A craft brewery in Bend, Oregon, is naming a beer after a Portland labor union: Local 36 of the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers. The beer, by Worthy Brewing, will be called Local 36 Red Lager, and there’s a story behind it.
Brewery owner Roger Worthington is a California lawyer specializing in representing workers exposed to asbestos. Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, is made up of tiny fibers that are as strong as steel but can be woven like cotton and are highly resistant to heat. Before 1975, it was used heavily in shipyards, construction, and many other industries. But breathed into the lungs, the fibers can lodge in tissues, resulting in changes to the cells that may eventually lead to mesothelioma, asbestosis and other cancers. Long after they knew the harm asbestos was causing, companies continued to expose workers, and that became the grounds for decades of lawsuits by workers who developed asbestos-related diseases.
In 1989, when Worthington was just starting out as a lawyer, he opened a Portland law office in space rented from Carpenters Local 247. Local 36 (better known as Asbestos Workers Local 36) gave Worthington a shot, and referred some of his first clients. Today his firm Worthington & Caron, P.C., has offices in Dallas Texas, and in San Pedro and Dana Point, California.
The harm of asbestos is personal for Worthington: His father, David “Punch” Worthington, worked in Portland-area shipyards, paper mills, and power plants in the 1960s as a member of the Painters Union, and was exposed to asbestos while sandblasting fireproofing off of steel. He died in 2006 of asbestos-related lung cancer.
Worthington closed his Portland office after his father died, but returned to Oregon in 2011 to found the brewery and a related enterprise growing hops. He says Local 36 Red Lager is a way to thank the union that gave him a start.
“I’m always grateful,” Worthington said. “They gave me a shot. One thing led to another, and I did pretty well.”
Worthington plans to launch the beer July 16 at a special event for active and retired Local 36 members. After that, the beer will be available in 22 oz. bottles and in kegs, distributed to local bars and retailers by Columbia Distributing. The bottle’s label will sport a salamander borrowed from the union’s logo. According to legend, the salamander is associated with fire, and is variously said to be born out of, or unharmed by, flames. Worthy Brewing is making one batch of Local 36 Red Lager, but Worthington said it could make more if the beer proves popular.
DETAILS: All local 36 members and retirees are invited for beer and dinner at the Sextant Bar and Galley, 4035 NE Marine Drive, Wednesday, July 16, from 5:30 to 8 p.m.