Rep. Mike Schaufler (D-Happy Valley) has been stripped of his co-chairmanship of and membership in the House Business & Labor Committee after allegations that he grabbed a woman's breast during the recent Oregon AFL-CIO convention. Update, Sat 9:30 a.m.: Rep. Schaufler has now responded to the allegations. See below.
Willamette Week's Nigel Jaquiss initially reported the story last night:
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."
Brad Avakian is the commissioner at BOLI. Here's what he told WW:
"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."
This afternoon, those consequences have arrived. According to the O's Harry Esteve:
The speakers issued a terse memo minutes ago to Ramona Kenady, chief clerk of the House:
"Effective immediately, we are making the following committee change: House Committee on Business and Labor. Discharge Representative Mike Schaufler."
Minutes later, Roblan, a Democrat, released this statement:
"Last week an incident occurred involving Representative Mike Schaufler. After personally investigating the incident, including having several conversations with those involved, I have determined that the strongest course of action available to me is to remove Rep. Schaufler as both chair and as a member of the House Business and Labor Committee. I am taking this action immediately to show how seriously I view this incident."
Schaufler is a state legislator who defines his own success by his ability to create jobs and fight for blue-collar workers.
Damaged relationships with the state labor commissioner, the leadership of organized labor, and House leadership - and the loss of his post on Business & Labor - raise strong questions about Schaufler's ability to continue serving effectively at the Legislature.
Update, Sat. 9:30 a.m.: Rep. Schaufler has responded in a statement (via the Oregonian), saying that he had "no sexual intent" and describing the incident as nothing more than placing a sticker on the woman's chest. Full statement on the jump.
For my sake, I find it hard to believe that this incident would have taken on the magnitude that it has if it were nothing more than an errant placement of a campaign sticker.
Schaufler's full statement:
On Sept. 26 a campaign worker and colleague of mine stuck a campaign sticker on my chest without my permission. I reacted by taking the sticker off of my chest and sticking it on her chest. In hindsight I wish I had simply removed the sticker from my chest and reminded my colleague that I did not support that candidate.
My knee jerk response had no sexual intent and was not any kind of sexual advance. I am well aware of the social, physical and legal differences between a man's chest and a woman's.
My reaction was instantaneous, not well thought out and certainly meant no harm. It was in reaction to what was no more than innocent horse play on my colleague's part.
I apologized to my colleague that same evening. Her and I have had a friendly and professional relationship for years that I hope we can continue.
I know she meant me no harm. I hope she can believe the same of me.
I have refrained from using my colleague's name here out of sensitivity to her.