By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor
For countless unions, the annual summertime picnic is a time-honored tradition. Picnics give members a chance to socialize off the job with co-workers and their families, and bring union members together as a community. They’re also a way for members to get better acquainted with their union, even if they’re not regular attendees at union membership meetings. And they create memories for kids, putting unions in a positive light for a younger generation.
This year in the Portland area, union picnic season gets under way next weekend, continues throughout the summer, culminates Labor Day with the area’s biggest union picnic (the Northwest Oregon Labor Council picnic at Oaks Park), and wraps up the weekend after that for several unions.
Blue Lake Park and Oaks Park are the favored locations for Portland-area union picnics. Blue Lake Park — situated between Marine Drive and Sandy Boulevard off Northeast 223rd Avenue — has swimming, fishing, boating, sports, horseshoes, playgrounds, and a water “spray ground.” Oaks Park, occupying 44 acres along the Willamette River just north of the Sellwood Bridge, is a historic amusement park with games and carnival rides, go carts, the largest roller skating rink on West Coast, and a new 18-hole miniature golf course. Skating is included with all-day ride bracelets, which are usually sold at a discount for union picnickers. There’s separate admission for go carts.
Following is a partial list of union picnics that will take place this summer:
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48 will have the first Portland-area picnic of the season, for members and their families, July 10 at Oaks Park. The picnic draws 1,800 each year. Last year, 60 volunteers made it all happen, says business agent and picnic chairperson Nancy Cary. Amusement park rides are a main attraction: Kids 16 and under get free ride bracelets, and discounted ride bracelets are available for $7 for those 17 and up. There’s also bingo and a raffle, with bikes and other prizes for kids and grownups. And facepainting. And a clown (Local 48 member Jose Sponberg). Food is traditional picnic fare: hamburgers, hot dogs ice cream, chips, and pop. The picnic goes from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Machinists Local 63 has been holding a picnic for members and families at Oaks Park for at least five decades, says District W24 Assistant Directing Business Representative Bob Petroff. Petroff’s dad was a Local 63 officer, so his childhood memories loom large with the contests, rides, and all-you-can-drink soda pop. Over the years, some things have changed, Petroff says. The beauty pageant is no more. The penny scramble (in which children root through sawdust to find and keep pennies) is now a nickel scramble, thanks to inflation, and straw has replaced the sawdust. [Note to the younger generation: Any kid finding a poker chip gets a prize.]
But some things are eternal. The union picnic hot dog. The three-legged race. Bingo. Oaks Parks rides.
About 3,000 attend each year. This year’s picnic is July 16, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Hamburgers will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; hot dogs, chili and chips from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and soda, coffee, and ice cream will be served throughout. A raffle raises money for the Machinists Non-Partisan Political League and the union-sponsored charity Guide Dogs of America. Games start at 11 a.m. for kids and grownups. Amusement park rides are from noon to 2 p.m. and 3 to 5 p.m. Kids 18 and under ride free, and adult ride bracelets are $5. Bingo runs from noon to 2 p.m. and from 3 to 5 p.m., interrupted at 2 p.m. for door prize drawings, followed by raffle prize drawings. Members must be present to win the door prizes, but not the raffle prizes.
NALC Branch 82
Sue Canfield, longtime letter carrier at the post office in Newberg, coordinates the annual picnic for National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 82. This year it will take place noon Sunday, July 24, at Cook Park, Area 2, in Tigard, just next to Ball Park 2, where the local will have its annual softball match-up starting at 9 a.m. Each postal station tries to field a team, though that’s been getting harder, Canfield said: It’s been so long since the U.S. Postal Service was doing any serious hiring that members are older on average than they used to be. Most years, the event draws 75 to 150. Chow will include hamburgers and hot dogs, potluck offerings, and a raffle. For kids and grandkids, there’s a game table and water games, and a “balloon man” who makes balloon toys for every kid who wants one. Branch 82 also takes part in the NOLC picnic, setting up a table and offering discount tickets for the rides at Oaks Park.
ATU Local 757
Ever since he went to work at TriMet 18 years ago, diesel mechanic Jeff Hunt has been volunteering to put on the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 picnic. Hunt, 42, said he went to the ATU picnic every year growing up, because his father, a TriMet driver who is now retired, was also a picnic volunteer. Local 757 represents about 4,400 transit employees in Oregon and Southwest Washington, and has one of the larger picnics around, with 5,000 to 7,000 turning out every year. Eugene area members bus up to attend. This year, it’s Sunday Aug. 28, at Blue Lake Park. Except for parking, everything is free to Local 757 members and guests. Food, including pulled pork, hamburgers, and hot dogs, is served by Terrel’s Texas Bar-B-Que, a husband-and-wife caterer that includes TriMet bus driver Tina Straughter. There’s also cotton candy and snow cones. Activities include a water balloon toss; watermelon eating contest; baseball; a game truck with video games like Guitar Hero; bingo; and copious prizes: $25, $50, and $100 Toys“R”Us gift cards are given away in a drawing for kids, and grownups vie for prizes that include a big screen television. Hunt said it takes about two hours to hand out all the prizes, which include up to 500 union T-shirts. There will also be a DJ and dancing, and an artist who draws your portrait as a cartoon character.
“We have 24 collective bargaining agreements,” says Hunt, who serves on the Executive Board alongside his brother, Local 757 President Jon Hunt. “The picnic is a great opportunity to meet people who work at other locations. For example, I might talk to a school bus driver from Salem and compare our situations. It’s the only event we have that brings that many members together.”
[Local 757 has a separate well-attended picnic for its retired member chapter; this year it’s Wednesday, July 6, at Oaks Park.]
NOLC Labor Day picnic
The area’s biggest union picnic is the multi-union Labor Day picnic put on by Northwest Oregon Labor Council. As many as three dozen union locals will take part in the event, Monday Sept. 5, at Oaks Park. NOLC reserves the entire amusement park, and hires park staff to serve food in the common area; sales of scrip cover the cost of food. Scrip is 50 cents each; offerings this year will include hamburgers and chips (3 scrip), hot dogs and chili (2), soda or water (1) and beer (3). In addition, about 30 local unions reserve an area for their members and guests, and some of these serve food as well.
American Red Cross will have two mobile units on site to collect blood donations.
Entertainment includes bingo, speeches by elected officials, and of course, amusement park rides: Deluxe bracelets are available at a discounted rate of $9.
Last year NOLC reported estimates of 20,000 in attendance. As the event has grown, getting to the park and finding parking have become a challenge. This year, for the first time, NOLC is making arrangements for the Oregon Pacific Railroad to ferry passengers to Oaks Park from designated parking areas near Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Train tickets will be $2 per passenger. The route, along the Springwater Corridor, passes through Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge.
[Later in the summer, the Northwest Labor Press will have information about other Labor Day picnics in the region.]
IBEW Local 280
IBEW Local 280 will hold its picnic Saturday, Sept. 10, 12 to 5 p.m., at Timber-Linn Park in Albany. Kids’ games are a focus of the annual event, which draws about 300. There will also be a horseshoe tournament at 10 a.m., and a retiree group photo at 11:30 a.m. This year the theme is Cajun, with plans for Cajun food and a live Zydeco band. And, back by popular demand, the local will purchase a steer to benefit 4H, which will then be raffled off as two quarters and a half. Oh, and ice cream. Lots of ice cream.
UA Local 290
With members throughout Oregon, Southwest Washington and Humboldt and Del Norte counties in California, 4,200-member United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 290 puts on six picnics altogether. Coos Bay started the season this year with a picnic that took place June 25. Next up is the Springfield-area — July 9 at Richardson Park in Eugene; then Medford-area members will gather July 16 at Tom Pearce Park in Grants Pass; Eureka, California members meet Aug. 27 at Freshwater Park; and Bend-area members come out Aug. 28 to Hollinshead Barn.
Local 290’s biggest picnic is in the Portland-area, Sept. 11 at Blue Lake Park. Third generation member John Kimberling, a Local 290 business agent, coordinates it, just as his father did before him. Each year it draws about 1,000 people. This year’s attractions include beef brisquet, chicken, barbecue, and copious quantities of ice cream. There’s bingo, and a clown, a face painter, and two bounce houses for the kids. The local is also making a dozen canoes available to take out on the lake.
All the Local 290 picnics run noon to 4 p.m. At the Springfield and Medford picnics, members whose last names start with the letters A to M are asked to bring salads to share, and N to Z desserts. Bend-area members are asked to bring desserts, and Eureka members desserts and salads. No animals are permitted at Blue Lake Park or at the Eureka picnic; the other parks allow pets on leashes. There is a $5 fee to park in Blue Lake Park.