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Obama’s top labor enforcer: Oregon is a leader on leave, and Bonamici is a star

By Don McIntosh, Associate Editor | Wednesday September 2, 2015    11:59 AM
U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and his Secret Service escort popped into Portland Aug. 26 to chat about paid leave with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici.

As a reporter for the Northwest Labor Press, it’s not every day I get face-time with a cabinet member, a governor, and a congresswoman, so I wanted to make the most of it.

Perez’ Portland visit was the last stop in a five-city “Shared Prosperity for A Stronger America” tour. Such tours are becoming an annual ritual for the Secretary of Labor — seeking local media coverage for President Obama’s plans and accomplishments in the weeks leading up to Labor Day.

This year, two of the five tour stops were in districts of Congressional Democrats who infuriated organized labor by voting for Fast Track. Fast Track is a law that will make it easier for Congress to approve corporate-friendly trade deals like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. Bonamici was one of the 28 House Democrats who voted for Fast Track (out of 188) June 18, and it was her staff that organized the Portland event. [Perez also visited Fast Track supporter Brad Ashford of Omaha, Nebraska, on Aug. 17.]

The media advisory billed the 9 a.m. event as a “roundtable discussion.” Actually it was neither round nor a discussion: It was a stage-managed press event with no press questions. It took place in a meeting room at Portland’s iconic White Stag building, and it went like this: Perez, Brown, and Bonamici sat in the center of a U-shaped formation flanked by no fewer than 16 paid sick leave supporters. A dozen press aides and other staff looked on or checked their smart phones, and four reporters, including this one, recorded or took notes. The three principals each praised each other: Bonamici’s “got game,” Perez said. “She’s a star in Washington.” Then Family Forward Oregon head Andrea Paluso moderated a go-round. With 19 discussers and just an hour allotted, the union participants from Service Employees International Union, Oregon Nurses Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and PCUN only had time to introduce themselves and were not heard from again. The event was meant to highlight “how states, localities, and businesses are taking the lead on enacting paid leave policies.” Oregon is a leader, Perez said, because this year it became the fourth state to require employers to provide paid sick leave, following the passage of local ordinances in Portland and Eugene. That’s a real gain for hundreds of thousands of workers.

Paid sick leave is the law in most of the world, but a bill in Congress to guarantee sick leave nationwide is blocked by Republicans. Republicans ... [Full Story]

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