Oregon Democratic Congressman Kurt Schrader turning hostile to union rights


Kurt SchraderOregon’s most conservative Democrat, U.S. Congressman Kurt Schrader, is taking increasingly antagonistic stances toward the union movement.

Schrader has had the perennial endorsement of the AFL-CIO — against less labor-friendly Republican opponents — but he’s never been truly tight with organized labor. He was the Oregon AFL-CIO’s lowest-rated Oregon House Democrat in 1997, and the lowest-rated Oregon Senate Democrat in 2007. He was the only Oregon House Democrat to vote for a 1999 bill that would have created a sub-minimum wage for restaurant workers. In 2007, he voted with state senate Republicans to kill a paid family leave bill that would have given workers $250 a week when they leave work to care for a newborn child.

But at least on labor’s most basic litmus test issue — whether workers have the right to unionize and take collective action — Schrader said the right things. In 2008, running for Congress for the first time, he told the Oregon AFL-CIO he supported the Employee Free Choice Act, a top priority bill for labor that would have cracked down on employer labor law violations and made it easier for workers to unionize and get a first contract.

Schrader won that race for Congress, defeating Republican Mike Erickson to succeed Democrat Darlene Hooley. In the U.S. House of Representatives, he became chair of the Blue Dog coalition, a group of 15 “conservative Democrats” who often defy the Democratic mainstream on tax and budget policy. Schrader was re-elected three times since 2008, with labor’s endorsement. Over the years, he regularly appeared at labor events and picnics, while his votes earned him an 84 percent rating from the national AFL-CIO.

[pullquote]This isn’t the Kurt Schrader we thought we were getting in 2008.” — Oregon AFL-CIO president Tom Chamberlain[/pullquote]But the relationship soured this year when the national AFL-CIO ramped up its campaign against Fast Track — a set of rules in which Congress enables quick passage of trade agreements like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. Schrader has long been a supporter of such trade deals, and voted for Fast Track. When the national AFL-CIO ran TV ads critical of Democrats who support Fast Track and threatened to withhold support from those who voted for it, Schrader seemed to take offense. In June, he called AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka a “bully” in an interview with a blog for Washington DC insiders. The relationship has only worsened since then.

On Nov. 5, Schrader — together with Washington Republican Congressman Dan Newhouse — introduced a bill requiring the president to seek an 80-day court injunction in the event of a slowdown by longshore workers. The bill would amend the Taft-Hartley law of 1947. That anti-labor law — passed by Republican Congress over President Harry Truman’s veto — gave presidents the discretion to seek a court order forcing workers back to work if a strike or lock-out is deemed to be a threat to national health or safety. But presidents have rarely used that authority. The most recent instances were in 1971, when Richard Nixon used it in a West Coast port dispute, and 2002, when George W. Bush did the same. Schrader’s bill (HR 3932) would make it mandatory for presidents to use the injunction in the case of port disputes — and for slowdowns, not just strikes and lockouts. The bill has 10 other co-sponsors, all Republicans, including Eastern Oregon’s Greg Walden and Eastern Washington’s Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Then on Nov. 17, Schrader joined 225 Republicans and 23 other Democrats in voting for a bill to eliminate the right of workers at tribal enterprises to unionize. According to the national AFL-CIO, the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act (HR 511) would apply not just to casinos, but to mining operations, power plants, smoke shops, saw mills, construction companies, ski resorts, high-tech firms, hotels, and spas — any commercial enterprise owned by an Indian tribe on Indian land. The bill, which passed the House, seeks to overturn a 2004 decision by the National Labor Relations Board which said workers at an Indian casino have a federally-protected right to unionize. National AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka called it “a union-busting bill” and an attempt to silence the voices of working people.

“The AFL-CIO believes in both tribal sovereignty and worker solidarity,” Trumka said in a press statement. “We don’t have to choose.”

“This isn’t the Kurt Schrader we thought we were getting in 2008, back when he voiced support for the Employee Free Choice Act,” said Oregon AFL-CIO president Tom Chamberlain. “It seems like he went to a different level when he tried to deny collective bargaining rights for casino workers, and the carveout of longshore workers has everybody in labor concerned.”

Schrader’s office did not return a call from the Labor Press. Schrader faces re-election in November 2016.


  1. Mr. Schrader, give my union and its members their money back!

    What a politician you turned out to be. Sad to say, but we should’ve seen this coming. I’m saddened but NOT SURPRISED..

  2. This no-good bum never deserved the 84% rating that he received from the AFL-CIO at one point. it’s a shame that the Dems have never held this bastard accountable. I refuse to vote for Schrader, and I am proud to say, despite my unions endorsement, that I did not vote for him in the last election nor the election before that.

    When are we finally going to get a candidate to take him on in the primary? Sadly, it may take Schrader going down in flames and losing to a republican in order for the Democratic establishment to clean up it’s own act and hold these so-called Democrats accountable. I will vote third party if I get that choice. The small-d democratic grassroots ought to find a challenger in the coming election. I’ve yet to find anyone that I know in my district that actually likes Schrader. There’s a long-standing enthusiasm deficit here. Perhaps there is an opportunity here.

  3. Schader needs to be replaced with one representing citizens in his constituency, not the corporate “people” & not the big donor “people”. Besides labor issues he voted against reduction in use of antibiotics to food-producing animals. Overuse known to promulgate bacteria resistant to antibiotics causing human deaths. Voted for TPP! Co-Sponsored (!!!!!!) Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, deviously mis-titled. Really should have been titled “Montsanto’s Dream Bill”. Schrader, just another hog at the trough.

    • [Editor’s note: Just to clarify, he voted for Fast Track, which will make it easier to pass TPP. TPP hasn’t come up for a vote yet.]

  4. So why doesn’t he get progressive competition? Isn’t there someone in the Oregon Legislature who will step up?

    I would like to point out that, just like every conservative, he’s not fiscally conservative. He just only likes his government spending. Case in point, the latest transportation bill. It doesn’t have users pay their way, which is what conservatives claim they want, because it uses general fund money not user fees. And it just continues our reliance in cars and fossil fuels.

  5. Sure Shrader voted against the working class and for TPP but so did several self-described “liberal” Big D Democrats. One of these was Senator Patty Murry of Washington who also voting for fast tracking authority on the trade deal and then introducing “Wage Act” knowing it would never get out of committee, treating us like children who have not developed a memory. In fact, so called liberal Big D Democrats have never addressed labor law reform or even addressed repealing Taft Hartley when they actually have the numbers in congress and hold the Executive branch, like they did 6 years ago. Those in our political departments won’t even address the issue of labor law reform choosing to beg for crumbs and personal favors rather than demanding action that would benefits the American working class in its entirety. It’s as if spending thousands for five spots at a political fund raiser has become more important than demanding resolution to true working class issues.

    The reality is as long as Big D Democrats give lip service to white collar labor they are then free to ignore the American blue collar worker and their issues. As long as Big D Democrats support causes such as free tuition for the children of the upper middle class we won’t ask them why working class kids have such a hard time gaining entry to Universities and an even harder time graduating. As long as Big D Democrats support pay equality for upper middle class and wealthy women we give them a pass on collective bargaining rights that lead to pay equity for working class women. As long as Big D Democrats commit to expanding public agencies we give them a pass on not holding public agencies accountable for failing to aggressively enforce wage and hour laws, job site safety regulations, enforcement of prevailing wage laws. The list goes on and on but those that like to rub noses with politicians and those who had jobs as political staffers that now work within the house of labor but have never done any blue collar labor keep telling us that politics holds the answers, in actuality politics as we do it leads to disappointment.

    In my opinion, politics as we do it leads to membership burn out with every election being the most important and political promises to the working class that evaporate the minute they are elected. Every penny which is poured into the political machine is money that does not go to organizing of the working class but into the pockets of corporate media outlets and big advertising agencies. The way I see it is for the working class, the system simply does not work and those in political departments simply can’t see it because they are too close to it. The issue before us now and since 1947 has been labor law reform and without the repeal of Taft Hartley and its prohibitions against workers supporting other workers and restrictions as to the way we run our organizations it is doubtful we will ever be able to rebuild our power and create true political influence.

    From deregulation of trucking, railroads and airlines, to flawed trade deals like NAFTA, CAFTA and now TPP, to giving the PRC MFN Status, to the continuation and expansion of RTW legislation and the proliferation of employee misclassification and wage theft we can thank the Big D Democrats. Even I am a lifelong small d democrat I have to recognize that the only President that put an actual blue collar union member into a cabinet position, Secretary of Labor, was a Republican.

    Maybe it’s time we wake up to a very real situation before the American labor movement is comprised of a small number of public employees who are not covered by the NLRA. We need to speak the truth to politicians and our membership as we can no longer afford to continue this game.

  6. I’m a Teamster truck driver and a past candidate on both the Progressive Party and Pacific Green Party ballot lines. I ran for US Congress against David Wu in both 2008 and 2010, for Oregon Attorney General in 2012, and for Oregon Governor in 2014.

    I haven’t decided exactly which race to enter as yet for 2016, but I’ve been eyeing Wyden’s US Senate race (due to his past FTA and current TPP support and war funding votes) and recently moved back into Congressional District 5, so the Shrader race has great appeal, as well.

    My grandfather (Kevin McCann) was Eisenhower’s speech writer and personal secretary and personal friend, who lived on Eisenhower Farm up until The General’s death.

    I think, but I’m not entirely certain, that my grandfather might have aided I. Writing the highly progressive 1956 Republican Party platform, the “A Chance For Peace” address and the “Military Industrial Complex” Eisenhower warning and exiting address… In which I take inspiration to continue to run for political office.

    Though I’m a Teamster, I’ve never gotten the support of organize labor as a third party member. Therefore, when I run for office, I still drive a truck on a daily basis and attend events like radio, tv and candidate interviews only where I’m invited. I have no money, so I have no budget to work from or with. I often times spend my own money to get myself around and go bust with great frequency.

    Still, I like getting the issues out there where I can and being a rank and file voice for change. There is much that needs to change for working people to get a leg up in such a squewd system that tilts toward ever greater success for the moneyed class and ever tighter pocketbooks for working poor and dwindling middle class.

    It would be a truly interesting paradigm shift, indeed, if there were to be a change in political winds, whereby, the Shraders and Wyden’s saw their labor support dry up and I were to see at least some token support come in from my own sisters and brothers out there on the front lines of labor.

    The Employee Free Choice Act needs a new champion, so that we workers can organize a united front to bail out the working class. Oregon needs a voice for labor. Unless we pull from the rank and file for candidates and begin to support them, we are going to struggle painfully along through the Wyden’s and Schrader, when what we need are the Welstone-like Warrens and Sanders.

    There’s a Progressive Party meeting on January 12th, so that whichever I choose, I can get an early jump on campaigning for a change, There are good reasons to run in any one of the races. I’m considering seeking other party co-nominations as well and seeking out labor support at union halls and reaching out to the various locals throughout the state.

    Any ideas about building a winning campaign? Any experienced campaign managers out there?


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