Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

March 2, 2001

LOWELL C. ASHBAUGH, 77, a retired Oregon state mediator and a former Portland union leader, stepped into Labor's Hall of Fame this month. The door was opened for him by the Northwest Oregon Labor Retirees Council, which established the Hall of Fame in 1997 as a way to honor union retirees for the achievements they chalked up in their working years.

The Portland-based Northwest Oregon Labor Council of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) sponsors the retiree group.

Ashbaugh began his career as a state mediator of labor-management disagreements in 1971. He was the first mediator employed by the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB). Working out of the ERB's Salem office, Ashbaugh traveled around the state settling contract disputes between both private and public sector employers and unions representing their employees. He retired from that job in 1987 and lives a quiet life with his wife, the former Darlene Olson, at their longtime home in southeast Portland.

HIS UNION YEARS began in the mid-1940s when he took a job selling men's clothing at Rosenblatt's, a downtown store, and joined Retail Clerks Local 1257. He soon became a member of the union's executive board. When the local's executive secretary-treasurer was sidelined by illness, the Retail Clerks International Association (RCIA) asked Ashbaugh to run for the office, which he did successfully. Local 1257 represented workers in clothing and shoe stores, jewelry, floral and department stores, including Montgomery Ward and the old Roberts Brothers, plus other retailers that were not in the food and drug business. Employees in the latter fields were represented by Food and Drug Clerks Local 1092. However, Local 1257 did represent some food clerks who worked in stores where food items were a sideline to non-grocery merchandise.

When Ashbaugh was elected as Local 1257's leader it had 800 members. His organizing campaigns increased the union's ranks to 2,000. He established health and welfare and pension plans for his members and negotiated employer contributions to finance them. The RCIA appointed Ashbaugh to its national chain store council and sometimes assigned him to handle contract renewal disputes in other cities. One such posting took him to Chicago, where he obtained legendary Mayor Richard Daley's help in persuading an employer to sign a contract. That Mayor Daley was the father of Chicago's current chief executive.

ASHBAUGH SERVED on a number of RCIA committees. These included a scholarship advisory board, a health insurance panel, a health and welfare trust fund committee and an organizing council. He rewrote the RCIA's international organizing guidebook, and had the satisfaction of seeing it adopted by delegates to a convention of the union in the 1960s. Because he did not want to move his family to the East Coast, he turned down an offer from the RCIA to become its label trades director.

He participated in the 1956 merger convention in Portland of the Oregon State Federation of Labor and the Oregon Congress of Industrial Organizations. After the merger he put in a stint on the Oregon AFL-CIO's auditing committee.

His civic activities included membership on the executive councils of the United Good Neighbors (now the United Way), the Boy Scouts, and the Family Counseling Service. In recognition of his service to the Family Counseling Service the RCIA presented him with an 18-inch tall gold cup at a 1969 meeting in Miami.

IN 1971 THE RCIA decided to merge its two Portland locals, with Local 1257 becoming part of the larger Local 1092. Ashbaugh was made the vice president of Local 1092, but soon left to accept the new post of state labor mediator. (The RCIA later merged with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen and other international unions to establish the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and in 1985 Local 1092 merged with other locals in Oregon and southwest Washington to form UFCW Local 555.)

While with Local 1257, Ashbaugh was a Democratic precinct committeeman and worked as a volunteer on a number of political campaigns, including John F. Kennedy's presidential election, Bob Duncan's runs for the U.S. Senate, and Neil Goldschmidt's election to the Portland City Council. Last fall he volunteered his time for Al Gore.

President Kennedy thanked Ashbaugh for his 1960 campaign work by presenting him with a gold wristwatch bearing the presidential seal on its face. He fondly recalls talking with President Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson in the White House.

A NATIVE OREGONIAN, Ashbaugh was born in 1923 in Hardman, south of Heppner, in the farming and ranching country of eastern Oregon. He played a saxophone in the high school band at Heppner.

Ashbaugh has long pursued a hobby of photography and likes to take pictures of his travels with his wife, Darlene. The Ashbaughs have a daughter, Denese Vlosky, and two grandchildren. Denese, a lawyer, and her husband, Dr. Richard Vlosky, a medical researcher at Louisiana State University, live in Baton Rouge.


"Rose Freedman, Last Survivor of Triangle Fire, Dies at 107" was the headline in the Feb. 17 New York Times over the obituary of a truly remarkable woman.

THE OBITUARY, written by Douglas Martin, said:"Rose Freedman, the last survivor of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in which 146 of her co-workers perished in 1911, died on Thursday (Feb. 15) in her apartment in Beverly Hills, Calif., her daughter said. She was 107.

"Mrs. Freedman, who at the time of the Manhattan fire was two days shy of 18, escaped death in 1911 by following company executives to the roof to be rescued. She became a lifelong crusader for worker safety, telling and re-telling the story that the Triangle workers died because the owners were not concerned with their welfare.

"THE DISASTROUS factory fire, in which girls and young women leapt from eighth- and ninth-story windows, their flaming skirts billowing in the wind, horrified the nation and led to some of the first city, state and federal laws dealing with workers' safety, It gave a powerful impetus to the fledgling labor movement, greatly strengthening the building of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, which two years before the fire had led a three-month strike to focus attention on places like the Triangle factory."

"On the day of the fire," her obit said, "Mrs. Freedman escaped the inferno by stopping to consider what the executives were doing. She somehow thought they would be safer, and went up to the 10th floor, where their offices were, to find out. They were taking the freight elevator to the roof, where firefighters pulled them to the roof of an adjacent building. She did the same. The alternative was jumping."

The obituary went on to relate details of the life of Mrs. Freedman, who was Rose Rosenfeld at the time of the fire. The NYT said: "...After her husband's death, in 1959, she went back to work to support her three children, two of whom had polio. Lying about her age, she worked at a Manhattan insurance company until she was 79 ... Her involvement in the fire never left her consciousness, and she appeared at labor rallies for the rest of her life. She always expressed rage that the factory doors had been locked, either to keep workers at their machines or to prevent them from stealing scraps of cloth."

SHE MOVED to Los Angeles in 1995 to be near a son and a daughter and their families. A granddaughter, Dana Walden, is president of 20th Century Fox Television.

Mrs. Freedman was active, self-sufficient, and attending Spanish language classes in her 107th year.


Home | About

© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.