By DON McINTOSH
The short version of the story is: Dwain Panian went down the hill, and back up again. Panian, 60, retired July 1 after 38 years working at the Freightliner truck plant, the last five as a Machinists rep.
The truck plant was just down the hill from the home he grew up in. River-adjacent lowland, today it’s known as Swan Island Industrial Area, but when Panian was growing up several blocks from the bluff that overlooks it, he called it Mocks Bottom, after the Mocks Crest neighborhood above. Except for the truck plant it was mostly swamp, and he and his brothers would roam and explore.
“Once in a while, we’d go over there and take some of the flares out of the trucks, and get chased off by security,” Panian recalls.
Panian’s dad was a welder. His mom worked for the telephone company. After graduating from Roosevelt High School in 1980, he worked at a Beaverton tech company. Then in 1984 his cousin who worked at Freightliner talked him into applying. An aunt and two uncles also worked there. It made family picnics seem like a union meeting, Panian jokes.
His first decade at Freightliner, Panian worked in the rough cab department, shooting rivets. Later he painted chassis, and worked as a vehicle inspector, and finally to the salvage department, repairing or recycling broken parts.
A member of Machinists Local 1005, he didn’t agree with how his shop steward was interpreting the contract. So he ran for shop steward, and was elected, and re-elected ever after. It’s an unpaid position, and sometimes thankless. Panian says what kept him going was a handful of cases where he helped save members’ jobs.
Once, he and a coworker came upon a trainee being yelled at, and later saw him packing up his tools; the trainee had been let go while in his probationary period. Panian marched into the plant manager’s office and got him another chance. The worker ended up working at the plant all the way to retirement.
“You have to give people a chance to do right,” Panian said. “A lot of people don’t know how to build a truck. Give them the opportunity to learn.”
Panian says he certainly lost grievances as well. If an employee had a problem with attendance, it couldn’t be helped.
He learned a lot from business rep Steve Hillesland, and from the national union training center in Maryland.
And he kept getting more active. He became the Local 1005’s delegate to the district lodge, to the Oregon Machinist council, to the Northwest Oregon Labor Council and the Southwest Washington CLC as well. In 2016, he became local lodge president, and in February 2017 got hired as a rep, negotiating and enforcing contracts at Freightliner and 9 other automotive machinist shops.
Panian said he chose now to retire now in part because it’s a good time in the contract cycle for the shops he represents; most of them don’t come up for renegotiation for another year. To take over his duties, District Lodge W24 hired Randy Lill, who was serving as chief steward at the truck plant.
It’s time to spend more time with Leanna, his wife of 40 years, and with his parents, who live next door to him, in the house he grew up in.