Workers at Albany’s ATI Cast Products, known as “PacCast,” held a vote on Feb 22 to join the United Steelworkers (USW), but were defeated with 179 voting for, and 285 voting against. Reporting on the events of the union campaign show that direct pressures from management worked to stifle pro-union campaigners and foster a culture of fear against unionization.
PacCast is owned by Alleghany Technologies Inc., a Pittsburgh-based specialty metals manufacturer with over $3.5 billion in revenue annually. The Albany plant manufactures titanium pieces for “airframe, launch vehicle, and turbine engine structural components for commercial, military and aerospace OEMs around the world.” ATI took over PacCast in 2011 after purchasing their former parent company Ladish Co.
“People are genuinely terrified,” said Dan Hoskins, a union supporter who has worked at PacCast for 15 years and has been through seven unionization campaigns, “[For] those of us who are…wearing our union t-shirts and hats…[other] people are afraid to be standing next to you. [It’s like] wearing a hammer and sickle in the middle of Reagan’s America.”
PacCast is described as a “high-turnover workplace where employees work a grueling rotation of 12 hour shifts and make as little as $13 an hour.” According to NW Labor Press, the quality of employment has taken a sharp dive at this plant compared to two other ATI-owned plants in Albany, both of which are unionized. PacCast’s health care deductible was $250 15 years ago, but has now ballooned to $3,000.
Workers reported of “mandatory, paid-time anti-union assemblies,” where management led “30- to 90-minute long anti-union meetings, as often as two to three times a week.” Legally, ATI cannot discipline workers who refuse to attend, but all of PacCast’s employees came, seemingly of their own volition.
There are allegations of a culture of fear, even alleged instances of surveillance on workers by management. In one case, Hoskins reported receiving a disciplinary notice for “campaigning on company time.” Hoskins says he was in the restroom at the time, speaking about company policy with a coworker.
USW has filed a dozen “unfair labor practice” charges against ATI, including threatening, surveillance, interrogation, and co-opting other employees in order to “squelch the union.” The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is currently investigating, with formal charges pending.
Legislature Considers Paid Family Leave
Oregon is taking another pass at implementing a statewide paid family leave program. Employees in the state could earn up to 12 weeks of leave per year, to cover things like parental leave and caring for family members with serious health conditions.
The bill creates an insurance fund which both employers and employees pay into, splitting the costs evenly, though employee contributions from payroll would be capped at 0.5 percent of their wages. All employers with at least one employee are covered, and a worker is eligible for the program if they make at least $300 in wages over the year. This includes self-employed and tribal workers, but would not include independent contractors, volunteers, work training, or work-study programs.
Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland) and others sponsored a paid family leave plan in 2017, but did not make much legislative progress. This year, 33 lawmakers from both chambers have sponsored HB 3031, and even a contingent of small businesses have stated they would support the proposed system.
Some reports point to part of Gov. Kate Brown’s “State of the State” address in January, in which she stated that she would support paid family leave legislation, as a sign that this bill may fare better than the last. Rep. Mark Meeks (D-Clackamas) of the House Human Services and Housing Committee, gave it a 60 percent chance of passage, noting that HB 3031 would go to the House Business and Labor Committee next.
Washington and California both have paid family leave plans in place, as well as New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Washington D.C. Oregon is one of 19 states with paid family leave on the agenda in 2019.
Mosque Shooting Amid Push to Strengthen Hate Crime Laws
The killing of 49 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday, March 15 occurred as police, lawmakers, and citizens in Oregon were already working to update and strengthen the state’s hate crime laws. Senate Bill 577 (SB 577) is currently still in its early stages, but is receiving support from public figures like State Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and others.
Atta Elayyan, 33, a professional gamer turned app developer and the goalie for New Zealand Futsal Whites, the national indoor soccer team, was killed during the attacks. Born in Kuwait, Elayyan spent part of his youth in the 1990s in Corvallis, attending school at Wilson Elementary.
SB 577 would change the crime of “intimidation” to “bias crime,” add gender identity as a motive for attack, upgrade certain misdemeanor crimes to felonies, and direct the state Justice Department to study enforcement of the new laws and how data on hate crimes is being collected.
At the same time, police in Portland are increasing their presence “to faith-based locations throughout our city…in light of the horrific attacks in New Zealand.”
Earlier last week, Oregonians offered testimony to the legislature about their experiences with hate crimes. Demetria Hester, from Gresham, recalled to the Senate Judiciary Committee a man who began insulting her with racial slurs on the MAX train in 2017, noting that bystanders did nothing. This man would be arrested the very next day for stabbing three other passengers who attempted to intervene after he directed the same kinds of racial invective toward two young African-American women aboard the train. Ricky John Best, 53, of Happy Valley, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23, of Ashland were killed, and Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, of Portland, was seriously injured.
This event spurred Zakir Khan, Oregon Board Chair for the Council for American Islamic Relations and communications instructor at Linn-Benton Community College, to become a more outspoken voice against the rise of right-wing extremism and Islamophobic violence. He believes SB 577 is a good start, but thinks the legislature needs to hold hearings to take a long, hard look at the root of the issue – the increasingly open support for white nationalism in Oregon and the Northwest.
Khan told reporters that the increased police presence at places of worship was part of a coordinated effort to prevent any further attacks or possible copycat attacks following the attacks in Christchurch.
The security risks posed by the Christchurch attacks are made all the more complex by the fact that the shooter announced them beforehand, alongside an apparent “manifesto” on Twitter and 8chan, the latter a known online hub for right-wing extremism and white supremacists. The shooter subsequently broadcasted the attack live on Facebook. None of these platforms were aware the threats of real violence were serious until the attack was happening.
It is important to clarify that the “manifesto” published by the shooter should be read with a great deal of scrutiny, as the online culture to whom it seems they were appealing, often communicates in a confusing blend of irony, sarcasm, and purposeful misdirection.
By Ian MacRonald