One of Oregon’s largest labor unions says it’s going to attempt to oust the second-highest ranking Democrat in the state House of Representatives — longtime labor ally state Rep. Paul Holvey of Eugene.
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 announced Monday it had filed paperwork to initiate a recall effort, which could trigger an election deciding whether Holvey, the House speaker pro-tem, can stay in office later this year.
It’s a surprising development. Holvey, who joined the House in 2004 and once worked as a carpenter, is a former union representative and has long been seen as friendly to labor. That’s one reason why his position atop the House Business and Labor Committee has often rankled Republicans, who have accused him of acting against the interest of business owners.
But as its key bill of the session languishes after failing to pass in Holvey’s committee, UFCW is making the case that the representative has turned his back on working people.
“Oregon workers are calling for the removal of Representative Holvey after his repeated attacks on their livelihoods,” Local 555 President Dan Clay said in a statement. “He has shown that his allegiance lies with large corporations, not with Oregonians.”
Holvey said in an interview Monday that the recall caught him off-guard.
“I’m very surprised they’d pursue this sort of retaliation over this particular bill,” he said, adding that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed shock. “I am a strong labor person, I grew up in labor and have always pursued legislation to help working people.”
Paperwork the labor union filed with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office lists a number of reasons for the recall push. They include Holvey’s vote on a 2019 bill that modestly trimmed pension benefits to public workers (UFCW has few if any members who are part of the state pension system), and Holvey’s alleged opposition to giving public assistance to frontline workers when he briefly held the speaker’s gavel in 2022.
The most pressing factor, however, appears to be Holvey’s failure to support Local 555′s key priority bill this session. That proposal, House Bill 3183, would block employers in the cannabis industry from interfering with their workers’ efforts to unionize. The bill failed to get approval in Holvey’s committee and now appears to be languishing in the House Rules Committee.
The union says Holvey “killed” the bill, and strongly suggests in its planned filing with the Secretary of State that he did so at the behest of La Mota. That’s the cannabis dispensary chain whose owners have come under scrutiny for giving generously to Democrats even as they failed to pay their taxes and allegedly stiffed their suppliers.
Aaron Mitchell and Rosa Cazares, the owners of La Mota, have never given money to Holvey’s personal campaign committee but did donate $20,000 to the principal political action committee for electing House Democrats.
“Just this session he 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,” the filing with the Secretary of State’s Office says. “Those same workers still face unsafe conditions, wage theft, and retaliation for attempting to unionize.”
Two cannabis business organizations signaled concerns about House Bill 3183 in testimony before the Business and Labor Committee Holvey chairs, saying it would amount to more “regulatory burdens.”
UFCW Local 555 also says Holvey went out of his way to secure a legal opinion from legislative attorneys that suggests the bill could be illegal. The union believes that opinion is misleading and could impact its efforts to help workers unionize in the future.
“We’re disappointed that Representative Holvey’s lack of focus on worker rights, non-communicative style, and combative manner of engaging with our members and staff have resulted in setbacks for real workers,” said Michael Selvaggio, a lobbyist for the union. “We believe his constituents ought to be able to decide whether he’s appropriately representing them.”
Holvey offers a more simple version of events. He says he had questions about whether the UCFW bill was legal and acted accordingly.
“I looked at it right off and said, ‘Geez, I don’t think this is gonna meet the requirements and it will be preempted by federal law,’” he said. “All I could see was this would put us into potential litigation where I felt pretty strongly the state would lose.”
Holvey has obtained two opinions from legislative attorneys suggesting HB 3183 could be precluded by federal law -- one in answer to questions he posed, and another in response to UCFW’s own analysis of the bill.
“We looked at it again and came back with the same answer -- that this is pretty clearly outside of Oregon’s authority,” he said, chalking up some of the conflicts to his souring relationship with Selvaggio, the UFCW lobbyist.
While UFCW said it’s committed to recalling Holvey, it appeared doubtful Monday that other major unions would pile on.
“I think it’s extremely unlikely,” said Joe Baessler, associate director of Oregon AFSCME Council 75, noting that any ultimate decision would be up to the union’s board.
Recall petitions in Oregon rarely succeed. In recent years, recall efforts against Democrat and Republican lawmakers alike – including several aimed at former Gov. Kate Brown – have failed.
But rarely do those efforts have a large union with experience on signature-gathering campaigns behind them. UFCW Local 555 is expected to have more than $100,000 to spend on circulating a petition.
In order to force an election later this year, the union will need to collect signatures equivalent to 15% of the voters in Holvey’s Lane County district that cast a vote in last year’s race for governor. According to state elections officials, that number is 4,598 signatures. They are due by August 21.