Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

March 16, 2001

WALT DERRY, 73, a longtime official in retail industry unions, stands elected as the newest member of Labor's Hall of Fame which is sponsored by the Portland-based Northwest Oregon Labor Retirees Council. The retirees are connected to the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

Derry retired in January 1991 as director of collective bargaining for Tigard-headquartered United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 555. During the course of his five-decade career he'd also been a business agent, secretary-treasurer, vice president, president and executive officer of Food and Drug Clerks Local 1092; secretary-treasurer of Retail Clerks Local 942 in Vancouver, Wash., and has held other posts in the labor movement.

IN RETIREMENT, Derry continues to be active in the UFCW Northwest Federal Credit Union, serving as chairman of its board. The UFCW Credit Union, with nearly 6,000 members in Oregon and Washington, has its headquarters at 12650 SE Stark St., Building I, Portland. Derry noted that many UFCW members employed by major supermarket chains in the two states belong to credit unions sponsored by their employers.

Derry helped establish a predecessor credit union for Local 1092 members in 1949. He said that it was the first time a federal credit union charter was issued to a labor union in the food industry. He noted that Local 1092 needed the intercession of U.S. Senator Wayne Morse to obtain that charter.

The new Hall of Fame member recalls working as a grocery clerk for $1.38 an hour some 50 years ago. He worked at independent stores and the Safeway chain before being hired by Local 1092 in 1960 to become a business agent. He was tapped for the 1092 staff by George Lightowler, the union's executive secretary-treasurer and one of its founders in the mid-1930s. When Derry was hired he was the local's president, then a ceremonial post in which he presided over membership meetings. Earlier, he'd been vice president.

LOOKING BACK to starting his full-time job with Local 1092, Derry said Lightowler and Gordon Swope, the union's senior business agent, "were my mentors, my teachers." From them he learned how to negotiate and enforce the union's collective bargaining contract with the employers of its members, how to process grievances, how to organize clerks in non-union stores, and how to handle all the other duties and responsibilities of a union representative.

Local 1092 pioneered in the food industry in negotiating health insurance including prescription and dental coverage, Derry said. He served as a trustee on half a dozen negotiated benefit funds while with #1092, #942 and #555, and attended International Foundation educational conferences.

Promoting the union label was an important activity for Derry. For many years he was president of the Union Label and Service Trades Section of the Multnomah County Labor Council. Label trades delegates financed the manufacture of various union label promotion souvenirs which were given away on special occasions and at conventions. The label trades also sponsored an advertising campaign in the Labor Press to carry the "buy union" message to union families.

A MAJOR GOAL of Derry's in contract negotiations was to achieve equal pay for women. He also sought to eliminate gender wage disparities as a member of the Oregon Wage and Hour Commission.

Derry was a delegate to international conventions of the RCIA and the UFCW, and also was a delegate to the former Multnomah County Labor Council and to the present Northwest Oregon Labor Council. He participated in the historic 1956 merger convention that culminated in the formation of the Oregon AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations). At many state labor conventions, Derry was on the dais as the reading clerk. He also was a delegate and an elected officer in the former Oregon State Council of Retail Clerks. That was in the pre-consolidation days when virtually every city in the state had a Retail Clerks local union.

HARKING BACK to earlier decades of collective bargaining in the retail industry, Derry remembers employers like Dan Kienow and other independent store owners "who were good businessmen and who cared about their employees." With those men, a handshake was as good as a signed contract. He also put in the handshake category employer negotiators like "Val Gibson, Bill Lubersky, Elmer Williams and Gary Baker." To all of those he mentioned, "integrity was important."

When Lightowler, who'd hired Derry, went from Local 1092 to the central labor council, Gordon Swope became the union's secretary-treasurer and later its president when that office was made the top job. Dan Fortune defeated Swope in 1973 and when Fortune died early in his term of office, Derry moved from secretary-treasurer to president. Derry, however, was defeated in 1976 by Mike Hereford and then became a representative for the Seattle-based District Council of Clerks. In that post he assisted local unions in the Northwest with contract negotiations and organizing. From that job he was made secretary-treasurer of southwest Washington's Local 942. When that local merged with Oregon locals in 1985 to form UFCW Local 555, Derry was assigned to the collective bargaining staff and eventually became its director. After he retired, the local named one of its scholarships for him.

LEONARD WALTER DERRY was born in the Portland outskirts in 1927 and graduated from Gresham High School. His father, Lester, was chief of the Fire District 10 Department, which later merged into the Portland Fire Bureau. After high school, Derry enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps just before it became the separate U.S. Air Force. He saw duty in the Philippines and other places.

Walt and his wife, Betty, live on a three-acre spread in the Boring area southeast of Portland. He enjoys gardening and making birdhouses in his garage workshop. They sometimes go camping and fishing in the Steens Mountain area in southeast Oregon. In earlier years he hunted for deer there with Local 1092 colleagues. The Derrys also like to travel, with Reno and Hawaii being their favorite destinations. Walt and Betty have three daughters, two sons, 11 grandchildren and a great-grandchild, with another due soon.

Despite a years-long battle with cancer, said to be in remission, Derry plays golf regularly with friends at the Glendoveer links at 14015 NE Glisan Street. His foursome calls itself "the Geritol bunch."


THOSE TREMORS in Lane County are not the sign of an earthquake but are caused by Senator Wayne Morse spinning in his grave. The senator's unease stems from the exhibit of documents highlighting his important work on labor issues as an arbitrator, adjudicator and senator. The exhibit of Wayne Morse Papers started in February and continues until April 20 at the University of Oregon in Eugene, where Morse was dean of the UO School of Law before his 24-year career as a United States senator. The Morse exhibit at the university is taking place in the William W. Knight Law Center, built with a multimillion-dollar gift from Knight's son, Nike billionaire Philip Knight. Bill Knight was a student at the UO School of Law when Morse was dean and a professor of law. Knight went on to become a Portland-based anti-union labor lawyer for newspapers and wound up as the union-busting publisher of the now-defunct Oregon Journal. During the 1959-65 Portland newspaper strike, U.S. Senator Morse attacked the Journal and the Oregonian for their anti-worker, union-busting policies, and many times called on Knight and Oregonian publisher Mike Frey to settle the strike. Morse also condemned media czar Samuel I. Newhouse of New York City, owner of the Oregonian and later also the Journal.

FROM THE FILES of the AFL-CIO Union Label and Service Trades Department in Washington, D.C., comes the following background information on the term "mad hatter":

The "mad hatter" wasn't really mad. Did you ever wonder where the expression "mad as a hatter" originated? It's not just an expression taken from author Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland." It was a name applied to hat makers in the early 1900s, primarily those working in Danbury, Connecticut, the hat-making capital of the country at that time.

The reason was nitrate of mercury.

THE PROCESS of making felt hats was to separate fur from the skin, where it was then graded, cleaned and mixed. After this process the fur was sucked onto a revolving cone by a vacuum inside it. Wet fur fibres were joined together to make felt. The felt shapes were then "carroted," held against a rotating brush soaked with nitrate of mercury, then sent to a wet room for shrinking.

It was in the shrinking process that men, stripped to the waist in mercury-tainted "turkish baths," were exposed to poisonous steam that penetrated their bodies. A few years of exposure to mercury caused "the hatter shakes" to begin, with a slight tremor of the limbs. Symptoms following this included ulceration of the gums, rancid breath, excessive salivation, blackening and destruction of the teeth, headaches, pallor and skin rashes. All were outward appearances of being "mad."

IT WASN'T UNTIL 1941 that the hatters, represented by the United Hatters of America, could convince the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) that there was a health problem. Subsequently, PHS issued a report advising the use of a substitute of mercury with a non-toxic "carroting " agent.

The Hatters, Cap and Millinery Workers Union merged in 1982 with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. which in the the 1990s merged with the Ladies Garment Workers to form UNITE-the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.


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