As Unusually Substantial Recall Gathers Steam, Allegations and Countercharges Fly

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 wants to punish a former ally.

Over the past decade, peevish Oregonians have announced more than 100 recall efforts of various elected officials. Nearly all of them have failed because they lack the three things that United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 brings to its pending attempt to recall state Rep. Paul Holvey (D-Eugene): organization, money and focus.

A union carpenter appointed to the House in 2004, Holvey built a reputation as a strong labor vote—including as a chief sponsor in 2017 of the nation’s first statewide workplace scheduling bill. UFCW called that bill “a huge step in the right direction for hourly workers.”

But last week, UFCW, Oregon’s largest private sector union, with 30,000 members, turned in 6,600 signatures aimed at ejecting the longest-serving House Democrat. It needs 4,600 of those to be valid for a recall election. Officials at the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office will begin validating signatures July 17.

UFCW lobbyist Mike Selvaggio says Holvey has turned his back on unions. “He’s put up hurdles on labor bills that have not been there for business bills,” Selvaggio says. “He’s been there for nearly 20 years and, after a certain amount of time, I think you start taking things for granted.”

Holvey can’t quite believe a group that has supported his career—and presented him with a plaque of appreciation that sits in his Salem office—is now trying to end it.

“It’s disingenuous and beyond the pale,” Holvey says. “It all seems a little bit dark to me.” He wonders if Selvaggio screwed up UFCW’s priority bill and is trying to shift the blame. “Is it Mike Selvaggio’s ego that he didn’t like it being pointed out his proposal was a hot mess legally and didn’t want to lose face?”

Unions drive Oregon Democratic politics. The fissure isn’t just between Holvey and UFCW—it’s also between UFCW and Service Employees International Union and the Oregon Education Association, both of which support Holvey. That’s a threat to the unity that has made labor strong.

All of this requires a little explanation. Here are several claims being made and the rebuttals each side offers:

UFCW’s claim: The union went ballistic at the failure of its top 2023 legislative priority, House Bill 3183, which would have facilitated organizing cannabis workers. “When Rep. Holvey was asked to slash public employee pensions, first in 2013 and again in 2019, he couldn’t wait to ignore Legislative Counsel’s guidance and land the state in the Supreme Court,” UFCW president Dan Clay says. “Now with workers’ rights on the line, he’s suddenly overly cautious about a policy that has been successfully implemented in several other states?”

Holvey’s response: As chair of House Business and Labor Committee, Holvey cited a Legislative Counsel opinion—two of them actually—that said the language UFCW wanted in the bill would likely be preempted by federal law. He says HB 3183 wasn’t ready for prime time and the union was slow to fix the shortcomings he pointed out. “We shouldn’t pass bills that aren’t legal,” Holvey says. “To me, you either amend the bill and fix it or change your concept to make it legal.”

The ethics complaint: In mid-June, Holvey filed complaints against Selvaggio, UFCW’s lobbyist, with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, alleging that by filing the recall on May 22, when both the session and HB 3183 were still alive, UFCW violated state law prohibiting lobbyists from attempting to influence a lawmaker’s vote by threatening action at a future election.

Selvaggio’s response: Holvey’s complaint is bogus. “That’s an absurd claim that is not supported by the facts, and an attempt by Rep. Holvey to divert attention away from his record and conduct,” Selvaggio says. “By the time the recall was filed, not only had the bill been publicly declared dead, but the bill was out of his committee, rendering his vote immaterial.”

Signature-gathering questions: UFCW created a political action committee to gather the signatures necessary to put the recall question to voters. It has since paid $106,000 to Osprey Field Services LLC to gather those signatures. The issue: Records show Selvaggio founded a company called Osprey Field Services LLC in 2018. That company dissolved in 2020, the same year Selvaggio’s former employee, Joseph Emmons, founded a company with an identical name. “Seems like self-dealing to me,” Holvey says.

Selvaggio’s response: The UFCW lobbyist calls insinuations that he stands to benefit from the recall “disgusting.” Selvaggio’s relationship with Emmons and Osprey is totally arm’s length, he says, and he gets no compensation of any kind from Emmons or Osprey. “I started Osprey but have since divested myself of any and all financial interest,” he says. “Full stop.” UFCW president Clay says he’s satisfied there’s nothing amiss.

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