By DON McINTOSH
All other things being equal, labor organizations tend to back the incumbents they know rather than the challengers they’d be rolling the dice on. But 2022 seems to be the year local unions are breaking with seven-term incumbent Congressman Kurt Schrader and getting behind his Democratic primary challenger, Jamie McLeod-Skinner.
McLeod-Skinner ran against then-incumbent Republican Greg Walden in 2018, and garnered 39% of the vote as a Democrat in Eastern Oregon’s strongly Republican Second Congressional district. She lives outside Bend, and redistricting in 2020 added Bend and parts of Central Oregon to Schrader’s Fifth Congressional District. Over half the voters in Schrader’s district will be seeing his name on their ballot for the first time.
“I’m running for Congress because working families and Oregonians in general need a champion in Congress, and we just don’t have that with with Kurt Schrader, my opponent in this race,” McLeod-Skinner told the Labor Press.
Oregon’s biggest and most politically active unions appear to agree, and are throwing their support to McLeod-Skinner, including AFT, OEA, ONA, OSEA, SEIU, and UFCW. She’s also endorsed by the Machinists, Insulators Local 36, OFNHP and ILWU.
Schrader has had repeated spats with the labor movement and the mainstream of his party. It’s not just that Schrader backed every NAFTA-style trade treaty; so did a consistent fraction of fellow Democrats in Congress. In 2019 Schrader actually voted against labor’s highest priority bill in Congress, a badly needed labor law reform bill called the PRO Act that would crack down on employer union-busting and make it easier for workers to unionize and get a union contract. Schrader did vote for the PRO Act when it went to the floor of the House again in 2021, after union picketers showed up outside his Oregon City office. [It passed, but is stalled in the Senate.]
Schrader is the third-biggest recipient of pharmaceutical industry contributions in Congress, and his critics say he also played a key role in stopping Medicare from negotiating lower prescription drug prices for seniors.
Schrader does have endorsements from several unions: American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), Teamsters Joint Council 37, Oregon State Fire Fighters Council, Operating Engineers United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 290, and the Carpenters.