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Latest News - June 2011

June 18, 2011
A senator, not a union organizer
Source: OregonLive.com
By: The Oregonian Editorial Board

State Sen. Richard Devlin had no business thrusting himself into a union drive

Imagine the howls if one of Oregon's most powerful Republican officeholders had sent a letter, on Senate letterhead, that included a thinly veiled warning aimed at silencing support for a sensitive union drive. Union supporters would scream foul.

And yet, leaders of the Service Employees International Union thought it was a fine idea to enlist Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, and one of the Legislature's most influential lawmakers, to side with them in a union organizing drive and send a letter to employers warning them not to say anything even "mildly" critical of unionization. The letter, which Devlin sent last December in the middle of the union organizing drive that ultimately added 7,700 workers to the SEIU, was obtained by The Oregonian this week.

What was Devlin, usually a cautious and thoughtful legislator, thinking? The letter is clearly inappropriate coming from a sitting legislator. Devlin denies he was trying to influence the union vote or that he was trying to muzzle the brokerages that employ the workers who have now joined SEIU.

But it's hard, if not impossible, to read his letter any other way. Certainly the employers that The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes interviewed all believed that they were being told by the co-chairman of the Legislature's budget writing Ways and Means Committee to keep quiet if they wanted to remain on his good side. Devlin warned that it was "a misuse of public funds to participate in efforts to dissuade support service workers from exercising their collective bargaining rights. He referred to his budget-writing position and added, "If support service workers choose to form a union, I believe they will be able to significantly strengthen our collective ability to preserve funding and enhance services."

"When I read it, it sounded threatening," one employer told Mapes. Another said that as a result of the letter, she's "much more cautious" in talking about possible ramifications of unionization.

Again, the unions would be going absolutely berserk right now if anyone in the Legislature had waded into the other side of the union fight, and sent a similarly threatening letter trying to bigfoot a union organizing effort. Devlin's letter is no less objectionable.

We get it that Devlin, who is formerly the Senate Democratic leader, is very close to the unions. The SEIU has been among Devlin's strongest financial supporters over the years. But the good senator has no business throwing his weight around in the middle of a union organizing drive. Voters sent Richard Devlin to Salem to serve as a legislator, not an enforcer for the public unions.

 

 


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