At Obama fundraiser, union millworkers protest trade policy

Greg Pallesen, vice president of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, watches as Obama donors file into the Oregon Convention Center.

PORTLAND — Members of a beleaguered industrial union held protest signs July 24 outside a $500-a-plate campaign fundraiser for President Barack Obama.

Bruce Dennis, retired former president of the local Carpenters union.

“Trade agreements have continued to destroy working class jobs, especially on the manufacturing side,” explained Greg Pallesen, vice president of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers (AWPPW).  “After every trade agreement, we see the repercussions as plants close here, many times profitable plants.”

“We’re very concerned that if Romney gets elected, it would be 10 times worse,” Pallesen said. “But I don’t believe we should cut Obama any slack. When he campaigned the first time, he said NAFTA-style agreements needed to be changed and that they were destroying the economy and middle class.”

But in office, Obama reversed that stance and pushed Congress to pass NAFTA-style treaties with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia — deals which were negotiated during the George W. Bush administration. Now the administration is negotiating, in secret, a NAFTA-style treaty known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would cover the entire Pacific Rim.

Trade-related layoffs and closures have cost the jobs of thousands of Northwest paper mill workers in recent years.

Said AWPPW member Jeannie Schell, a lab technician at Graphic Imaging, a North Portland manufacturer of paper packaging: “We are protesting to save our jobs.”

[UPDATE: Media activist Jim Lockhart posted this 14-minute video of the protest, in which Greg Pallesen is interviewed at the 11 minute mark.]

Paper factory lab technician Jeannie Schell (left) with her retired co-worker Barbara Robbins, oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a still-in-negotiation trade treaty covering the entire Pacific Rim.

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