This is your newspaper
By DON McINTOSH
After two decades reporting on our local labor movement, I’ve been promoted to editor of the Northwest Labor Press. It’s high time I introduced myself.
I grew up poor in Baltimore, and had my glories and my hardships. After my mother died and my father went to jail, I went to live with my mother’s parents. My grandfather was a union machinist and a World War Two vet. He came home smelling of machine oil, tired, after graveyard shifts at a factory making Venetian blinds. But even without a high school diploma, he and my grandmother bought a house in cash and raised four kids. Only later in life did I realize: It was his union that made that possible.
Later, at Portland State University, I felt called to right the world’s wrongs. I got active in a dozen different causes. My life in journalism began when I was fired from my mall bakery job and discovered that PSU’s daily student newspaper was hiring … and that they paid writers. Four glorious years of college journalism later, it dawned on me that a bachelor’s degree in history was a ticket to an uncertain future.
Then a recruiter from the national AFL-CIO arrived on campus, dangling a chance to become a union organizer. After a three-day organizer training, I awaited my first assignment. It came in January 1996: Teamsters Local 174 in Seattle was looking for a “salt,” an underground organizer, to get a job at a Bellevue recycling depot they wanted to unionize. By day I drove a front end loader and chatted up my coworkers. By night I helped the union organizer with house calls. I learned a lot, but the effort was a bust. Five months in, the boss figured out what I was up to and fired me. That was illegal, but it worked. I collected a back pay settlement a few months later, and the company remained nonunion.
Returning to Portland, I edited a community newspaper, freelanced for the Portland Business Journal and the Northwest Labor Press, and struggled to survive. When Labor Press editor Mike Gutwig asked if I’d like to come work for him—with a union wage and benefits for the first time in my life—I said, “When do I start?” That was 23 years ago.
I feel lucky that I overlapped with Gene Klare, Mike’s predecessor, who was a columnist and copy editor when I started. Gene was part of an older generation of unionists, and in the early 1960s he had poured his heart and soul into the strike in which The Oregonian busted its union.
In my time here at the Labor Press, I’ve been inspired by the rank-and-file, officers, and staff who make up our local union movement. These are people motivated by a thirst for justice and an ethic of service—to their union brothers and sisters, and to the community we live in. And I feel tremendous loyalty to our readers. Labor Press readers check our groceries, bake our bread, and show up in the dawn’s early light to put in a hard day’s work on construction sites. They’re conscientious public servants. They’re skilled machinists who build the finest aircraft in the world. This is their newspaper. This is your newspaper. If you’re reading this there’s a good chance that through your union, you own it.
I’ve been given a sacred responsibility— preserving and renewing a 122-year-old labor institution, so that it can help build and rebuild our labor union community, and serve new generations of union members. My priority as editor of your newspaper is to maintain a standard of accuracy, fairness, and timeliness, and continue to tell the stories of our local labor community that would otherwise go untold. I hope you’ll let me know when we fail, and when we get it right. This is your newspaper. Send me your feedback, ideas and tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.