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Oregon Dem Reverses Course on Big Labor Bill After Union Pressure Campaign

Kurt Schrader says PRO Act would harm small businesses, still plans to support it

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D., Ore.) / Getty Images
• March 9, 2021 3:59 pm

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A pressure campaign from left-wing labor activists is paying dividends: Oregon Democrat Kurt Schrader, who conceded that a labor-backed bill would hurt small businesses, nonetheless announced his support for the measure.

Schrader revealed Tuesday that he will vote in favor of the PRO Act—a drastic labor reform bill—despite his concession that the proposal "would negatively impact many small businesses and their employees in Oregon." The Democrat voiced concerns about the proposal's call to resurrect the "joint employer standard," an Obama-era regulation that holds parent companies responsible for labor violations committed by franchisees or contractors. For Schrader, the provision would "threaten to undo the existing franchise model" and "allow secondary boycotts of business which have no relation or connection to an ongoing labor dispute."

Schrader's decision came just one day after Oregon's AFL-CIO chapter organized protests at his district offices. Picketers urged him to back the PRO Act, which they called "a historic opportunity to rewrite the rules of the economy." Schrader voted against the labor bill in February 2020, noting that the vote only took place because organized "labor's very insistent."

The reversal exemplifies Big Labor's influence among Democratic officials. While Schrader has received $13,000 from the AFL-CIO since 2008, the union did not contribute to his most recent reelection campaign, instead pledging to "hold Congressman Schrader accountable" for his February vote. Schrader has also received nearly $100,000 in combined contributions from the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and United Auto Workers since 2008. None of the labor giants backed his 2020 campaign financially.

Mackinac Center senior fellow Vincent Vernuccio called Schrader's concerns with the PRO Act "absolutely correct." He accused the Democrat of backing the bill to appease labor allies despite his better judgment.

"The PRO Act would be devastating to small businesses. It is a direct attack on the franchise industry," Vernuccio said. "His support is clear—even though he knows better, he is willing to sacrifice independent workers, entrepreneurs, and franchise owners."

Schrader did not return a request for comment.

House members are expected to vote on the PRO Act this week. In addition to its joint employer standard provision, the bill would also nationalize California Assembly Bill 5, a controversial labor law that limits companies' ability to classify workers as independent contractors. Vernuccio noted that while California lawmakers have scaled back the bill in recent months following widespread criticism, the PRO Act does not include such updates.

AFL-CIO protesters also admonished Schrader for voting against President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion relief bill. The Democrat explained his opposition by stating that the legislation "was a take it or leave it approach" and did not undergo "an extensive vetting process." He also railed against House speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D., Calif.) decision to include a $15 minimum wage hike in the package, arguing that "as a small businessman" it "makes no sense at all" to raise the minimum wage "in the middle of a pandemic." Just days later, however, Schrader said he would vote for Biden's bill after Senate Democrats amended the legislation.

Schrader was one of only two House Democrats to vote against Biden's relief package. Seven House Democrats voted against the PRO Act in 2020.

Schrader is not the only Democrat in recent weeks to declare support for a bill while admitting it would harm small businesses. Rep. Cindy Axne (D., Iowa) on Thursday backed a $15 federal minimum wage, which she said would "cause harm" in "rural Iowa."