Workers Picket Progressive Groups OSPIRG, Environment Oregon

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Workers used to raising cash for progressive causes were raising their own red flags this afternoon, picketing the office of the Fund of Public Interest Research on SE 11th and Clay. The Fund is the umbrella organization for numerous local progressive groups, like Environment Oregon and the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group.

In October, the telephone outreach workers in the Fund's Portland office voted to form a union with the Communication Workers of America, says employee David Nell. Their demands? A "just cause" firing policy and grievance procedure. "We're not asking for pay raises, just job security," says Nell, who has canvassed for nine months. The policies of the Fund are "bloodthirsty" says Nell—no matter how long someone has worked for the group, if they miss their fundraising quota two weeks in a row, they're terminated.

Since the campaign began, two of the four canvassers on the union organizing team have been fired. Canvasser Mike Schultz worked for the fund from 2001-2005 and then restarted as a phone canvasser six months ago, before being fired last month. He and other union organizers believe that administrators gave uppity workers the more difficult, lower-grossing lists of potential donors to call, leading to them missing their quotas. The union requested phone bank history, but has so far not received it. "We want a progressive organization to live up to its name," says Schultz. "We'd like to see Environment Oregon and OSPIRG put pressure on the fund to negotiate in good faith." Schultz and the other fired organizer, Chris Humbird, have filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board.

Via email, national Fund Recruitment Director Kristin Saybe says nothing has changed about the phone lists since the union organizing began. "I can assure you that no employee has or will be disciplined, terminated, or otherwise discriminated against for anything concerning Union activity," writes Saybe.

Canvassers with the Fund have tried several times to organize, with limited success. The most high-profile campaign, in LA, was completely shut down. A push to organize canvassers in Portland's branch of Working America, which is not part of the Fund, never got off the ground in 2009.

For full disclosure, I should note that, like hundreds of Portlanders, I worked briefly for the Fund. In the summer of 2004, I knocked doors for OSPIRG. Somehow, I was not fired.

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