By DON McINTOSH
Her party’s platform calls for a national “right-to-work” law and repeal of Davis-Bacon (the requirement to pay the prevailing wage on federal construction projects). But Oregon’ Congresswoman Lori Chavez-DeRemer, the daughter of a union Teamster, is one of a handful of Republicans in Congress who count themselves as supporters of organized labor, at least some of the time.
Chavez-DeRemer didn’t go to any union picnics on Labor Day, but since she took office in January, she’s visited union training centers and made time for sit-down meetings with local union leaders.
“It’s not often that Republicans reach out to them and want to build a real relationship with labor,” Chavez-DeRemer told the Labor Press by phone after a Sept. 6 meeting with local union representatives. In attendance were Teamsters, SEIU, Letter Carriers, and building trades unions. Leading up to the hour-long meeting, her chief of staff Jihun Han put together a five-page list of actions Chavez-DeRemer took in her first eight months in office to support labor unions.
For example, she’s one of four House Republicans cosponsoring a bill to restore the tax deduction for union dues. And when UPS workers were on the brink of a strike, she joined 173 other members of Congress in signing a letter supporting Teamsters’ right to strike and committing to not intervene if they shut down UPS.
Chavez-DeRemer also hired a former national AFL-CIO staffer, Mike Cangrejo, as her transportation advisor.
She’s one of two Republicans in a 12-member House Building Trades Caucus. And she’s a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, now headed by aggressively anti-union Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC). The committee had “labor” in its name when it was created in 1865, but since 1995, Republicans have dropped “labor” from its name every time they retake the majority in the House.
“When I was asked to be on that committee, I let them know ahead of time that I would be somewhat challenging maybe some of the views and they are okay with that,” Chavez-DeRemer said.
But Chavez-DeRemer is not ready to join two fellow Republicans and 212 Democrats as a cosponsor of the PRO Act, a bill to make it easier for workers to unionize and get a first union contract. That legislation has for years been the top priority of the national AFL-CIO.
Asked why she wouldn’t support the PRO Act, she answered with lots of words but little clarity.
“This is a conversation we have all the time amongst my team,” she said. “I certainly want to make sure that we can also coordinate with small business… Do we want to be anti small business or franchise agreements? I want to make sure as is does the language really benefit all? And so that’s what I want to move toward, is how is there an agreement that we can come to.”
Chavez-DeRemer had the endorsement of Iron Workers Local 29 in her 2022 run for Congress, and Local 29 political director Lorne Bulling says they’ll back her again in 2024. Thus far, that’s been her only union endorsement, though leaders of several other labor organizations told the Labor Press they appreciate her willingness to meet.