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Anti-union campaign in Oregon shows why Congress must pass PRO Act

By Mark McCullough and Oregon AFSCME Council 75 ·

When workers at Central City Concern-Blackburn (CCC-Blackburn), a facility just barely a year old with a turnover rate of over 20%, felt their voices were not being heard around safety issues, they took matters into their own hands and decided to form a union with Oregon AFSCME Council 75.

But workers say management blocked the unionization drive with a series of “learning fairs” and human resources/management panels purportedly to provide “unbiased information,” where workers were told to vote no and supplied with misinformation.

“We’re in the midst of a global pandemic, and CCC-Blackburn, which receives public funding, is spending time and resources to lie to us about what forming a union would do for our clients, our families and the communities we serve instead of focusing on client care,” said Brandy Fishback, a case manager in the Recuperative Care Program.

In a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board, AFSCME Local 88 and Oregon AFSCME Council 75 allege legal violations by CCC. For instance, according to complaint, workers were told not to post anything relating to the union drive that CCC deems "discriminatory, harassing, bullying, threatening, defamatory, or unlawful.” CCC also told workers that their “schedules cannot be adjusted, raises awarded, or parking issues addressed because of the Union,” the complaint says.

The campaign by CCC-Blackburn management is a perfect example of the need for the U.S. Senate to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. Passed in March by the House of Representatives, it would increase penalties for violations of workers’ rights, strengthen support for workers who suffer retaliation, prohibit employers from interfering in union elections and require dispute resolution to improve the ability of unions to secure contracts.

Fishback says she became involved after management refused to implement any sort of protocol or standard operating procedure for when a client brings a weapon into the facility.

While working a recent shift, she says was approached by a client holding a loaded gun. Though the client at first claimed it was a toy, she quickly realized it wasn’t when the client flipped the safety switch while giving her the weapon.

“By the weight of it, I knew instantly it wasn’t a toy. As he handed me the gun he said, ‘Careful, there’s one in the chamber.’ He also had extra clips of ammunition and a very large knife,” Fishback said.

She says her supervisor told her to go back to the client and try to talk the client down, something she isn’t trained to do.

“It was terrifying. My supervisor sent me back out there twice,” Fishback said. “I’m not a negotiator, I help clients receive the services they need to find housing and recover safely from a variety of medical conditions. I still can’t believe how inconsiderate and thoughtless management has been.”

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