Sawyer to run for secretary-treasurer of AFL-CIO
After 26 years with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Rick Sawyer saw a new challenge and decided to go for it.
Sawyer announced at a labor-sponsored breakfast with Congressman Earl Blumenauer April 1 that he is a candidate for Oregon AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, to be voted on this September at the state labor federation convention in Coos Bay/North Bend.
Sawyer is running on a slate with Joe Devlaeminck, longtime president of both Oregon Council 75 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and Multnomah County Employees Local 88. He announced his candidacy for AFL-CIO president in January.
Sawyer is challenging incumbent Secretary-Treasurer Brad Witt, also a member of UFCW Local 555, who is running on a slate with Tim Nesbitt, a member of Oregon Public Employees Union Local 503 and executive director of the Service Employees International Union's Oregon State Council, which represents Local 503, Service Employees Local 49 and School Employees Local 140.
The president's seat is being vacated by Irv Fletcher, a member of the American Federation of Teachers, who is retiring after 18 years at the helm of the 100,000-member state labor federation.
The Devlaeminck/Sawyer ticket has received endorsements from Tigard-based Local 555, the state's largest private-sector union, UFCW Local 1439, which is based in Spokane but represents some workers in eastern Oregon, and Office and Professional Employees Local 11.
Sawyer, 52, is currently director of collective bargaining for Local 555. He is running for secretary-treasurer because he believes he can make "a positive difference" for organized labor in Oregon. He stresses both his diverse duties with UFCW and his long roots in organized labor as qualifications for the job.
Sawyer started as a rank-and-file member of the former Retail Clerks Local 1092, which later merged to become UFCW Local 555. He has held positions with the international union and the local as an organizer, union representative, grievance director, membership services director, media relations spokesman, chief negotiator and as a health and welfare and pension trustee.
"I've done just about everything a person can do in a union, and I think I have pretty well-rounded qualifications for the AFL-CIO position," he said. "I also believe my background gives me a different perspective as I seek the secretary-treasurer post," Sawyer continued. "Both Joe and I come from the labor rank-and-file, and I think that gives us a different way of viewing leadership."
Drawing on that background, Sawyer said it's easy to outline his priorities for the Oregon AFL-CIO.
"In a nutshell, my priorities are whatever the affiliates' priorities are. I really mean that," said Sawyer. "I expect Joe and I to spend a lot of time visiting with all - and I mean all - the affiliates, and find out what their needs and priorities are. The president and secretary-treasurer are employees of the affiliates; we can never forget that."
Given that guideline, Sawyer pointed to four general areas that he wants to emphasize: * Visibility - "We desperately need to raise the overall visibility of the Oregon AFL-CIO in this state, both internally with union members and externally with the general public.
"Internally, we can be more helpful to affiliates in a number of ways, such as organizing campaigns and labor disputes. My perception is that the Oregon AFL-CIO has been really emphasizing legislative issues. Don't get me wrong, legislative issues are important, but other issues are just as important.
"Specifically, I want to develop a truly effective organizing policy committee throughout the state. We've talked all around that issue, but we haven't really accomplished it to date."
* Respectability - "We will enhance respectability for the Oregon AFL-CIO as we enhance the organization's visibility."
* Education -"We always need more in-house education within labor; that's a given. But I also want to take a real run at getting labor's history into our public school system. We talk about that a lot, but it hasn't happened, and the AFL-CIO is the organization that should be leading that charge."
* Organizing -"The AFL-CIO should help coordinate organizing union-to-union and help mediate any potential conflicts. Fifteen years ago, we talked about how high-tech would probably grow someday, but inside of labor we fought so hard over jurisdiction that we never got any of those companies organized. Organizing is still the lifeblood of all unions, and the AFL-CIO does not devote enough resources to organizing. We need to spend more time and more money in this area."
Sawyer concedes that if he wins it will be hard to leave the UFCW, where he feels very comfortable.
"But I decided I've got to put my money where my mouth is," he says. "I can sit back and complain, or I can get in there and really help an organization that, honestly, needs a lot of improvement. It's easy to sit on the sidelines and grumble. I've decided to get involved and help."
Ken Allen, executive director of Oregon AFSCME, which has almost 20,000 members, believes Devlaeminck and Sawyer will do an excellent job together.
"Rick is a proven negotiator. He's spent years in a tough industry. He'll bring a lot of expertise to the AFL-CIO," Allen said. "In Joe and Rick as a team we'll have two unionists strongly connected to the rank-and-file. I have confidence that they will listen to all of the Oregon AFL-CIO affiliates and listen to our concerns."
"Look up solidarity in the dictionary and you'll see pictures of Joe Devlaeminck and Rick Sawyer," said Gene Pronovost, president of UFCW Local 555. "As union members they have worked their way up through the ranks of their unions. They have paid their dues, they know the meaning of unionism - pulling together for the common good, not pushing those aside who disagree."
© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.