Brad Avakian said he has three main job goals for his time at the head of Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries:
Shifting the corporate culture so women are given equal pay for equal work; reforming enforcement of wage and hour and civil rights investigations; and adding more vocational training to fill some looming vacancies in the skilled trades (See story above).
Avakian, a former civil rights attorney, is nearing the end of his first term as the state’s labor commissioner. Among the accomplishments he saw was passage of a bill in the 2011 session that established a grant program to fund the restoration and expansion of career training education and public-private vocational partnerships at all education levels — a goal Avakian pursued when he ran for his job in 2008.
During a visit with the Gazette-Times on Tuesday, Avakian noted it was to Corvallis’ credit that both its high schools maintained their vocational programs — unlike so many schools where shop and mechanics classes were cut.
That hurts Oregon’s workforce because employers cannot count on a pool of trained local labor, said Avakian, who is facing re-election in November against Bruce Starr of Hillsboro, who has served in the state Legislature since 1999, most recently as state senator from district 15.
Among the priorities Avakian identified for his office, which investigates 5,000 wage and hour and civil rights complaints a year, is more quickly dividing those formal complaints into A, B and C categories. A complaints are those that have substantial accompanying proof; B cases are credible and merit further investigation and C cases would quickly be dismissed for lack of evidence, merit or jurisdiction.
Such reform would relieve businesses of the burden of unresolved complaints and ongoing legal fees when there is no foundation while speeding up resolution of more legitimate cases.
Avakian said a bigger challenge is to take on the continuing wage disparity between men and women doing the same kind of work.
“No state in the country has taken this one,” he said. But he said Oregon ranks 28th in the nation in the size of its wage disparity, with women earning 77 cents for every dollar earned by male colleagues doing comparable jobs. He said employers would be encouraged to qualify for “state-certified equal pay employer” status by “shifting their corporate culture” to equalize pay rates in the workplace.
“We’re not looking to make this an enforcement action,” Avakian said. “We’d like to be a model of cooperation with Oregon businesses.”