Dave Tully hits the road

ROAD TRIP: Teamster Dave Tully pauses June 2 in the saddle of his 2018 Indian Chieftain Limited in front of an Indian dealership in Sturgis, South Dakota.


He was a union laborer hanging off the side of a skyscraper. He was a union meat cutter who honored a druggists’ strike picket line. And for 32 years he was a union organizer, rep and officer. Teamsters Local 223 president Dave Tully, 61, put all that behind him May 31, revved his American-made Indian motorcycle, and hit the road as a retiree. 

Tully has a lot of stories, and in his final days as a full-time union rep he shared some of them with the Labor Press.

Tully spent most of his childhood in Illinois and Arizona, until his dad—a union carpenter—moved the family to Estacada, Oregon. After high school, he joined Portland-based Laborers Local 296, and worked nearly 10 years in construction, remodeling downtown office buildings and re-caulking the exteriors of skyscrapers like the First Interstate Bank tower. 

“The funny part is, I’m afraid of heights,” Tully says.  

That job could be scary, especially when his scaffold would sway, buffeted by winds. Once, high winds picked up unexpectedly, and metal cables holding the scaffold rubbed against the top of the building, wearing through a cloth barrier and breaking off marble chips that showered down on Tully and his coworker. They radioed for help and were lowered to the ground.

Near the end of his Laborers career, Tully was doing concrete work. It was hard, and by 1988 he was sick of being laid off (construction can be notoriously seasonal). He enrolled in Horst Mager Culinary Institute to become a chef. Graduating in debt, he realized he’d leaped before he looked: Cooking doesn’t pay very well. Interning at the Jantzen Beach Red Lion, he found out what kind of money the chef made. “I said, you gotta be kidding me. I’m in the wrong trade.”

Tully went to work at Beaverton Fred Meyer. The company was installing gourmet meat cases, and hiring chefs to tell customers how to cook different cuts. After six months of that, he apprenticed to become a meat cutter. He spent the next five years as a meat cutter, and became a steward for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555. In 1989, Fred Meyer pharmacists, fellow Local 555 members, were going on strike. His union rep visited and said that Local 555 would like to see clerks and meat cutters honor the pharmacists’ picket line. 

“I said, if there’s a picket line out front I won’t cross it,” Tully recalls.

A store manager got wind of plans to not cross the picket line, and ordered the meat department to come in early, before picketers arrived. Tully tipped off the union, and they started their picket earlier. Seeing the pickets, he and a coworker stayed out, and for a while convinced grocery workers also to honor the line.

But as the strike wore on, Tully says, grocery workers mostly crossed the pharmacists picket line, and so did meat departments at other stores. It hurt him to see that.

Management then targeted him for his union support, he says, assigning him unpredictable schedules. But the union offered a rescue: Would he be willing to take six months leave to try out as a union organizer? Yes, he said.

Working under Local 555 organizing director Ed Clay, it was sink or swim. His first campaign, an effort to unionize a Ray’s grocery store in Roseburg, was a demoralizing loss. He kept going. 

A campaign to organize a nonunion slaughterhouse in Klamath Falls meant knocking on doors to try to talk with workers away from managers.

“We’re from the local union,” he called out once as he knocked on a door. “Can we have a few minutes with you to talk?” The door opened and he saw a double barreled shotgun pointing at his face.

“I took it as a ‘no,’” he says.

Unionizing in Southern Oregon was tough. Hand-billing outside the slaughterhouse, workers wouldn’t greet them and would fly by them down the road. The effort failed.

An effort to unionize Winco also failed. Tully says workers showed little interest, in part due to the company’s employee stock ownership program—and the fact that the company matched the union scale, a time-worn tactic to discourage unionization.

But Tully kept at it, and notched some wins. He helped unionize a Tillamook Fred Meyer, a Safeway in West Linn, the Safeway on Division Street. Even though Albertson’s and Safeway had agreed to be “neutral” to further organizing efforts, it was store by store warfare. The companies would open new stores non-union, and stack the deck by transferring workers who’d shown hostility to the union.

At one store, Tully set up in an employee break room. A sign on one table said “union rep only” while signs at other tables said, “no union allowed.”

“I would sit at this table, and no one would talk to me for eight to 10 hours a day.”

Tully says in he fell out of favor with his bosses in 2003, so he left and went to work for a time at a UFCW local in Auburn, Washington.

But he wanted to be in Portland, and later that year, he went to work for Darel Aker at Teamsters Joint Council 37 as a union organizer.

His new boss encouraged him to open an account at the Teamsters Federal Credit Union. He asked Vicki Allison, the teller, out on a date. They’ve been together ever since, married 15 years.

As a Teamster organizer, one of the most important units he helped bring into the union was a group of over 350 EMTs and paramedics at American Medical Response. AMR is a massive private ambulance company that contracts with local governments to be the exclusive emergency responder for a given area.  Over the previous 12 years, local AMR workers had changed unions three times, and in 2007, their union National Emergency Medical Services Association (NEMSA) walked away from their unit. Teamsters offered to represent them, as did SEIU; the Dec. 17, 2007, vote was 297 for the Teamsters, 52 for SEIU, and just 4 wanting to be nonunion. The AMR members became part of Teamsters Local 223, except for those in Clark County, who would be members of Local 58.

In 2009, Tully left the Joint Council to work at Local 223, and was assigned to represent the AMR workers. His approach was to cultivate a constructive relationship with AMR. He says in his time at Local 223, the unit never had a strike. He also frequently promoted AMR as a union employer to county officials when it faced competition from nonunion companies. He says he’s proud of the three contracts he negotiated, and the fact that he was able to settle all grievances without going to arbitration. 

On June 1, 2019 he was power washing the roof of his shed when he suffered a stroke. Ironically, because he lives in Tualatin, he was picked up by a crew at nonunion Metro West ambulance. On the way to the hospital, Tully asked the crew to tell Metro West owner J.D. Fuiten that they’d transported the union organizer who’d campaigned against him.

The stroke was a serious event; he lost memories, movement, and the ability to use one limb.

“That evening, I’m laying there. I think to myself, Okay, my life has just changed completely. I’ll be in a wheelchair.”

Tully stayed in the hospital nine days, but in the end he was able to recover substantially and return to work.

But neurological pain from the stroke persisted, especially with desk work, and the pain could be exacerbated by the stresses of the job. Tully found that the only time he was pain-free was riding his Indian. 

After introducing new AMR rep Austin DePaolo to job site stewards and local managers, Tully took retirement. His last day was May 27. On May 31, he headed out on a road trip.

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