Member Profile: Jillian Johnsen

Member Profile: Jillian Johnsen

Hi there, I’m Jillian Johnsen! I’m a relatively new and enthusiastic Union Steward and Volunteer Member Organizer at AFSCME Local 88. I’m also a Housing Case Manager at Transition Projects where I support cisgender and transgender women experiencing homelessness during their search for housing.

I’m very proud to work for an agency that helps Portlanders get back on their feet, but I’ve struggled with having to watch my coworkers as they desperately try to survive on poverty wages. I’ve met staff who are living out of their cars and sleeping in shelters run by other agencies because they cannot afford to pay the bills. As a newly elected bargaining team member, my hope is to see Transition Projects become an agency that pays everyone a living wage, so that we may address homelessness and housing instability without contributing to it at the same time.

This struggle for survival and stable housing didn't always exist. I’ve lived in Portland my entire life and I’ve watched this city drastically change over the last 10 years from the quirky place I’ve called home, to a city overwhelmed by a housing instability. This drastic change tells me that we can bring Portland back from the brink, so long as we are willing to make the necessary changes. This includes prioritizing living wages for all people.

If I could have one superpower, it would be the ability to allow people to see things from another person’s perspective. Far too many people experiencing homelessness are disabled, elderly, or escaping domestic violence, and almost every client I’ve worked with at Transition Projects have experienced some of the worst trauma imaginable. People need to feel and understand what is going on behind the scenes of homelessness in order to have more empathy for this struggle. Maybe this superpower would encourage people to be more gentle and kind toward those experiencing homelessness if they knew what it was like to be in that situation themselves.

If I were to win the lottery, I would fund a campaign to lobby Oregon legislators to pass a bill to tax corporations at the same rate that they are taxed in Washington, California, or Idaho. We desperately need that revenue to properly fund programs and services that will address the root causes of homelessness. I realize that we’ve recently tried to do this with a ballot initiative, but I don’t think we should have given corporations the opportunity to intimidate and scare voters into accepting the status quo. The responsibility of raising taxes on corporations should have fallen onto the shoulders of elected officials.

At the end of the day, I don’t have superpowers, I haven’t won the lottery, and I acknowledge that one person can’t fix everything. That’s why I am so appreciative of my AFSCME community. Being an active member of a Union means that you are automatically part of a larger group of people who will always have your back no matter what. These people will fight for you, with you, and by your side. No matter what problem you face, whether that be stagnant wages or unsafe working conditions, you know that you won’t have to face it alone.

To me, belonging to a Union means that we can rely on our collective power and legal protections to make the changes we need without fear of retaliation. I’ve worked several non-Unionized jobs in the past and it just leaves you vulnerable to abuse and exploitation--and that’s not something I’m ever willing to experience again.

Join me in making our union stronger! 

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