Weston elected to head SEIU #49

Don Weston, a 10-year employee at Kaiser Permanente, was elected secretary-treasurer of Portland-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 49. He defeated incumbent Rick Henson 320 to 170. A third candidate, Frieda Grieve, received 72 votes.

Weston has served Local 49 as a union steward and a member of the Kaiser bargaining team. He will leave his job as a courier delivering medical supplies to take the full-time job of secretary-treasurer for the 5,500-member local.

Born in Tacoma, Weston has lived most of his life in Oregon. He received a bachelor's degree in journalism from Idaho State University in 1979 and worked as a reporter for several years, including free-lance assignments writing sports for the Oregonian. He has been active with the Jaycees and for the Job Opportunity Bank of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.

Weston said his priority is to increase member involvement in the union, particularly in Local 49's Civil and Human Rights Committee and its Membership Involvement Committee.

Currently, Weston said, the local operates on the "service" model, in which members pay dues and staff handle union matters such as grievances and negotiations. He wants to see it shift to an "organizing" model, in which stewards are responsible for grievances throughout the process, and the rank-and-file play a bigger role in decision-making.

Weston said as soon as he takes office Jan. 11, he intends to poll the membership to see where they want the union to go. Then, to stay in touch, he pledged to devote time each week to go out and talk to members.

Because he comes from the rank-and-file, Weston admits he is a novice when it comes to the day-to-day operations of running a union. But he also says his background will be an advantage, enabling him to be more in touch with the needs of the members.

Weston had run for secretary-treasurer once before against Henson in a three-way race in 1996 that was won by Jim Moran. That election was overturned by the international union because some electoral procedures had not been followed correctly. Weston and Moran dropped out of the race in the second balloting.

Henson, who has been with Local 49 since being hired as a business representative in 1990, served one three-year term as secretary-treasurer. He said he will remain involved with the labor movement, and will continue to serve on the Oregon AFL-CIO Executive Board and as president of the Lane County Labor Council.

Portland is one of a handful of cities the national SEIU is targeting for a "Justice for Janitors 2000" campaign to establish an industry-wide pattern agreement for janitors. The idea would be to get the main union contractors in Portland together and negotiate a master contract with them as a group, rather than continue the current practice of numerous individual negotiations and contracts.

January 7, 2000 issue

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