Portland unionists take 'Freedom Tour' at PDX

About 75 people, including Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, turned out at the Portland International Airport June 24 to take part in a "Freedom Tour" highlighting good and bad employers at the airport.

The event was part of "Seven Days In June," a nationwide series of actions intended by the AFL-CIO to be a key week in a broad, long-term campaign to restore the right of workers to join a union.

The Portland action was sponsored by the Northwest Oregon Labor Council and Jobs With Justice.

Wearing Hawaiian shirts and plastic leis, participants posed as "tourists" as tour guides Bill Bradley and Suzanne Wall led groups on a tour of places of note to union members.

Unions and union struggles were everywhere in the airport, it seemed.

The first stop was the metal detection security checkpoint, where American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 75 organizer Bob Marshall told the story of workers at contractor Globe Security who voted in the union and then watched as the Port of Portland contract went to a new company, Huntleigh. Because there was no "successor" language in their union contract, the workers, now employees of Huntleigh, must fight again to win a contract.

Next, Bradley noted that the carpet at the airport is cleaned by Skyline Building Maintenance. As Rick Henson of Service Employees International Union Local 49 explained, the company faces a continued organizing drive in which the union has filed over a dozen unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

On the way to the Alaska Airlines ticket counter, the tour passed by Powell's Books, site of a successful union organizing drive by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. At Alaska, participants heard from one of the six employees terminated for alleged participation in a "sickout" called to protest the company's two-year delay in signing a contract.

Next stop was a shuttle bus stop, where drivers employed by Ryder Transportation read statements describing the harassment and intimidation they faced during a recent unsuccessful campaign to organize with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757. The union lost by a close vote; because the vote took place after numerous unfair labor practice charges were filed, the result is being challenged and could possibly be overturned by the National Labor Relations Board.

Before boarding a shuttle bus to the last stop on the tour, participants heard from Terry Haserman, a cab driver working for Green Cab Company who was fired for taking part in a union campaign. Cab drivers are considered independent contractors by the NLRB and therefore don't have the legal protection of a union. Nonetheless, AFSCME has taken an interest in the taxi drivers' campaign and is helping them form a drivers association.

Last on the tour was a visit to the spot where three union iron workers were killed in July 1997 while working on the airport's new parking structure. Bused to the back side of the parking structure, participants unfurled a banner and held a 20-minute rally in which they paused for a moment of silence, heard "Amazing Grace" and learned of the gains of union workers at some of the airport's more worker-friendly employers.

The demonstration was ignored by the local media with the exception of an anti-union opinion piece by a National Right-To-Work Committee hack in the June 25 edition of the Oregonian.

July 2, 1999 issue

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