• My meeting with labor representatives in Guatemala highlights the need to enforce trade agreements

    When I’m at town halls in Oregon, people ask me a lot, “Why are we making new trade deals when we aren’t enforcing the ones already on the books?"

    These are real concerns, which I share. Holding our trading partners accountable has been a long-time priority of mine. So last week I traveled to Guatemala to meet with labor representatives about what the Central American Free Trade Act (CAFTA) has meant for workers there. 

    What they told me is the trade deal has helped them, but not as much as it could have. Right now Guatemalan workers too often face poor workplace conditions, or are paid below the country’s minimum wage, despite Guatemala’s own laws and its commitments under CAFTA. When government inspectors show up at factories, they often are turned away and never follow through to make sure companies are following the rules.

    This isn’t just an issue for Guatemalan workers. If companies are artificially cutting costs by mistreating workers there, it also hurts U.S. workers and businesses by undermining U.S. efforts to treat workers fairly.

    Guatemala has taken a few good steps, like hiring inspectors, but it hasn’t done enough to follow through.

    Under CAFTA, the U.S. can suspend Guatemala’s low tariff rates if it doesn’t live up to its side of the deal.

    The good news is the U.S. Trade Representative is taking an enforcement action against Guatemala’s government, with a decision expected by the end of the year. The bad news is it took far too long for the U.S. to hold them accountable. 

    I’m proud the Trade Promotion Authority bill I co-authored puts new responsibilities on our trade negotiators to strengthen labor standards and make enforcement quicker and more meaningful than any trade agreement in our country’s history. After this visit I’m more certain than ever that the Trans-Pacific Partnership must include enforceable labor standards that raise the bar for workers around the world. That’s the only deal I’ll support, and the only deal the president should accept.

  • Ron gets firefighting briefings that reinforce the need to fix wildfire funding

    Oregon’s record-breaking fire season this year is being worsened by severe drought and the current system of wildfire funding that shortchanges fire prevention and suppression work. To combat this problem, Ron has introduced a bipartisan bill to make sure there are enough resources to fight fires like the natural disasters they are by fixing the nation’s broken system of wildfire funding.

    In addition to working with the U.S. Forest Service and the state to ensure all available firefighting resources are deployed as quickly as possible, Ron will make his wildfire funding bill his top priority when Congress reconvenes in September.

    “These infernos are threatening lives and burning up Oregon’s forests and homes,” Ron said after recent briefings in Medford and Boise about the wildfires ravaging southern Oregon and eastern Oregon.

    “My first order of business is to finally end the terrible trifecta that makes these fires worse,” he said, “underfunding firefighting budgets, stealing money from fire prevention to make up the shortfall and letting hazardous fuels build up as a result.”

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    Ron received his first fire briefing of the year in March, which was the earliest fire briefing he’d ever had to receive.The most recent fire briefings in Medford and Boise follow updates firefighting officials gave Ron last month in Portland and Bend. The bottom line in all those briefings was that firefighters are doing extraordinary work under extraordinary circumstances and that it’s imperative they get the resources they need.

    To read more about Ron’s bipartisan bill with Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo to reform  the system of wildfire funding, go here.

    And to keep up with all the incredible work firefighters are doing across Oregon, go here.

  • Ron holds Portland roundtable on unmanned aircraft systems

    With commercial applications from agriculture to mountaintop rescue, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have the ability to boost Oregon’s economy and create good-paying middle-class jobs. Because of this potential, Ron and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer invited FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker to discuss the benefits of UAS in our state.

    Oregon is once again proving to be a leader in innovation and technology.  Our state has three FAA-approved test ranges in Pendleton, Tillamook and Warm Springs, numerous innovative UAS companies in operation statewide, and the FAA recently chose Oregon State University (OSU) chosen as a Center of Excellence for UAS.

    “This is an Oregon industry that is poised to soar," Wyden said at the Aug. 14 roundtable in Portland. "And it's our job to help make sure that there is a good safe flight path in place."

    Also attending the roundtable were local and state officials, Warm Springs Tribal leaders and Oregon agricultural leaders, as well as representatives from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the three test range sites in the state, OSU, University of Oregon, Portland State University and Business Oregon.

    Ron said afterward that the roundtable generated a productive discussion of issues such as getting the federal role right on safety and privacy, including limiting the government’s use of UAS where it would intrude on individual rights. The roundtable participants also discussed ways to ensure that UAS play a role in commercial applications from agriculture and mountaintop rescue and wildfires – while heeding firefighters’ concerns about private UAS that in some instances have hampered efforts to fight wildfires.