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Business groups boycott scheduling law discussions

Business groups are boycotting a work group tasked with discussing possible proposals for a bill next session governing how employers schedule employees.

In a letter, business lobbyists told lawmakers heading the group that labor advocates were attacking them during the first meeting May 26 and did “not provide a constructive forum” for discussion.

“We respectfully withdraw from this interim work group,” the June 1 letter states.

The letter was signed by Associated Oregon Industries, Northwest Grocery Association, Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, Oregon Farm Bureau, Oregon Trucking Association and Portland Business Alliance.

The letter also revealed some of Oregon’s employers’ frustrations over a pending ballot measure to levy a $3 billion-per-year corporate sales tax and a series of new mandates for employers passed in the past two years. Lawmakers hiked minimum wage rates earlier this year. Last year, they passed legislation to require paid sick leave and an employee retirement program. Initiative Petition 28 to raise corporate taxes is headed to the November ballot.

“Oregon employers simply can’t afford any more one-size fits all costly mandates,” the letter stated.

Sen. Michael Dembrow and Rep. Paul Holvey, chairmen of the Senate and House workforce committees, convened the work group to include equal representation from business and labor lobbyists and from Democrat and Republican lawmakers.

Dembrow, D-Portland, and Holvey, D-Eugene, said they plan to continue the work group and will invite other business representatives to join in.

Dembrow, D-Portland, said tensions between business and labor lobbyists at the first meeting weren’t out of the ordinary.

“This is really not about the committee or immediately about the work of this committee,” Dembrow said. “It is about sick leave, minimum wage and IP 28. There is a narrative that they are trying to create, which I disagree with, and that is that the Legislature is passing anti-business and job-killing legislation.”

But Amanda Dalton, a lobbyist for the Northwest Grocery Association and some agriculture groups, said nearly all of the labor lobbyists “made pretty broad, disparaging comments about Oregon businesses and how employees are treated.”

“Sen. Dembrow was trying to manage the discussion, but (it) just didn’t happen,” she said.

Betsy Earls of Associated Oregon Industries said the business organizations also withdrew from the group because “we didn’t want to condone more anti-business legislation.”

“We will keep talking for sure, but if people want to keep putting those kind of burdens on business, they need to be careful about the things they’re saying about what businesses do,” Earls said.

Sami Alloy, deputy director of Oregon Working Families Party and a member of the work group, said she is disappointed business groups have left the work group.

“We came to the table with business groups to talk about best practices and ways to regulate against worst practices,” Alloy said. “It is a really unfortunate that business groups did not want to participate in that conversation.”

“I would like to see them come back,” she said. “I think we need to create common sense basic labor standards that workers need and should be entitled to that also work for employers, and we need employers to participate and help craft the solutions.”

Job scheduling has been an issue around the country because of changes in the workplace and workforce, Dembrow said. Seattle is considering a proposal to require employers to notify employees of their schedules a week in advance and a compensation plan for when schedules are changed last minute.

“You’re having workers facing a lot of challenges when they get their work schedules barely a week in advance,” Dembrow said. “In some cases, they come into work, and they’re told there’s no work for them today.”

A preemption on municipalities passing ordinances to require advanced scheduling for workers is set to expire at the end of 2017.

Dembrow said he hopes to propose legislation next session that would create a statewide standard for scheduling.

By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
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