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International Workers' Day: A Reflection

Jennifer and Otto smile in front of a sign that reads "solidarity"

Tonight my son, Otto, and I attended the "May Day Mania" event with the Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America at Double Mountain Brewery on N Killingsworth. A fundraiser for DSA's Labor Solidarity Fund.

Listening to local labor leaders speak, watching clips of Shawn Fain, President of the United Automobile Workers, advocate for a unified labor movement, I couldn't help but reflect on the ways unions, and a lack of unions, have impacted my own life.

10 years ago this very day my husband, Andy, and I drove a U-Haul through Oregon to our adopted home of Portland. We moved into a two-bedroom rental in a triplex in Irvington, cementing our unwavering love of District 2.

A few months later I found myself working 72 hours across all 7 days of the week, with no benefits.

That's correct: I worked 20 hours across 5 days at a part-time internship in the newsroom at Metro making $11 per hour, and another 32 hours across 4 days a week as a Starbucks barista making a few cents over minimum wage, which at the time was $9.10 per hour. You may have noticed that adds up to 9 days ... yes, two days a week I worked both jobs, starting at 8 a.m., commuting by bike to the next, ending my day at 9 p.m.

There were weeks when I would close the coffee shop on Friday and open it on Saturday and not see my then 3 year old daughter, Penelope, for a whole 48 hours. There were days I would get home for a lunch break and my family would actually still be asleep because I started my day at 5 a.m. and my lunch break was assigned as my first break of the day at 7:30 a.m.

And yet, working 72 hours a week I was genuinely ineligible for benefits. I was somehow both over- and under-employed at the same time.

The reality was we made it work because figuring out how to live the life we dreamed of seemed more possible in Portland than it ever had before.

A few years later I became a card carrying member of my first union, the Portland Federation of School Professionals (PFSP) Local 111. I attended union meetings, I voted, I was even a delegate for my union at a convention. I didn't have to worry about negotiating my pay because there was an equation for plotting me into the pay steps; I didn't have to worry about healthcare for my family because it was extremely affordable and incredibly accessible.

Over these past ten years I have bonded with our Rose City. That love compels me to be part of the system that has the power to make her the best place she can possibly be for all of her people.

Today, minimum wage in Portland is $15.45 per hour. Such an incredible accomplishment, and yet taking so long to achieve that now the living wage in Multnomah County is $26.45 per hour for a single adult with no children!

We need to make Portland a place where everyone who lives within her embrace can do so without stress, fear, and instability.

That is why I am running to represent my neighbors in District 2 in our next city council.


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