Sam Gillispie, 69, is retiring after a 43-year career in the union movement: 25 years at AFSCME and 18 years at United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 555.
Gillispie was born in Chehalis, Wash., April 28, 1949, the third of five children. He grew up in Onalaska and Morton, where both sides of his family worked in logging and in saw mills. It was well-paid but dangerous work. Two cousins died from injuries on the job. Gillispie briefly worked at the Tubafor saw mill, but at the urging of his family, got out by attending Green River Community College in Auburn and Central Washington University in Ellensburg, graduating in 1973 with a degree in political science.
At a company-owned Chevron in Ellensburg, he became a shop steward with the independent Standard Station Employees Union, but was fired in Spring 1973 after fighting company violations of the contract. The union took the case to arbitration, and three years later he won back pay.
In 1974, he got a job at the City of Portland, and went to work as a laborer doing janitorial work at the Public Works department facility, represented by Laborers Local 483. His cousin Donovan Boyd was the president of AFSCME Local 189, which represents City workers. With Boyd’s help, Gillispie was hired at AFSCME Council 75 in 1975, representing road department units in Eastern Oregon.
Gillispie says he represented the first unit to strike after public employee strikes became legal under Oregon law: a six week strike over wages and benefits by Hood River Road Department workers.
Within the AFL-CIO, Gillispie became known for his political campaign skills, debate ability, and knowledge of parliamentary procedure. At the Oregon AFL-CIO’s 1975 convention, he helped Machinists leader Bob Kennedy defeat incumbent Dean Killian for the presidency — after Killian complained that public employee union raises come out of working people’s taxes.
And at what’s now Northwest Oregon Labor Council, he was elected vice president and served as president from 1980 to 1988, taking pride in the swiftness of his gavel.
There were setbacks: In 1988 he took a job as associate director of AFSCME Council 40 in Wisconsin, not realizing the director had wanted to hire someone else. The relationship never worked out, and he returned to Oregon in 1991 and went back to work for the City.
In 1996, Ken Allen hired him back at AFSCME. And in 2000, Gene Pronovost recruited him to work for UFCW Local 555.
Gillispie also served 20 years as an elected member of the North Clackamas School Board, and spent many years as a high school basketball and football referee.
Having worked for unions in both public and private sector, Gillispie says there’s no question private sector is more challenging, especially grocery, where high turnover and a low profit margin make for a challenging environment.
His most recent assignments were grievance director and union rep for members in Clackamas County. His official last day is May 18. After that, he and his wife Nancy Fleming are moving to Minnesota.