Protesting Oregon budget cuts

June 16, 2009

PORTLAND, Ore.--Some 2,500 union members and community activists marched June 7 to protest cuts in public services. Many had traveled several hours on buses from around the state. The rally, billed as "United for Oregon," came a few days before the budget vote in the state congress.

The rally was organized mainly by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503, which represents state workers, many of whom are in the public services sector and earn $10 an hour.

The Democratic-controlled state government is facing a $4 billion budget shortfall, and so far, politicians have proposed cuts in all areas, including layoffs, furloughs and pay freezes. The mood of the crowd was defiant, demanding that the budget axe not fall on state workers and the people they care for.

The tone of SEIU officials, however, was conciliatory. "State workers are willing to step up and share their burden of sacrifices," said SEIU Local 503 Executive Director Leslie Frane, "but we expect big corporations and the wealthiest of Oregonians to do the same."

Why should workers making $10 an hour "share the burden" at a time when taxes have already been shifted from the rich to the working class? The rally urged Democrats to raise taxes, but only a bit on those paid more than $125,000. The rich can afford to pay a lot more.

The rally urged Democrats to raise taxes, but only a bit on those paid more than $125,000. The rich can afford to pay a lot more.

State workers spoke of the hard job they do and how budget cuts will harm their clients.

The Portland school board also just announced that it will cut its budget by $18 million, in part by cutting five days from the school year and suspending step increases in teachers' pay. And the school board didn't even discuss this with the teachers union, but informed them with an email.

"I don't think it's fair for the state to balance its budget on the backs of the most vulnerable," said demonstrator Jessica Atalla, who works at a vocational rehabilitation center.

Yet this is what will happen if unions don't build a united campaign to oppose these cuts. The contingents from the letter carriers union, laborers, painters, AFSCME Local 3336 and Jobs with Justice show that the basis exists for this kind of solidarity.

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