PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon was the first state to make Labor Day a holiday back in 1887, and now in 2017, organized labor continues to grow.
People who belong to unions make up 13.5% of Oregon’s workforce — compared to just under 11% nationally.
However, Oregon’s organized labor started years ago when the Portland longshoremen helped organize the West Coast.
From 1860 until the 1920s, the Industrial Revolution tripled the workforce. When Samuel Gompers was elected first president of the American Federation of Labor in 1886, the movement for better pay and working conditions picked up steam.
Two longshoremen died during San Francisco’s Bloody Thursday in 1934. Shortly after, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down West Coast ports over pay, working conditions and hiring. The ILWU remains active in Portland today.
Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain oversees 48 other unions, with 138,000 members — adding 18,000 last year.
“I have never seen the labor movement as active as it is today,” Chamberlain said. “We still have a great deal of political strength, we still have solidarity. We still have folks that will hit the streets.”
The largest union in Oregon is SEIU, which represents many government workers — they have about 55,000 members.
In total, organized labor represents around 228,000 Oregonians and more people continue to join.
“We know that wages haven’t increased for non-union workers,” Chamberlain said. “They’re working longer, taking less time off.”
Companies like Uber and Lyft are a new challenge. The City of Seattle just allowed Uber drivers to organize over rates and working conditions.
“And that’s truly what the union movement is all about — building power for workers,” Chamberlain said.