November 6, 2009 Volume 110 Number 2'1

Fire at SEIU Local 49 headquarters investigated as arson

An early morning fire at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 49 office is being investigated as an arson, said Portland Fire & Rescue spokesperson Alan Oswald.

The fire started in the lobby of the building at 3536 SE 26th Ave. about 5 a.m. Friday, Oct. 30.

Local 49 spokesperson Shauna Ballo said an insurance estimator figured the damage at over $100,000. Most of the fire damage is to the building's lobby, but other parts of the building suffered smoke and water damage. Ballo said the smell of smoke is everywhere in the building. The heat of the fire melted a refrigerator and a water cooler above the lobby, but no computers or other valuable equipment were damaged.

As of press time, Local 49 staff had not been allowed back in the building except to retrieve computers and other belongings, and staff had set up temporarily in the ballroom and other parts of the SEIU Local 503 hall at 6401 SE Foster Rd.

SEIU Local 49 represents more than 7,000 health care and janitorial workers in Oregon and Southwest Washington, and has approximately 30 employees. The union is an affiliate of the Change to Win labor federation. 

“Going into the building can be an emotional experience,” Ballo said. “It’s our meeting space and center of activity, so seeing the fire damage can make you angry or sad. But at a staff meeting [Monday] morning, the consensus was that the union is not a building, and we cannot allow this to slow us in any way.”

To demonstrate that the fire can’t damage Local 49’s spirit, the union is planning a “stronger than ever” rally Friday, Nov. 6 at 5 p.m. outside the burned office.

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