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.