guys turned it up,” Bussel said. “You are insisting Work Shouldn’t Hurt through your campaign. You created the Worksite Organizer program. You realize the sparks you create below causes change above.”

He also highlighted how Initiative Petition 28, a corporate tax proposal that will be before voters in November, provides a chance to change the rules of the game “so we’re not all fighting for the crumbs.”

Tom Chamberlain, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, thanked attendees for volunteering their time for their union. When he was a firefighter in Portland, he confessed he was shamed by coworkers when he was hesitant to accept a spot on a union ballot.

“They talked about duty, those generations of firefighters who sacrificed their time and invested effort,” Chamberlain said.

That small push changed the direction of his life, and he said that power in the union movement comes from people like OSEA delegates.

This year’s Conference, set for June 23 to 25 at the Red Lion on the River at Jantzen Beach in Portland, included some new twists on OSEA traditions. Among the highlights:

Vice President Ma’Lena Wirth and Secretary Mary Hofer led a singalong of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Members who have passed away during the past year were commemorated during the In Memoriam segment.

The annual Parade of Banners featured dozens of creative OSEA members showing off their chapter banners.

Be sure to visit our Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and Instagram pages to follow along throughout the weekend.