I have spent the last 20 years delivering critical human services and protecting workers and their families. I was integral to successful campaign efforts to raise the minimum wage, provide retirement security to workers, and “ban the box” on employment applications, and I ran the campaign that mandated paid sick time for the City of Eugene and leveraged that coalition to help win passage of paid sick time statewide. Most recently I organized for paid family and medical leave in the state of Oregon. But there is more work to be done to make Lane County a more equitable and sustainable place to live, work, and play.
Firstly, how we respond to COVID-19 and plan for recovery matters to the long-term future of Lane County. We have the chance to build a system that works for everyone by confronting historical injustices and delivering services equitably. Across the country, we are already seeing dramatic shifts in industry and employment and this will only continue. Lane County’s pandemic response and recovery will force us to reconsider many aspects of our lives and economy, including how to build a more just future. This is the time to transform our communities and make deep structural changes that reflect our values.
Secondly, as one of the top ten largest employers in Lane County, our local government can lead the way supporting workers and their families by ensuring fair compensation, giving workers time to take care of themselves and others, and making sure all Lane County workers have the resources they need to thrive; including affordable childcare.
Thirdly, supporting Lane County families means specifically standing up for our immigrant neighbors. Beyond upholding Oregon's sanctuary laws, this means fighting against wage theft and for protections for vulnerable workers, supporting federal programs that aid immigrant students and families including DACA, and fighting the rise of white nationalism so that everyone in Lane County is safe.
Fourthly, we should never ask workers to choose between caring for a loved one over keeping their job. Nearly every other developed nation in the world has figured out this balance, and I'm confident that we can too. Family is more than just parents and children, it means our extended relatives as well as our chosen family. People know who they are responsible for better than employers. If we truly want a diverse workforce we need to be a place that provides for the whole person with the flexibility and accommodation needed by families of all compositions and descriptions.
Fifthly, working families in Lane County are facing a crisis of childcare availability and affordability. The inability to find any—let alone affordable—childcare, limits working families’ ability to stay employed, put food on the table, and stay housed. While the Student Success Act is helping counties like ours with expanding early-childhood education, there is still a shortage of diverse educators in the workforce. Looking at ways that Lane County can expand childcare access will help families not only to meet their basic needs, but to stabilize and thrive. During the pandemic, childcare is particularly complicated and important—and yet still undervalued. Women bear the brunt of caregiving responsibilities and will be further marginalized by the pandemic if we do not carefully reallocate value to caregiving and other traditionally feminized forms of work.
Sixthly, we must develop robust entrepreneurship and incubator programs to make up for historical exclusionary policies that have kept too many out of our economy. The food and beverage industry is a place where Lane County can really dig in, it is an industry that will always fill a need and is sustainable for our local workers. If a large business wants to come in, they need to be in it for the long haul with good paying jobs. Supporting local small businesses that provide jobs with living wages and benefits is key to the long term economic vitality of Lane County.
Lastly, there is a long trend of declining “traditional” manufacturing and other labor that shaped Lane County’s early economy. This decline is partly due to mechanization and other technological developments, over harvesting of natural resources, and increasing international competition over finite resources. But after the Great Recession, many of the jobs that came back to our region were not the same jobs, but instead lower wage positions with less stability and seldom include benefits. Our workforce and local industries are evolving and new economies like hemp and tech could help us move toward a healthier future. We must do all we can to attract and provide support to businesses that offer sustainable, family wage jobs with strong protections for workers.
We should all be able to fully thrive and plan for the future, not just survive day-to-day. Supporting workers means more than just supporting them during the hours spent on the job. Workers are whole people and must be treated as such. We are interconnected and mutually vulnerable—an injury to one is truly an injury to all.