Advocating for worker safety
A few months ago, Jillian Johnsen’s phone rang in the middle of the night. It was a co-worker who had accidentally been poked with a used needle and was calling from the emergency room.
Johnsen is a housing case manager at Transition Projects in Portland, Oregon, where she and her coworkers help people experiencing homelessness. Many of the participants are struggling with mental illness and drug addiction, and it’s not uncommon to find used needles in the shelters run by the nonprofit.
“This happened because we didn’t have the proper gloves to protect the upper side of our hands. We didn’t have the proper safety gear,” Johnsen says. “But because we’ve built a strong union, we raised our voices to advocate for the right gear and the agency’s leadership listened to us.”
Their advocacy led to a meeting with management in which workers tried on different safety gear and chose what they considered best.
“Whatever the team picked is what management ordered,” Johnsen says. “We were all very excited and proud to see that we could make a difference, and that was even before contract negotiations!”