This week Roqayah and Kumars are joined by Olivia Katbi Smith and Sahar Muranovic, two former staffers at the Portland-based nonprofit Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), where management has decided against neutrality in a fierce unionization battle. Olivia is also the co-chair of the Portland, Oregon chapter of the DSA, and in her previous appearance on the show talked about the state of Israel-Palestine discourse and personal smears she’s faced being a vocal Arab woman in the public eye. Sahar begins by sharing her own background as an Iranian immigrant and her firsthand experience of the Trump administration’s repression when her sister Sara Yarjani, a graduate student in California, was briefly deported to Austria after the Muslim ban went into effect in January 2017. Olivia and Sahar both elaborate on what brought them to IRCO, explaining the nonprofit’s day to day function of helping refugees and other immigrants in the Portland area get navigate social services and, increasingly, legal challenges.
The gang situates IRCO’s issues within the broader nonprofit problem experienced by cities like Portland where social services have been outsourced from the public sector to private nonprofits where workers don’t have union protections and benefits. Olivia and Sahar explain how this dynamic has resulted in an environment of low pay, little transparency and no input from workers that has led workers to demand a union. Olivia describes how she was fired for her vocal support of the union drive, and Olivia and Sahar detail the union-busting tactics they witnessed before they were forced out, including the hiring of a union-busting law firm with a reputation for violent intimidation. Finally, Olivia and Sahar talk about why it’s essential that the people serving marginalized communities are empowered in their own workplaces, and share their hopes for the future of the IRCO union.