April 3, 2009 Volume 110 Number 7

Labor protests corporate excess

Corporate excess was the target of two downtown Portland labor protests March 19.

First, two busloads of local Service Employees International Union (SEIU) staff joined members of other labor organizations for a short demonstration at downtown Portland’s World Trade Center, site of U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office. SEIU said similar demonstrations were held in 35 states.

Protesters expressed outrage against bonuses paid to insurance company executives at American International Group (AIG) after tax dollars were used to rescue the company from bankruptcy. As the official demonstration flier put it: “Banks get billion-dollar bailouts, CEOs get millions in pay and bonuses, and working families get foreclosures, layoffs, stagnant pay, and unaffordable healthcare.” Protesters called for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, health care for all, and banking reform.

Merkley was in Washington, D.C., and had no official response to the protest, but his deputy state director, former SEIU staff person Maribeth Healey, greeted demonstrators. Merkley spokesman Marc Siegel said the senator would likely agree with the protest message.

Next, a sub-group of demonstrators marched to a nearby Key Bank branch, where staff from Portland Jobs With Justice closed the group’s bank account. Key Bank, a recipient of bailout funds, has been targeted by labor for its role as lender to Oak Harbor Freight Lines, a trucking company that appears bent on busting the Teamsters. About 600 Teamsters struck for 157 days, and are no closer to a union contract now that they’re back to work. Oak Harbor suspended 13 union supporters, stopped contributing to the union-trusteed pension plan, and enrolled workers in a substandard company health care plan.

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