October 6, 2006 Volume 107 Number 19

Longtime Carpenters leader Jim Bledsoe dies of cancer at 73

The International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners lost a longtime leader with the death of James S. Bledsoe on Sept. 9 in Longview, Wash., following a 10-year battle with cancer. He was 73.

Bledsoe first joined the Lumber and Sawmill Workers union in 1952 when he went to work at the Fir-Tex sawmill in St. Helens, Ore. Shortly after going to work there the crew voted to strike. During that two-year strike he showed leadership skills and four years later he was elected to the top office of the Portland Coast Columbia District Council.

In 1959 he helped negotiate the formation of a multi-employer health and welfare trust with the major forest products companies.

Bledsoe was elected executive secretary treasurer of the Western Council Lumber and Sawmill Workers in 1972. He made health care a central fixture throughout his career.

“Jim was always a step ahead of many in anticipating changes in health care,” said Mike Pieti, executive secretary treasurer of the newly-created Carpenters Industrial Council.

The health care trust was renamed the Bledsoe Health Trust in 2001 to honor his commitment to delivering comprehensive medical care to members, their families and to retirees.

Bledsoe led the Western Council in 1983 when workers at 15 Louisiana-Pacific lumber mills went on strike — a battle that ground on for more than two years. Bledsoe shepherded many successful L-P strike-related legal cases before the National Labor Relations Board during one of the most difficult decades for workers in recent times.

Bledsoe was persuaded to come out of retirement in 1990 to chair the Forest Products Bargaining Board and then was elected general treasurer of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters in 1991. During his four years in that post he put new systems in place to help safeguard the union’s funds and protect assets of the membership. During his term, Bledsoe also oversaw the Brotherhood’s legislative and political affairs and was an early adherent to what is now called ‘Carpenter Politics.’ He helped shift the union’s focus away from endorsements based purely on political party affiliation and toward an assessment of candidates based on Carpenters’ issues.

“Jim had an immense impact on this union. Workers all across the country are better off today because of his intellect, his tenacity, his bargaining skills and his absolute dedication,” Pieti concluded.

Bledsoe was born Dec. 25, 1932, in St. Helens, Ore., to Samuel and Minnie Olive Bledsoe. He graduated from Scappoose High School in 1950. He married Janice Noble on Feb. 23, 1951, in St. Helens. They lived in Warren, Ore., and Deer Island for more than 40 years before moving to Kelso, Wash., four years ago.

Bledsoe is survived by his wife, their six children, 16 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

The James Bledsoe Memorial Fund for Cancer Victims has been established to help working families with catastrophic medical bills not covered by insurance. Contributions can be sent to: Bank of the West; Attn. Ginger Reece; 401 SW 5th Avenue; Portland, OR 97204.

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