Portland unions in 1900 started the Labor Press because of the lack of coverage of labor activities by the commercial press. The Portland Federated Trades Assembly, the city’s labor council of that era, announced in the new newspaper — the Portland Labor Press — that “the trade unions of this city have organized the Portland Labor Press Publishing Association … in order to educate the wage-workers upon the various phases of the modern labor movement, as well as to strengthen, protect, and promote their interests. Its object is to publish a weekly paper … and to give to the wage-workers, as well as the general public of this city and state, reliable information concerning the local as well as international labor movement.”
Today — a decade into its second century — the Labor Press pursues those same objectives.
The Labor Press printed weekly for its first 81 years. In 1915 the newspaper’s name was changed to Oregon Labor Press at the request of the Oregon State Federation of Labor. It was forced to go to twice-a-month frequency in 1982 to cope with a doubling of postage rates. In 1986 the logo was given the transitional name of Oregon/Washington Labor Press, and a year after that came the changeover to Northwest Labor Press — to reflect the newspaper’s role as the only surviving provider of general labor news in the Pacific Northwest. It continues to publish semi-monthly on the first and third Fridays.
In the early days, Labor Press circulation hovered around 10,000. By age 50 it had broadened its reach to 25,000 households, with circulation peaking in 1975 at 69,000. Average circulation today is 52,000, although some issues go to as many as 69,000 households because of specialized local union newsletters that are attached to the newspaper. Articles are also published on the World Wide Web at www.nwlaborpress.org.
Throughout its lifetime, the Labor Press has been delivered by the all-union United States Postal Service as Second Class or periodical (time certain) mail.
Since its founding, the Labor Press has changed editors 13 times, but has had only five editors since 1914.
The first editor was H.B. Metcalf, who held the job just two years. His union affiliation isn’t known. Printer H.G. Kundret of Multnomah Typographical Union No. 58 came next. He left after three years because he’d been elected secretary-treasurer of the Oregon State Federation of Labor, which had been formed in 1902. Another printer, R.A. Harris, followed in the editor’s chair, but his occupancy was short-lived because he supported Democrat William Jennings Bryan for president in 1908 in opposition to the labor council’s choice, Republican William Howard Taft, who won.
Then came H. J. Parkison, a lawyer-carpenter who’d moved to Portland from California in 1905. He practiced law from an office in the Labor Temple and also was business manager of the Labor Press while Harris was editor. Parkison belonged to Carpenters Local 808, which later lost its identity in mergers.
Parkison once disguised himself as a hobo and succeeded in getting himself arrested for vagrancy in order to get an account of the conditions in the city jail.
After three years as editor, Parkison left the paper for other pursuits.
Clarence Mortimer Rynerson, another printer-editor member of Typographical No. 58, succeeded Parkison early in 1911, but ill health caused him to leave after only three months. However, he was to be heard from later. William A. Marshall, another printer, was the next editor. It was common in bygone decades for printers to also possess editorial skills. In fact, the International Typographical Union claimed organizing jurisdiction nationwide as being the logical union to represent the staffs of labor newspapers.
Editor Marshall was given the appellation “godfather of the state’s workmens’ compensation law” in recognition of his leadership in the initiative petition campaign that led to a ballot measure, approved by voters, establishing an insurance system to provide financial benefits to injured workers and to the dependents of workers killed on the job.
In 1912, Gov. Oswald West, known for saving Oregon’s ocean beaches for the public, appointed Marshall to the first State Industrial Accident Commission to administer the new workers’ compensation insurance system.
Another printer, Arthur Law-rence, became interim editor in 1912 while doubling as secretary pro-tem of the Portland Central Labor Council. He also represented the printing trades unions on the Labor Press board of directors. Lawrence ran the paper briefly until A.H. Harris was appointed Marshall’s successor. There is no indication that he was related to the earlier editor with the same last name. But Harris, a printer-editor, moved on in 1914 after only a two-year stint.
It was commonplace for earlier generations of printers, reporters and editors to move from city to city, working on one newspaper after another, as though they regarded life as one long job-hunt. In the parlance of the printing trades, they were “boom-ers.” That probably accounts for some of the turnover among early-day Labor Press editors.
But the turnover was about to come to an end. In 1914, to succeed the second Harris, came the return of C.M. Rynerson, who’d served fleetingly in 1911. His health restored, “Ryney,” as he was called, settled in for a long run.
Rynerson ran the Labor Press for 25 years — from 1914 to 1939. With him at the helm, the newspaper gained stability, weathering financial and labor political ups and downs. He kept the paper afloat during the Great Depression of the 1930s. A Republican, he sought elective office without success, and also ran for president of the state labor federation. He left the paper in 1939 when Gov. Charles Sprague, publisher of the Salem Statesman, appointed him to the State Industrial Accident Commission.
Gene Allen, who succeeded Rynerson, was a college-educated Teamsters Local 255 business agent who, at age 24 was the youngest editor in the Labor Press’s history. While editor, Allen was elected to the Portland School Board, serving from 1942 to 1954. He chaired the Multnomah County Civil Service Commission, and was president of Office and Professional Employees Local 11. A year after leaving the editorship, he was elected, as a Republican, to the Oregon State Senate. He later went into the restaurant business.
Allen passed away in 1991 at age 76.
James W. Goodsell, son of a Methodist minister, veteran of World War II, a Portland and Astoria print and radio journalist, and a Democratic activist, took over as editor and manager of the Labor Press in 1951. He modernized the tabloid newspaper’s typography and won many awards for journalistic excellence from the International Labor Press Association.
Mayor Terry Schrunk appointed him to the Portland Dock Commission, and he was active in the City Club and Urban League. He was a member of Machinists Local 63. Goodsell resigned in late 1965 to become a foreign trade executive in the United States Department of Commerce.
Goodsell died July 15, 2006 in Twisp, Washington, at the age of 86.
The next editor, Gene Klare, had worked for Goodsell three years before succeeding him. Klare was a veteran of the Portland newspaper strike, having been a pre-strike Oregonian reporter. He’d worked for the strike-born Portland Reporter; been managing editor of dailies in Pocatello and Boise; was a reporter for papers in other states; owned a small weekly; ran a one-man advertising and public relations agency, and served as a sergeant in the Marine Corps. He’d been president of the Portland Newspaper Guild, chaired the Multnomah County Civil Service Commission, was president of the International Labor Press Association, and was active in Democratic politics and served on city and state civil rights commissions.
Until his death in 2008 at age 81, Klare was a member of Office and Professional Employees Local 11.
Portland native Michael Gutwig, the present editor and manager of the Northwest Labor Press, took over in October 1986 at age 29, after working as a reporter, sports editor and advertising manager for the Central Oregonian (not associated with the Portland Oregonian) at Prineville.
The son of a Painters Union apprenticeship coordinator, Gutwig worked summers as a “helper” in the drywall and insulators trades. After obtaining an associates degree in journalism technology at Mt. Hood Community College, he completed a drywall finisher apprenticeship training program. He continued taking classes at Portland State University while working in the trade. He left to take the newspaper job in Central Oregon.
Gutwig introduced the Labor Press to desktop publishing, computerizing the operation. He also embarked into the World Wide Web, where articles from the Labor Press print edition are posted online at www.nwlaborpress. org.
The Gutwig-edited Labor Press has garnered numerous journalistic awards from ILCA, including first places for general excellence.
He is a former secretary-treasurer and vice president of the Western Labor Communications Association and was active in the International Labor Communications Association until financial difficulties at the newspaper forced a cutback in extracurricular activities.
Gutwig, 53, serves on the board of Labor’s Community Service Agency, on the board of the HOPE Foundation, which raises funds for the Leukemia Foundation and scholarships for members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555. He also is a trustee on the Office and Professional Employees Western States 401(k) Pension Fund.