February 6, 2009 Volume 110 Number 3

Dennis steps down as president of Carpenters local, regional council

Bruce Dennis, a longtime local leader within the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, has resigned as president of Portland-based Local 247 and as president of the five-state Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters. Both are unpaid positions.

Until August, Dennis was also a full-time union representative at the regional council. He and three others were let go following the regional council elections, at which he won re-election as president.

Based on age and years of service, Dennis, 57, was eligible for the pension benefit offered to union staff, but not while he continued to serve as a union officer. So the decision to resign the unpaid elected offices was an economic one, he told Local 247 members in November — and arrived at after some soul-searching. Dennis has spent much of his life in the union.

A Northeast Portland native and Parkrose High grad, Dennis said he was first exposed to the Carpenters while he was a long-haired anti-war student who had enrolled in Portland State University to avoid the risk of going to Vietnam. Dennis got a work-study job in the university facilities department, and picked up skills from a former Carpenters member who encouraged him to look into the union. When Dennis graduated in 1973 with a general studies degree, he promptly joined Local 247 as an apprentice carpenter.

After 15 years in the trade, Dennis ran for union office. He won election as trustee in 1988, full-time staff rep in 1990, local president in 1992, and regional council president in 1996.

Now that he’s no longer in the union leadership, Dennis said he’s using his free time to do things he enjoys, but hasn’t had time for — fishing, working on his 1964 Corvette, helping a friend remodel. He sings in the choir at Trinity Lutheran Church. He serves on the board of the IBEW & United Workers Federal Credit Union.

And he has more time to act on his beliefs. Among his biggest concerns are that big-dollar campaign contributions make the political system unresponsive to regular voters, and that NAFTA-style trade policies have sold out the working class. Dennis, his hardhat covered in union stickers, has been a regular presence at anti-free trade rallies. Last fall he campaigned door-to-door for Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Multnomah County Commissioner Judy Shiprack. And he’s active in the Oregon Working Families Party, a union-backed third party.

Carpenters are allowed to continue to work part time while collecting pension benefits, so Dennis also has returned to working at the trade, taking occasional dispatches for short-term jobs. He said he will continue to attend Local 247 meetings, and is freer to speak his mind now that he’s not chairing them.

“We’ve got a good union,” Dennis said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s up to us to make it better.”

To fill its vacancy, Local 247 will hold nominations at its February general membership meeting, and vote on a replacement at the March meeting.

The Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters will nominate and elect a replacement at a Feb. 15 delegates meeting in Spokane.

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