SEIU Local 503 President Mike Powers’ statement to OIC 9/8/2021 Meeting

Submitted for Public Comment, Oregon Investment Council Meeting on September 8, 2021

Thank you for the opportunity to submit public comment to the Oregon State Treasury (Treasury) and Oregon Investment Council (OIC). My name is Mike Powers. I am President of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 in Oregon. As a labor union, we represent around 72,000 workers in our state. Our essential workers serve as wildland firefighters, adult and childcare providers, food safety inspectors, water quality protectors, janitorial staff, adult and child social service specialists, health care professionals, and more.

I wish to thank Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read and the members of the OIC for their professional management of the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS). Our retired members, and the communities throughout Oregon where they live, benefit from the responsible investments that help ensure a dignified retirement. We are also grateful for Treasurer Read’s support for and helping create Oregon Saves, allowing all working Oregonians to save for their retirement.

SEIU 503 is committed to engaging with Treasury and the OIC on climate change and climate justice. The state’s pension funds must have smart long-term investments to meet its responsibilities to retired workers. The funds must actively manage the risk of climate change and resulting extreme weather, and actively move capital towards a carbon free economy that will create jobs in every county of the state.

We also understand the intersection of climate change and climate justice. We believe that not addressing this concept poses additional risks to our long-term investments. Addressing climate change and the issues addressed by Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria go hand in hand. 

As reported in the New York Times, “In 2020, the nation saw a record 22 disasters that each caused damage of at least $1 billion.”[1] As we can see in the west coast fires and east coast flooding, the cost of climate related damage continues to rise in 2021. Insurance companies see and are responding to this risk[2] as companies and citizens are paying a higher and higher price for climate risk[3]. Meanwhile, major financial management firms are noting how diverting investments from fossil fuels improves returns.[4] Similarly, others have observed the financial benefit of investing with ESG criteria.[5]

We are encouraged that Treasurer Read seems to acknowledge these risks and opportunities. In 2015 he stated that, “Climate change has a direct impact on a company’s investments and shareholders have a right to know these risks. As your State Treasurer, I will work with businesses and regulators to require disclosure about the serious economic costs that come from investing in carbon”[6]. And more recently he has stated “What we need now is bold leadership and honest conversations from state leaders, and decisions that prioritize long-term investments to save lives and protect property”[7].

We continue to seek to work with Treasury and the OIC to put action to these aspirational statements. To accurately respond to the financial risk to our members from the OIC investments in fossil fuels and the resulting climate change costs and risk, and to develop ESG criteria for PERS investments, we urge Treasury and the OIC to take the following steps:

  • Immediately facilitate a climate risk audit to understand the way risk plays out across the Oregon Treasury holdings.
  • Disclose the results of the audit showing the risks to our members for the OIC investments in fossil fuels.
  • Commit to taking all necessary proactive steps to manage the risk the audit identifies.
  • Consider how workers being undervalued and unsafe in the workplace threaten long term returns.
  • Consider how racist and sexist structures in the finance system threaten the health of our economy.

We encourage Treasury and the OIC to develop measurable objectives around climate risk, the risk of fossil fuel investments, and performance of our investments using ESG criteria.

Again, thank you for this opportunity to provide comment.

Sincerely,

Mike Powers, President


[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/04/climate/tax-polluting-companies-climate.html  8/4/2021

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/05/climate/california-fire-insurance-climate.html  12/5/2019

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/29/opinion/climate-wildfires-bankruptcy-california.html  6/29/2109

[4] https://ieefa.org/major-investment-advisors-blackrock-and-meketa-provide-a-fiduciary-path-through-the-energy-transition/  3/22/2021

[5] https://robbreport.com/lifestyle/finance/esg-investing-1234618185/  6/14/2021

[6]https://www.oregonlive.com/politics/2015/07/tobias_read_makes_run_for_stat.html  7/8/2015.

[7] https://pamplinmedia.com/pt/10-opinion/518245-414070-read-no-denying-it-climate-change-fight-requires-bold-action?wallit_nosession=1&emci=df6dbd29-1dfd-eb11-b563-501ac57b8fa7&emdi=4e4d60cd-1dfd-eb11-b563-501ac57b8fa7&ceid=20454928  8/11/202