Busy season for union printers


Is your mailbox filling up with political mail? Get out your magnifying glass. If it’s from a Democrat, there’s almost certainly a tiny union label on it, referred to as the “union bug.” The union bug tells you that it was printed by union members. And the number next to it tells you where.

Jay and Darice Robinson at Hollywood Impress. | PHOTOS BY DON McINTOSH

130 next to the union bug means Hollywood Impress.

In 1964, a printers union member named Pat Robinson and his wife Shirley bought Impress Printing, little shop on the corner on Northeast 42nd and Broadway next to the Hollywood Theater. They renamed it Hollywood Impress. It later moved to at Southeast 47th and Division St. Today it’s located at an industrial park on 5509 NE 122nd Ave. just south of Airport Way. And it’s a second generation mom and pop. Pop is Jay Robinson, Pat Robinson’s son. Mom is his wife Darice Robinson. Jay, now 62, started working there at age 19, and took over the business from his dad 38 years ago. With just two Teamster employees plus the owners, it’s the smallest union print shop in town, but also the most specialized doing union work. Hollywood prints union political mailers, union newsletters, and even union buttons. And always with the union bug.

Ben Wood at Morel Ink.

7 means it was printed at Morel Ink, located at 4824 NE 42nd Avenue in Portland.

Morel was founded by Matt Witham and Bill Dickey, an avid Democrat and enthusiastic mushroomer. In 2017 they sold it—and its Vancouver subsidiary, ADCO Commercial Printing & Graphics—to longtime employees Scott Ballo and Alli Wood and their spouses Shauna Ballo and Ben Wood. Since the four of them bought the business, Wood says they’ve invested millions of dollars in new equipment, added a third location in Springfield and grown it from about 35 to about 77 employees. Some of those are sales, accounting, and pre-press. But the printing and mail itself is done by the company’s 35 members of Teamsters Local 747-M.

Morel prints union contracts, and serves as an overflow printer for solidly union Kaiser Permanente. Not all customers care about the union bug, which is printed only on request. One commercial customer for whom the bug matters is Kaiser Permanente.

The biggest bug-requesters are Democratic party candidates. Morel’s footprint extends well beyond the local area: The company works with political consultants who have clients in multiple states, so Morel contracts with union printers in as many as 20 other cities to serve local campaigns.

Wood says business doubles in election years, a wobble that can be a challenge for the business.

“Financially, it can get painful in the off year,” Wood said. Wood said his goal has been to find new commercial work to keep staff busy in non-election years.

Getting ready for a print job at Bridgetown Printing.

926-M is Bridgetown Printing, by far the largest union printer in the area.

Bridgetown has 70 total employees, including 54 members of the Teamsters union. It’s a subsidiary of printing giant RR Donnelly, and proudly describes itself as a union facility. It has served the greater Portland area for over 100 years. Located in Portland’s Swan Island Industrial Park, its 50,000 square foot facility includes mailing as well as printing and binding, and the print production facilities are stocked with a dizzying variety of state-of-the art equipment, from robotic cutters to large format printers to custom printing on magnetic membership cards for the Vail ski resort. Hint: They’re hiring.


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