Weekly Update: Reality Check

Oregon AFL-CIO Weekly Update • August 17, 2016

Action Alert:  Rally at the Capitol Next Week

The United Steelworkers Legislation & Education Committee is hosting a rally in Salem at the Capitol in opposition of Governor Brown's support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The rally is August 23rd from 2:00pm to 4:00pm.

Event Reminder: Rock Against the TPP!

Don’ forget to join us in Portland on Saturday to rock against the TPP!
Click here for all the details.

Reality Check

Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain published an opinion piece in Sunday’s edition of The Oregonian. His piece is a response to the Freedom Foundation’s Oregon staffer, Anne Marie Gurney, who published an opinion piece the week before.

Here’s Tom’s article, in case you missed it:

Anne Marie Gurney, a staffer for the Washington-based Freedom Foundation, recently broadsided Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an op-ed in The Oregonian/OregonLive ("Kotek, Clinton's brand of progressivism has devastated Oregon's economy," Aug. 2). Unfortunately, it was heavy on rhetoric but light on facts.

First, some context: On numerous occasions, the anti-union Freedom Foundation's leadership has stated that their goal is to weaken labor unions in the Pacific Northwest so they can enact policies which benefit the wealthiest and leave working people behind. To that end, their goal is to paint the current leadership and recent policies that help working people, like the minimum wage increase and paid sick days, as hindering economic growth. The reality, however, does not live up to the "facts" Gurney claims.

Quoting data compiled by economist Eric Fruits, Gurney writes that "over the past 30 years or so, Oregon has frequently been in the top 10 for having the highest unemployment." Rather than consider what Gurney writes has happened "frequently" since the beginning of Ronald Reagan's second term, it seems far more relevant to look at the current jobs situation.

In June 2016, Oregon's unemployment rate was 4.8 percent, below the national rate of 4.9 percent. This year, The Oregonian/OregonLive has published headlines such as "Oregon unemployment rate drops again as state adds 2,300 jobs," (Jan. 20); "Portland-area unemployment rate reaches 15-year low," (March 8); and "Oregon unemployment rate now at lowest point since 2007," (March 1).

Gurney also writes that "Oregon has had the highest rate of underemployment in seven of the past 13 years." But numbers from Josh Lehner of the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis show that underemployment has dropped to levels not seen in a decade. That does not sound like a state being crushed by the weight of policies that give working people a fair shot at prosperity.

But the argument that makes the least sense is this: "Since the Great Recession, the cost of living in Oregon has grown to be almost 30 percent higher than the national average, driven largely by skyrocketing housing costs, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center."

The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center has created its own index to estimate the cost of living in every state and assigned the nation as a whole to 100 on their scale. One hundred-thirty isn't 30 percent higher than 100 in real dollars! To illustrate, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates the national cost of living for a family of four to be $62,260. One would expect, if Gurney and the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center were using anything other than arbitrarily assigned numbers, that Oregon's cost of living would be an outrageous $80,938.

But it's not. The statewide average cost of living in Oregon is actually $52,062.40, or 16 percent lower than the national average.

Put all of this together, and what you get are political operatives using fuzzy math and a study they paid for themselves to try to pull the wool over the eyes of Oregonians, all in an attempt to attack the rights of working people to stand together as a union.

It's a good thing we're smarter than that.

Congressman Schrader's Overtime Legislation Would Take Overtime Protections from Working People

Overtime rules can be a powerful way to prevent working people from getting overworked without getting paid more for their additional effort. Such rules protect both working people and their families, but the federal rules on overtime are out of date and don't protect nearly enough Americans. The Obama administration recently proposed updates to these rules that would help millions of Americans. NW Labor Press describes the update to the rules:

“The update has to do with which employees are eligible for overtime pay. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, workers must be paid time-and-a-half for every hour they work over 40 in a week, but [salaried] 'executive, administrative and professional' employees can be considered exempt from the overtime pay requirement. Increasingly, employers have been paying low-level managers on a salaried basis and claiming they’re exempt from overtime. They get away with it because the Department of Labor says it’s okay to exempt managers from overtime if they’re paid on a salaried basis and the salary is over $23,660 a year. That dollar amount was last updated in 2004 after being unchanged since the 1970s, and it was too low even in 2004. The Obama administration’s new rule raises it to $47,476—more along the lines of what it was in the 1970s, adjusted for inflation—and indexes it to wage growth from now on. The change is expected to affect over 4 million American workers.”

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) has proposed legislation that would delay the scheduled increase in the overtime salary threshold for three years. The Schrader bill would also gut a key provision of the new rules—the one that indexes the salary threshold to wage growth, which is necessary to keep people from losing their overtime protection over time. This indexing provision is one of the key reasons why the administration proposed new overtime rules in the first place.

If the Schrader bill were to pass, an estimated 10.4 million fewer working people would have salaries below the threshold by 2035, which means they would be less likely to have overtime protection.

Congressman Schrader is wrong and this legislation will hurt both working people and the economy.

Tell Congressman Schrader: Don’t take overtime protections from working people.