Oregon marked a milestone when Val Hoyle was sworn in as the new labor and industries commissioner in January: For the first time ever, three of Oregon’s five statewide offices were held by elected women.
Hoyle didn’t have much time to reflect on the moment, though. Her first agenda item was dealing with an ongoing investigation accusing legislative leaders of allowing sexual harassment in the state Capitol to go unpunished. For Hoyle, the issue resonated on a personal level: When she was 21 and working as a waitress in a hotel, she had filed a harassment claim herself.
Only four states directly elect their labor commissioners; Hoyle won the primary last May with more votes than her two challengers combined. Previously, she served for eight years in the Oregon House, with two years as the House majority leader, where she focused on workers’ rights, including minimum wage increases and a push for paid sick leave.
As labor commissioner, Hoyle has said, she wants to make Oregon a better place for small businesses and help the state’s workforce adapt to new technologies. Union organizing is in her blood: Her father was a union firefighter and her grandfather was a founder of the New York Laborers Union.