AFSCME's Devlaeminck to run for president of Oregon AFL-CIO
1999 is an election year for the Oregon AFL-CIO, and for the first time in decades there will be a vacancy in the federation's top post. That's because President Irv Fletcher said he will retire when his term expires in September. Four-year terms also are up for secretary-treasurer, first vice president, second vice president and 22 Executive Board seats. The election will take place in North Bend Sept. 14.
The first person to declare his candidacy for president is Joe Devlaeminck, president of Oregon Council 75 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and also president of Multnomah County Employees Local 88.
Devlaeminck works full time for the county as a computer systems programmer.
Devlaeminck, 49, has been a union member since 1971, having grown up "in an anti-union family." He has been a member of Local 88's bargaining team, a steward, chief steward and president. In 1992 he was elected president of Oregon Council 75, which includes all AFSCME locals in the state. He is second vice president of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council in Portland.
"My father never believed in unions and I knew that growing up," Devlaeminck said.
"Now I don't think he feels that way, but my upbringing makes me very conscientious of people's attitudes toward labor and I know how to share with those people the value of unions. "
A graduate of Hillsboro High School, Devlaeminck spent all of 1969 in Vietnam. He returned to Oregon with a Purple Heart and no idea what he wanted to do. "There were a lot of years where I didn't know what I wanted to be," he said.
He attended college classes and worked at whatever odd jobs he could get. One such job would impact his life more than the war.
Devlaeminck landed a job at Carnation Can Co., a Portland shop represented by the Machinists Union, where his brother was a shop steward. A month on the job, Devlaeminck reached into a machine to pull out a rag when he accidentally pressed the button that set it in motion, cutting his arm off at the elbow.
"Losing my arm in an industrial accident is why I hate the workers' compensation system to this day," he said. "I've been through the system, and it is not set up to benefit injured workers. It's set up for businesses as a way for them to cover their tails."
Devlaeminck would like to see the workers' compensation system eliminated altogether and workers allowed to sue employers for damages. "It would make more sense than the system we've got," he said.
Devlaeminck says he has a background that would help bring unity to the Oregon AFL-CIO (which has more than 250 affiliates representing some 100,000 workers) and the leadership skills it will take to attract new union members heading into the next millennium. "Oregon has 3 million people and only 100,000 belong to a union. That's a problem I want to fix," he said.
Under his leadership at Council 75, Devlaeminck said membership has grown significantly, as has the council's financial health.
As president of Local 88, Devlaeminck has played a big role in developing Multnomah County's labor-management RESULTS program for quality management.
He is a public-sector member on the board of directors of the American Society for Quality .
"Implementing quality management is a rigorous process. It requires a different thought process in the way people manage people, by giving the rank-and-file more authority to do the jobs they are supposed to do," Devlaeminck said. "This process is very difficult in the public sector because it is not designed to give workers the power to fix what is broken.That has to change."
Devlaeminck describes himself as a "rank-and-file guy who will work for the rank-and-file of the AFL-CIO." If elected president he said his first task will be to develop a vision statement that has input from all the affiliates. "I will not tell affiliates what to do. I will ask them to tell me what ought to be done and map out a strategy from that point," he said.
Devlaeminck has five children (two are stepchildren). His wife Julie owns a unionized deli and catering business in Portland, Magoo's II. She is a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555. A son is an apprentice in Portland Electrical Workers Local 48.
© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.