October 6, 2006 Volume 107 Number 19

Labor ponders which direction AOI will go

The business lobbying group Associated Oregon Industries has installed a new president, leaving local labor leaders to wonder what direction the group will take politically.

Jay Clemens, who took over Oct. 1, was president of the Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce in Oklahoma for the last eight years. Before that, he headed the Bremerton, Wash., Chamber of Commerce; managed financial operations for the Association of Washington Businesses; and served 13 years as president of the Boise Area Chamber of Commerce in Idaho.

In Oklahoma, Clemens served on the steering committee of the successful 2001 referendum to make Oklahoma a “right-to-work” state. Twenty-two states, mostly in the South and Southwest, are dubbed “right to work” because they prohibit unions from making membership (and paying dues) a condition of employment — although the worker still gets the contract benefits. In what was considered a major blow to unions, 54 percent of Oklahoma voters approved the constitutional amendment.

On other issues, Clemens worked in concert with local unions, most notably a $885 million sales-tax-funded development plan called Vision 2025 that included: $183 million to build an arena (Tulsa hopes to attract a professional sports team when the arena is completed in 2008); $22 million in subsidies to Oklahoma’s largest employer, American Airlines, to keep the company from moving its 8,000-job maintenance hub to another state; and a $350 million package of incentives to get Boeing to build its new 7E7 commercial aircraft in Tulsa (Boeing passed on the subsidy.)

Clemens also worked with labor on fundraising campaigns for United Way.

Contacted by the NW Labor Press, Clemens copped to backing Oklahoma’s right-to-work campaign, along with nearly the entire business community of the state, though he said it was the governor, and not business, that raised the issue. Clemens said he’s still learning Oregon’s business priorities, but doesn’t think a right-to-work law is one of them. [A right-to-work ballot initiative has been filed for the 2008 election, one of a slew of anti-union measures introduced by longtime union foe Bill Sizemore.]

AOI, which bills itself “the voice of business in the Legislature,” is proposing a sales tax as the answer to the state’s budget woes, and has continually advocated business and capital gains tax cuts while opposing union calls to increase the $10 a year minimum corporate income tax. AOI has also called for contracting out state services.

Despite those positions, former Oregon AFL-CIO president Tim Nesbitt said the union federation managed over the years to have a working relationship with AOI based on mutual convenience.

“We disagree on more issues than not, but we agree to work together on issues of agreement,” he said.

During the most recent recession, AOI joined the AFL-CIO in calling for unemployment insurance extensions.

Nesbitt’s successor Tom Chamberlain said the state federation has continued to have “a reasonably good relationship” with AOI. This year, AOI went on record opposing Ballot Measure 48, an initiative on the November ballot that would limit state government spending. Opposing the measure is a high priority for Oregon labor unions.

Clemens, too, said he’d like to have a good working relationship with labor, and hopes to meet with labor leaders once his feet are on the ground.

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