The Register-Guard

Fair Shot group unites social, economic issues

A lobbying group that wins enactment of 80 percent of its agenda can congratulate itself for having had a highly productive legislative session. Oregon’s Fair Shot Coalition will celebrate that level of success today, when Gov. Kate Brown is scheduled to sign four of the five bills the group promoted in Salem. The coalition found a winning formula by combining constituencies and causes that in the past have been separate or parallel, creating a potent new political force.

Brown will sign Senate Bill 454, mandating paid sick leave for most employees; House Bill 3025, which makes it illegal for employers to include questions about applicants’ criminal histories on job applications; House Bill 2002, which will establish a system for collecting data about racial profiling by police, and House Bill 2960, which takes the first steps toward creating an employee-funded workplace-based retirement savings system for workers without access to a savings plan.

The thread that ties these bills together is that each is aimed at improving the lives of people at the bottom of either the social or the economic pyramid. The Fair Shot Coalition emerged from a recognition that the two groups heavily overlap. The coalition is made up of labor organizations such as the Service Employees International Union and the Oregon AFL-CIO, and social justice organizations such as the Urban League of Portland and Basic Rights Oregon.

The fifth legislative goal on the coalition’s agenda, and the only one that did not win approval, was a minimum wage increase. An increase would directly benefit employees, a primary aim of unions. It would also benefit disproportionate numbers women and members of minority groups, whose welfare is of concern to social-justice groups. Labor and civil rights groups have a long history of finding common cause, but the Fair Shot Coalition sees its members’ interests as different sides of the same coin.

HB 3025, the job applicants’ criminal history bill, is a case in point. Most jail or prison inmates are low-income people, members of minority groups or both. When these people are released, their best chance of avoiding a return to incarceration is to find a job. But many employers automatically exclude job-seekers who indicate on their applications that they have been convicted of a crime. The “ban the box” bill doesn’t stop employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history later in the hiring process, or prohibit hiring decisions from being made on the basis, but it will get some people past the first hurdle, giving them a chance to show their qualifications and explain their histories. The Fair Shot Coalition sees this as an issue of both economics and fairness.

Similarly, about half of Oregon workers lack access to a workplace retirement savings plan — and most of those are in lower-wage occupations where large numbers of women and minorities are found. HB 2960, the retirement savings bill, is a start toward giving those workers a more convenient opportunity to begin saving and investing their own money so they can avoid poverty in old age. It’s an issue that blurs the lines between labor and social justice — and with the backing of groups committed to both, the bill won legislative approval.

The Fair Shot Coalition can be regarded as being concerned with the quality of life, without making distinctions between whether efforts to improve it are economic, such as mandating paid leave, or in terms of public policy, such as tracking racial profiling by police. The combination addresses both the social and financial struggles of people in Oregon and elsewhere — and bringing those issues under a single umbrella creates a coalition potent enough to promise that today’s bill-signing ceremony will be repeated after future legislative sessions.


AuthorChristine Saunders