Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

February 20, 1998

THE NORTHWEST OREGON Labor Retirees Council has tapped George Starr of Portland for membership in its Labor Hall of Fame. Starr, 83, is a retired railroad union activist and a former Democratic state legislator.

Born in Little Rock, Ark., he lived in Cleveland and Seattle before his family moved to Portland while he was in high school. When he graduated from Grant High School in 1931, the Great Depression gripped the nation and jobs were scarce. But he obtained a warehouse job with Safeway Stores, which paid $14 for a six-day work week. That was before the grocery chain was unionized in the Portland area.

Later, Starr worked for two trucking companies as a member of the Teamsters Union, and later landed a shipyard job as a member of Boilermakers Local 72.

HIS LONG CAREER in railroading began in 1942 when he hired on as a brakeman for the Union Pacific Railroad. He was promoted to conductor in 1952 and worked at times as a train baggageman until passenger trains were abolished on Union Pacific.

While employed at UP he was a member first of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen (BRT), later belonged to the Order of Railway Conductors (ORC) and still later was a member of the United Transportation Union (UTU), formed by a merger of four railroad unions.

Starr was an active union member, serving as chair of the local grievance committee in the BRT, as local legislative representative for the ORC and as the elected assistant state legislative director of the UTU. He recalls successfully lobbying for railroad safety regulations in 1971 and 1973. The safety improvements came about because Starr and Bill Price, the UTU state legislative director, persuaded the Oregon Public Utilities Commissioner's office to enact state safety regulations which were authorized under the Federal Railway Safety Act of 1970.

BECAUSE 70 PERCENT of all injuries to railroad employees occurred when they were getting on and off moving trains, the 1970 act provided for walkways in the railroad yards alongside the tracks. The Oregon PUC agreed to participate in the federal act and hire state railway inspectors, financing the improvements with an increase in the regulatory fees paid by railroads. The other improvement, also obtained through state participation in the 1970 federal act, called for toilets and fresh drinking water to be provided on locomotives.

However, railroad union lobbyists and their legislative allies were unable to keep the railroads from pushing the Oregon Legislature into repealing the full-crew safety law in 1967. Now, there are only two workers on freight trains, the engineer and the conductor, both of whom ride up front in the locomotive. Some rail accidents can be blamed on the miniscule crews.

His railroad lobbying activity and his work as a Democratic precinct committeeman led Starr to consider running for political office. When the Republican representing his east Multnomah County legislative district announced his intention to seek another office, Starr filed for that post. After the Republican state representative changed his mind and filed for re-election, Starr stayed in the race and defeated the incumbent in the 1974 November general election.

STARR SERVED three terms as a liberal Democrat from House District 17, which is now District 16. His tenure covered the 1975, '77 and '79 sessions of the Oregon Legislature. He helped gain passage of legislation prohibiting smoking in hospitals and certain other public facilities. He sponsored a bill permitting formation of People’s Utility Districts but although it became law it has never been utilized to create a public power district. He tried without success to establish a state-owned public bank. The private banking industry's lobbying power kept his bill bottled up in committee.

Legislative committees on which Starr sat included Elections, Labor, Transportation, Agriculture and Legislative Oversight.

STARR RETIRED from railroad work in 1979 and chose not to run for re-election in 1980. He was succeeded in his east county district by Democrat Barbara Roberts, who went on to become secretary of state and governor. She and her husband, Frank, a longtime state legislator who died in 1993, had campaigned for Starr in his three elections and he returned the favor by helping in their campaigns.

Starr's activity in the Democratic Party began in 1952 when he campaigned for presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson against Republican Dwight Eisenhower, who won the White House for the first of his two terms. The retired railroader still busies himself as a precinct committeeman.

He also participates in initiative petition campaigns for issues he believes in. He helped in the 1984 ballot measure campaign that enacted the Oregon Citizens' Utility Board and served on the first board.

Currently, Starr is helping gather petitions for the labor-sponsored fair taxation initiative that would raise corporate state income tax rates, which are considerably lower than personal tax rates.

THE OREGON CONSUMER LEAGUE and the No Sales Tax League are two other interests to which Starr devotes his time. He's treasurer of both groups.

George's wife, Irene, is often at his side in his political and public affairs activities. She was the personal secretary to Harl Haas in his two terms as Multnomah County district attorney in the 1970s. Haas, a former legislator, is a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge.

George and Irene have two daughters and four grandchildren and George has a son from an earlier marriage.

***

PAUL H. HAUSER, a former local union president and a veteran of the Portland newspaper strike, died Jan. 29, less than a month short of his 84th birthday. He suffered from a respiratory ailment.

Prior to the newspaper strike, which began Nov. 10, 1959 and ended April 4, 1965, Hauser had served two terms as president of Newspaper Guild Local 165 while working at the Oregonian, where he started in 1941. In his 18 years at the Oregonian he was a reporter and also filled slots as Sunday editor, assistant city editor and night city editor. As the paper's political writer, he traveled throughout Oregon with President Harry Truman on his famed "Give 'em Hell" railroad whistlestop election campaign in 1948. Hauser's political reporting skills earned him the respect of John F. Kennedy, who conveyed his thoughts in a 1959 letter when JFK was starting his campaign for the presidency.

AFTER THE START of the strike against the Oregonian and Oregon Journal, Hauser worked for the union-financed Portland Reporter tabloid newspaper until opening his own public relations agency. His clients included the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Union, which was formed in 1964, and the Oregon Historical Society's fundraising drive to build the Oregon History Center in downtown Portland. A native of Salem, Hauser graduated from Willamette University there in 1936 and worked at the Oregon Statesman in Salem, the Lodi Sentinel-News in California and at the Associated Press in Salem before moving to the Oregonian.

His wife of 45 years, Janet, died in 1995. Survivors include four daughters, Judith Bridenbaugh, West Linn., Sarah Hauser, Waldport, Susan Hauser and Harriet Hauser, Portland; a son, David Hauser, Battleground, Wash.; four grandchildren; and a sister, Margaret Ebert, Salem.

A memorial service was conducted Feb. 4 at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in northeast Portland. He was cremated, with arrangements handled by Omega Cremation and Burial Service.

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