Opinion: Working Oregonians deserve leaders who stand with them
In times of crisis, real leaders are forged.
During the year since Oregon's first confirmed case of COVID-19, countless examples of empathetic, worker-centered leadership have been showcased. When elected officials listen to workers, the policies they pass are stronger and more responsive to the needs of working families. For example, Oregon created and funded the Oregon Worker Relief Fund to ensure farmworkers who help put food on our tables and are least likely to have access to enough paid sick time could quarantine when needed.
But we've also witnessed failures in leadership that deepen the harm to families and communities. Unfortunately, Oregon U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, a Canby Democrat, has been the source of some of those most disappointing failures.
As the pandemic has raged on causing immeasurable pain, suffering and economic devastation, the inequities in our communities and government have also been laid bare. Working people, especially workers of color and women, have been disproportionately impacted by the multitude of crises we have faced and are, without overdue and empathetic action, are in grave danger of never catching back up. The pandemic has erased more than a decade of progress towards gender equality in the workplace, endangered communities of color, like farmworkers, with significantly higher risks of exposure and death, and showcased a rigged economic system as billionaire wealth grows exponentially at the same time millions are in the unemployment line.
As the needs of Oregonians have become more dire, Congressman Kurt Schrader has voted against addressing them. Whether voting against the HEROES Act last year, at a time when it was most needed, voting against an increase to the $7.25 per hour federal minimum wage or siding with corporate America in opposing the Protecting the Right to Organize Act in the last Congress — the most significant worker empowerment legislation since the Great Depression, working families are fed up.
On Feb. 27, these frustrations were renewed as Congressman Schrader made national headlines as one of only two House Democrats to vote against the Biden Administration's American Rescue Plan to deliver necessary relief and direct payments to hardworking families and aid to state and local governments. These recent examples have spotlighted a disconnect between the needs of constituents in 5th Congressional District and Rep. Schrader's inside-the-beltway political shenanigans.
Working Oregonians deserve better than that, especially during a global pandemic.
Leadership requires compassion, a genuine commitment to helping people, and the ability to push for solutions instead of put up roadblocks. While working Oregonians have felt forgotten and left behind by Congressman Schrader, we remain hopeful that he will see how working families across his district need him to help make the economy work for all of us by supporting the Protecting the Right to Organize Act when it comes back for a vote on the House floor, possibly in mid-March.
With an increasingly precarious and fissured economy that is putting an unbearable squeeze on working families, it is no surprise that working Americans are looking for solutions, further driving union approval ratings to a 50-year high. It is also quite telling that, according to MIT research, more than 60 million people would vote to join a union if given the opportunity.
When you put power back in the hands of working people through a union, that is the single best tool we have to close racial and gender wage gaps, and allows us to fight for a fair share of the wealth we help create.
That is what the PRO Act is about: protecting workers' ability to choose to belong to a union. It's one important step Congress can take to truly build back better from the pandemic, and Congressman Schrader has an opportunity to change his course to be the kind of leader Oregonians in the 5th Congressional District have been waiting for throughout this pandemic.
We hope you will join us in asking Congressman Schrader to stand with working Oregonians by voting yes on the PRO Act by calling 866-832-1560.
Graham Trainor is president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, the federation of labor unions representing more than 300,000 working Oregonians. Reyna Lopez is executive director of Pineros Y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), representing farmworkers and Latinx working families.
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