Legislation, pastry, overtime and crackers – Hasso Hering

A few years ago, the State Capitol set up on a spring day.

A small bill pending in the Oregon Legislature caught my eye on Tuesday, not because it was particularly bizarre, but because Senate Democrats sent out a press release about it. It’s a story about it, and it leads to crackers at the end.

The bill is SB 1513, which authorized the Senate on a 24-2 vote. “Senate Democrats Protect Bakers From Unfair Labor Practices,” headlined their press release. (With the exception of Girod and Linthicum, so are minority Republicans, but the Ds didn’t mention it.)

The bill is now before the House. It states that employers are committing an unfair labor practice if they discipline or terminate workers who refuse to work overtime without at least five days’ notice of when overtime will be required.

What kind of workers? The bill applies to any “employee who is employed in a manufacturing establishment classified in the North American Industry Classification System under code 3118”.

Sounds unnecessarily obscure, doesn’t it? When you look it up, you find that the code refers to commercial bakeries, bread and cracker makers, etc., including tortillas.

So why not say so in the bill? Oregon’s constitution requires that all laws and resolutions “be drafted in clear terms, avoiding the use of technical terms as much as possible.” If we interpret this strictly, Senate Bill 1513 will be unconstitutional when it becomes law because it is not clearly worded.

So why is this bill limited to bakeries and tortilla makers? Because it’s apparently driven by circumstances at a Portland bakery factory.

In written testimony, Portland Local 17 of Professional and Technical Employees said the bill would “address the disciplinary system to deny the forced overtime our union brothers and sisters are experiencing in northeast Portland and without no doubt in the whole industry”.

The union points to Bakers Union Local 364 at the Portland Nabisco plant, where it says refusing to work overtime on short notice results in a point of discipline.

“Regularly, the request for forced overtime only comes 10 or 15 minutes before they finish their regular 8-hour shift or even when they leave for the day,” Local 17 explains. When a worker receives 8 discipline points, they are suspended pending dismissal…Workers shouldn’t have to choose between picking up their kids or getting a discipline point for refusing an extra shift.”

Indeed, no one should face such a choice. But should what can happen in a factory justify a law that covers all bakeries, large and small?

Suppose a baker with two employees takes on a big project for an event, and then one of his workers falls ill and has to go home. Shouldn’t that baker be able to expect the remaining employee to work a little overtime to help get the job done, especially if Covid has cut into the business and that job represents a big break?

Chances are, this situation doesn’t even arise on a small farm where owners and employees typically work together.

At Nabisco in Portland, local 364 of the bakers union went on strike last year because workers feared the company, Mondelez International, was considering moving production to Mexico. But I’m happy to report that the Ritz crackers I snack on have the code AH on the box, and according to an online source, it’s the Portland factory code. (hh)