Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

April 4, 1997

FROM A LABOR UNION standpoint, it's downright obscene what's happening at the Capitol in Salem.

Those two cadaverous-looking lawmakers who're running the show at the Republican-majority Legislature are a pair of political undertakers who want to bury workers and their unions. Senate President Brady Adams, a Grants Pass savings and loan boss, and House Speaker Lynn Lundquist, a Powell Butte cattle-chaser, have at their disposal, among the Republicans, a small band of extremist volunteers eager to introduce bills that would inflict Capitol punishment on workers, their families and their unions.

An inventory of anti-worker, anti-union, anti-government legislation on the docket at Salem reads like it came right out of the playbooks of East Coast-based economic and political extremist groups such as the Heritage Foundation, National Right-to-Work Committee, National Taxpayers Union plus other far-right fringies.

ADAMS, LUNDQUIST & CO. want to undermine with exemptions Ballot Measure 36 passed by voters last November to increase the state minimum wage; they want to destroy such historic worker rights as the eight-hour day and overtime pay. They want to roll back the landmark family medical leave law passed unanimously only two years ago; they want to outlaw public employees' payroll check-offs for union dues and eliminate the "fair-share" payments non-union public workers pay for collective bargaining representation. They want to weaken apprenticeship standards; make it tougher for jobless workers to collect unemployment insurance benefits; pick the pockets of injured workers, and kill prevailing wage protections. The right-wingers among the Republicans in the Oregon Legislature also want to privatize as many state services as they can get away with. They want to strip teachers of longstanding tenure protection. They want to short-change public school students by not adequately funding education and by returning to under-taxed corporations the 2 percent tax "kicker" instead of earmarking it for schools.

IN ADDITION to thumbing their noses at the will of the voters on the minimum wage improvements mandated in last November's general election, the ultra-conservatives also want to blow smoke in the voters' faces by disregarding the intent of Ballot Measure 44 to extend Oregon Health Plan coverage to more uninsured workers with an increased tax on cigarettes.

On the cigarette tax issue, former Governor Vic Atiyeh could say, "I told you so." He campaigned last fall as a tobacco industry spokesman against the cigarette tax ballot measure, warning that the Legislature might divert the revenue for purposes other than the Health Plan.

In their onslaught against workers -- union and non-union -- the Republicans of the radical right are doing the bidding of employers, the major contributors to the sometimes-not-so-Grand Old Party (GOP). Employers' interests at the Legislature are represented by Associated Oregon Industries, Committee to Protect Small Business, Oregon Farm Bureau, Associated General Contractors, Associated Builders and Contractors, Oregon Restaurant Association, National Federation of Independent Business, Oregon Association of Nurserymen, Home Builders Association, Independent Employers Association and assorted other agents of bottom-line idolatry.

GENE DERFLER OF SALEM ranks as one of the chief straw-bosses of the right-wing, anti-worker grave-diggers. The real estate broker and property owner, who's the GOP majority leader in the Senate, concentrates on introducing bills to deprive workers of their rights. Derfler shifted to the Senate a session ago after several terms in the House.

Interestingly, the name Derfler, Bavarian in origin, means "one who lives in a small village." That translation tidbit came from a NW Labor Press reader and Germanic language authority, Ed Schmidt of Washington, D. C. Schmidt's day job is providing consulting expertise on postal matters to labor unions and labor publications.

Judging from Gene Derfler's egregiously negative attitude toward workers and unions, his village must be a mighty unfriendly place.


ON THE MINIMUM WAGE ISSUE facing the 1997 Oregon Legislature, "It's deja vu all over again," to quote an expression attributed to Yogi Berra, a major league baseball player of yesteryear. By a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent, Oregon voters passed Ballot Measure 36 last November which mandated increases in the state's wage floor from $4.75 an hour to $6.50 over a three-year time frame. But the measure's big-spending foes, after losing in the general election, are beseeching the Republican-controlled Legislature to retroactively punch Swiss cheese holes in the voters' ballots. The greedy employers want to exempt from the law's provisions first-time job-holders, tipped workers, piecework-farmworkers, foster care-givers, various other low-wage workers, plus those employees whose benevolent bosses graciously offer them the opportunity to buy health insurance.

THE CHIEF ARGUMENT of the employers is that they'll face bankruptcy if they're forced to raise the wages of their lowest-paid workers.

We've heard that phony song before. Take, for example, the 1965 session. Thirty-two years ago a bill was introduced to bring the state minimum wage up to the federal wage floor of $1.25. To snuff out that subversive idea, the state's heavy-duty employer lobbying outfit, Associated Oregon Industries (AOI), hired a high-powered Portland management lawyer to testify against it.

"IT'S A VICIOUS piece of legislation," the AOI attorney told the House Labor and Management Committee. Even though he testified just after April Fool's Day, he uttered his "vicious" comment with a straight face. For his cameo appearance, the attorney probably charged AOI at least two-hundred times $1.25.

The Oregon AFL-CIO, Oregon Council of Churches and even a Republican legislator testified in favor of raising the wage floor to $1.25. But the "vicious" allegation prevailed because in 1965 the Legislature was run by a Republican speaker of the House and an ultra-conservative Democrat -- a southern Oregon Dixiecrat -- as Senate president. However, a later Legislature rectified the '65 session's failure to do the right thing.


DUE TO THEIR LACK of experience with the collective bargaining process, the non-union Oregonian newspaper's opinion writers can't fathom why Portland police officers, after being fired by the chief and the mayor, wind up being reinstated with back pay.

If the publisher and/or the editor decide to fire someone -- or send a longtimer into involuntary retirement -- that person stays fired or retired. That's because employees of the Newhou$e media chain's Oregonian lack the protection of a labor union and a collective bargaining contract. That protection ended when the unions were ousted in the November 1959 to April 1965 strike against the Newhou$e Oregonian and then-locally-owned Oregon Journal. The latter once-proud paper is now just a chipped headstone in the Newhou$e media graveyard.

WHEN THE POLICE chief and the mayor fire a police officer, the Portland Police Association -- the city cops' union -- usually finds grounds to file a grievance on behalf of the fired officer. Eventually, an independent arbitrator hears the pros and cons of the discharge. In virtually all such cases, the arbitrators have ruled that firing was too harsh a punishment. The Portland Police Association (PPA), which used to be Local 456 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), has represented Portland police officers since 1942. Local 456, AFSCME's first police local in the nation, changed its status to the non-affiliated PPA a quarter-century ago.


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