Get ready for two years of GOP attacks on labor in Congress

Tom ChamberlainBy Tom Chamberlain, Oregon AFL-CIO president

Oregon ended 2014 by bucking the national trend in the November general election, giving progressive, pro-worker candidates a decisive win. This was due to the coordination, determination and dogged dedication of like-minded people and organizations.

While Oregon workers look forward to a 2015 legislative session that could increase the minimum wage, implement paid sick leave and move toward universal retirement security, one thing is clear:  we are not immune to what happens in Washington, D.C.

For the first time in eight years, Republicans hold majorities in the United States Senate and House of Representatives. We are beginning to see, in bits and pieces, the formation of their agenda.

On the first day of the 2015 Congress, House Republicans passed legislation establishing parliamentary rules for the year. The rules include a little-noticed provision that blocks Congress from shifting funds to prevent a 2016 shortfall in Social Security’s disability insurance programs. The Social Security Administration has projected that, without a transfer of funds from other Social Security accounts, 11 million Americans will see their disability benefits reduced by 20 percent.  Keep in mind that the maximum month disability benefit is just under $1,300 per month.

The second day of the 114th Congress, the U.S. House passed legislation that would increase the number of hours necessary to qualify for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act (ACA); from 30 to 40 hours per week. This is the first step in the attempt to systematically dismantle the ACA. Never mind the fact that almost 10 million Americans, including 240,000 in Oregon, now have healthcare coverage under ObamaCare. Never mind that the ranks of the uninsured have dropped by almost 14 percent, or that the Congressional Budget Office predicts over the next four years Americans will see $500 billion in health care savings.

The Affordable Care Act is working. After voting 50 times for an outright appeal of the ACA in the House and failing to get rid of it, Republican leadership is now rolling out a strategy to kill Obama Care by a thousand small cuts.

Also in the crosshairs of the Right are overturning President Obama’s Executive Order to ease the threat of deportation of millions of undocumented workers, as well as easing regulations on Wall Street and large financial institutions.  These financial regulations were put in place to end racketeering banking practices that resulted in the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression, and the subsequent bailout of financial profiteers.

Thinly veiled in the cloak of job creation, Republican leadership will attempt to roll back environmental standards, along with worker and consumer protections, and reduce the power of the National Labor Relations Board, as well as to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires contractors to pay prevailing construction wages for federally-funded projects.

Finally, the outspoken anti-worker Newt Gingrich is advocating for passage of the Employee Rights Act, a sweeping piece of legislation that, if passed, would upend labor law in the United States. The Employee Rights Act would impose greater barriers to workers who are trying to form a union and make it more difficult for unions to participate in the political process — and that’s just two components of this proposed law.

Elections have ramifications, and the result of the 2014 election is a frontal assault on the men, women and children who are not a part of the privileged class. We live in a nation where the 1% controls both the Congress and the Supreme Court. The 99 percent has but one check in this unbalanced system: a presidential veto stamp.

But we can’t just sit back and wait for that to happen. We have to organize and take action.

Our challenge will be to push back against anti-worker, pro-corporate bills in Congress and understand that defeating bad legislation may very well be our greatest victories over these next 24 months.  We must take every opportunity to expose the corporate agenda of the 1%, and hold accountable those elected leaders who advocate it, regardless of what political party they belong to.

We must prepare for 2016 and take back America for working Americans.

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