Oregon food workers union targets Rep. Paul Holvey for recall

The union’s relationships with Democratic leaders chilled during the pandemic

By: - May 22, 2023 3:55 pm

This article was updated at 9:45 a.m. May 23 with comments from Rep. Paul Holvey. 

Oregon’s largest private sector union is targeting one of the Legislature’s top-ranking Democrats for recall. 

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 has long had a close relationship with Democratic politicians, spending tens of thousands on recent legislative campaigns and endorsing liberals up and down the ballot. But relationships with leaders chilled during the pandemic as the union lobbied unsuccessfully to use federal relief money for bonuses to grocery workers and prioritize them for vaccines. 

Rep. Paul Holvey, a Eugene Democrat and House speaker pro tempore, who can temporarily replace the speaker, most recently frustrated the union by killing a bill that would have made it easier for cannabis workers to unionize. The union announced its recall effort against Holvey on Monday, citing that bill, the failed pandemic benefits and Holvey’s vote for a 2019 bill cutting pension benefits for public employees.

“Oregon workers are calling for the removal of Representative Holvey after his repeated attacks on their livelihoods,” union President Dan Clay said in a statement. “He has shown that his allegiance lies with large corporations, not with Oregonians. Voters in Holvey’s district deserve a representative who will prioritize their well-being, and they will have an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with Holvey’s representation.”

UFCW Local 555 has previously split with other unions, including by backing New York Times columnist Nick Kristof for governor while every other union in the state endorsed now-Gov. Tina Kotek. The union also declined to endorse Holvey and House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, in 2022, though they received its endorsement in past elections. 

Holvey, who previously worked as a carpenter and a union representative, was presiding over the state House as acting speaker Monday morning and was not immediately available for comment. He sent an emailed response Tuesday, saying he was surprised by the recall effort. 

“It’s quite surprising that UFCW Local 555 would take such retaliatory action over a bill that failed, especially a bill that most people with knowledge of labor law would agree is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act and federal law,” Holvey said. “It would be a disservice to the people of Oregon or union members to advance such a questionable proposal and likely put the state in costly litigation.”

House Majority Leader Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, defended him on Twitter, sharing a link to an April legal opinion from legislative attorneys saying that the bill sought by the union would conflict with federal labor laws. 

“Just to be 100% clear: The Legislature’s attorneys issued a formal legal opinion that UFCW’s bill is preempted by federal law,” Fahey tweeted. “I fully support the right of workers to organize. But it would be irresponsible for us to pass a law our attorneys say is preempted.”

The bill received a public hearing in February in the House Business and Labor Committee, which Holvey chairs. The committee didn’t vote on it, instead sending it to the House Rules Committee in March.

That kept the bill alive, though Fahey, the chair of the Rules Committee, said during a hearing earlier this month that she wasn’t comfortable moving it forward this year because of the legal opinion. 

In a statement, the union alleged that Holvey “helped out scandal-plagued cannabis company La Mota by killing legislation supporting workplace rights for cannabis workers, just months after his caucus’ campaign fund was showered in La Mota’s cash contributions.”

La Mota’s owners gave $20,000 to the House Democratic Caucus’s political action committee, FuturePAC. The PAC donated the same amount to Lines for Life, the nonprofit that runs the state’s suicide and mental health crisis hotline, following revelations in April that then-Secretary of State Shemia Fagan did consulting work for the company’s owners while her office audited the state agency that regulates liquor and cannabis. 

“Their insinuation of any connection to my involvement with the bill’s outcome and La Mota is offensive, totally without merit, and unethical,” Holvey said. “At the end of the day, I felt it would be irresponsible to pass a bill that our legal counsel advises is preempted by federal law. In my opinion UFCW would better serve their membership by spending their resources on actually organizing workers.”

The union has 90 days to collect signatures from 15% of the people who voted in the governor’s race in Holvey’s district last November – about 4,700 people. If it succeeds, an election would be scheduled this fall. 

Recall attempts are common in Oregon, especially at the local level, though backers rarely succeed in gathering enough signatures for an election. The most recent attempts to recall lawmakers happened in 2021, when Republican Sens. Lynn Findley of Vale and Fred Girod of Stayton were targeted by unsuccessful recall petitions for not blocking a gun control bill. 

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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.

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