WW has learned that state Rep. Mike Schaufler (D-Happy Valley) is in hot water because of his actions at the state AFL-CIO convention in Eugene Sept. 26-28.
Schaufler, a five-term legislative veteran, is a former union contractor who co-chairs the powerful House Business and Labor Committee. He has earned a reputation in Salem as an outspoken, hard-drinking advocate for the working man, who aggressively uses his campaign funds to defray living expenses.
Last week, however, Schaufler allegedly stepped beyond his normal bounds.
AFL-CIO spokeswoman Elana Guiney tells WW that on Monday evening Sept. 26, after the day's convention program events had ended, several witnesses saw Schaufler make an unwanted advance to a female employee of the Bureau of Labor and Industries.
"It is my understanding of the incident that he grabbed her breast," Guiney says.
Reached this afternoon, Schaufler denied he grabbed the staffer's breast or made an unwanted advance. "That is categorically untrue," Schaufler told WW. "That is just not true. That is all I will say."
Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Brad Avakian, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in the First Congressional District primary, was in Eugene for the convention but didn't witness the incident. He says he learned about it soon afterward and immediately sought out his BOLI subordinate.
"I spent time that evening talking with the person who was harmed about what had happened and how she was feeling about it," Avakian says. "She was upset."
Avakian says the woman felt uncomfortable with the prospect of running into Schaufler again.
"The next morning, I called [AFL-CIO President] Tom Chamberlain to let him know that something had occurred and I believed it was important, out of respect for the person who was harmed, that she and Rep. Schaufler not have to be in the same place together at the convention," Avakian says. " I suggested that Rep. Schaufler should go home that morning. Tom said he would try and find Rep. Schaufler and talk with him."
Schaufler left the convention, which Avakian says was the least he could do.
"His behavior was inappropriate, and particularly so for a public official," Avakian says. "My first concern was and still is looking out for the person who was harmed. But there should be consequences for [Schaufler's] behavior.
Avakian, whose agency is responsible for policing workplace conduct, finds himself in the unusual position of having to address the alleged harassment of one of his own employees. He says he consulted BOLI staff about whether Schaufler's warranted a BOLI complaint. He says that because the female staffer was there on her own time in a volunteer capacity, BOLI does not have jurisdiction over the incident.
"I understand that House leadership has been made aware of the issue," Avakian says. "I really think they are the appropriate body to address issue, and I believe they will take it seriously."
But the events in Eugene are clearly causing consternation for House Democratic leaders, who are navigating a 30-30 sharing of control of the Oregon House with Republicans.
"The Democratic Leader [Rep. Tina Kotek (D-Portland) and the Co-Speaker [Rep. Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay)] are aware that an incident occurred," says House Democratic spokesman Geoff Sugerman. "They are in the process of gathering information and in the process of determining the right course of action."