By DON McINTOSH
At the Portland shipyard, Mike Angermeier is a well known character, a straight talker unafraid to voice strong or unpopular opinions in colorful language. He’s also the longtime chief steward at Vigor Marine, holding management to account and defending the jobs and contract rights of up to 700 workers in nine unions. May 28 was his last day of work. After 35 years at the shipyard, and 30 years as a member of Laborers Local 737, he’s retiring at age 62.
“The next generation is way different than my generation,” he explained. “So it’s time for me to go.”
A diehard unionist, Angermeier almost never missed a meeting until he and his wife moved three years ago to five acres in Castle Rock, an hour away. A lifelong Portlander who went to Parkrose High School, he was bothered by changes in the city.
He’s also bothered by changes at the shipyard, particularly the union concession giving up seniority rights for new hires several contracts ago. Too many union members may misunderstand seniority, thinking it’s a scheme to privilege one set of union members over another. In fact, seniority is meant to promote dignity on the job, because it eliminates an incentive to curry favor with management. With seniority, perks like first choice of shifts — or protections like being the last to be laid off — are distributed in a transparent way based on hire date. Without seniority, left out workers may resent those who get favorable treatment, which creates division among union members.
Angermeier says some things have changed for the better at the shipyard though: When he started, workers didn’t wear earplugs, respirators, or fall safety harnesses. Now they do, a win for safety.
On May 17, Local 737 rep Rick Ohmie and business manager Zack Culver visited Angermeier at work to give him a pin marking 30 years of union membership.
If he has one bit of advice for those who remain, it’s this: “Know your contract.”