Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

April 2, 1999

SUE PISHA'S 38-year career as a telephone operator and union leader has earned her a niche in the Labor Hall of Fame sponsored by the Portland-based Northwest Oregon Labor Retirees Council.

The council, which is affiliated with the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, AFL-CIO, voted for Pisha at its March meeting in the NOLC board room at 1125 SE Madison St.

Pisha, 56, will retire at the end of July from her job as the Communications Workers of America (CWA) District 7 vice president and International Executive Board member based in Denver. She's held the Denver post since 1992. She decided not to run for re-election but to return home to Portland when her current term expires.

"MY MOTHER IS ILL, I want to see more of my children and grandchildren, and I miss the ocean," said Pisha in explaining her desire to come back to Oregon.

She will be honored at a retirement celebration banquet Saturday night, April 10, at the Portland Hilton, which was scheduled to coincide with a CWA conference here.

As the CWA District 7 vice president, Pisha represents 53,000 union members working under 400 collective bargaining contracts in 14 U.S states and part of Canada. The majority of the 53,000 CWA members work for U.S. West Communications, the region's dominant phone service provider. Others work for the GTE and Sprint United telephone companies, while still others are employed in the printing, newspaper, television and health care industries. And in Iowa, Colorado and New Mexico, the CWA represents bargaining units of public workers.

Pisha has been involved in adult education projects as a result of negotiating employer-paid schooling benefits for many of her members.

SHE STARTED HER CAREER in 1961 as a long-distance operator in Portland for Pacific Northwest Bell, a forerunner of U.S. West. She became active in CWA Local 9201, since renumbered as Local 7901, and was elected as its first woman president in 1975. She busied herself in labor, civic, community and political organizations. She served as a vice president of the United Way and as secretary and board member of Labor's Community Service Agency. She was elected to the Multnomah County Labor Council Executive Board, was appointed by Governor Bob Straub to the Governor's Commission on Women, joined the Urban League, and functioned as parliamentarian at several Oregon AFL-CIO conventions.

Pisha capped her political involvement by winning a 1978 election to become a Democratic state representative in a southeast Portland district, serving in the 1979 Oregon Legislature at Salem. That same year she was appointed as a CWA staff representative, assigned to the Portland office. She held that assignment until 1985 when she was transferred to Seattle to serve as a regional administrative assistant there to the Denver-based district vice president. She was stationed in Seattle until 1991 and a year later was elected to the District 7 vice presidency.

When she returns to Oregon Pisha wants to spend some time at the coast and looks forward to doing some fishing. "I love to fish," she told the Northwest Labor Press. She fondly remembers fishing for trout, salmon and steelhead with her father and also hunting for deer and ducks with him. She also plans to catch up on her reading and to play some pinochle and poker.


WHEN LARRY WEIRICH locked the front door of the empty Kienow's store on Southeast Morrison Street at 14th Avenue in Portland, he ended a career as a union grocery clerk that began in 1955.

The dozen Kienow's grocery stores in the Portland metro area were sold last November for $54 million to a California real estate company that has closed most of them, sold a few to other food retailers, and has kept three operating. The shelves of the closed stores were emptied by shoppers taking advantage of slashed prices.

Dan H. Kienow Sr. founded his first market in 1908 at the location Weirich and a manager locked up last week. "The Friendliest Stores in Town," the slogan used by Kienow's, wasn't empty rhetoric; Kienow's was friendly to its customers and to its employees.

"I JUST LOVED working there," Weirich, who soon turns 62, told the Northwest Labor Press. He worked for Kienow's for 17 years at four different stores. "Each store had its own personality." he said. He especially enjoyed the neighborly atmosphere of the market off Northeast 33rd Avenue at Hancock Street, not far from Grant High School. A room in the store was made available to community groups for their meetings. Weirich recalled that four or five mayors and former mayors shopped there.

Weirich worked last at the Southeast Morrison store whose customers included many elderly people, some who live alone, and some with infirmities who needed assistance in shopping from store employees. "What I'm going to miss," said Weirich, "are the customers. I'm a people person. I love dealing with people. It was a real joy to turn people around," referring to some who came in the store in a negative mood because of their personal problems and loneliness.

After plans for store closures were reported, loyal customers began voicing their dismay in person to Kienow's employees and sent cards and letters to the doomed stores. "We had cards, letters and petitions from customers in the break rooms," Weirich said. Some customers told of being third-generation Kienow's shoppers.

FOUNDER DAN KIENOW SR. was followed at the helm of the locally-owned supermarket group by his son, Dan Jr.

Juan Young next took over as Kienow's president. Young's death at age 90 a couple years ago heightened the worries of veteran employees about the stores' future. The sale and subsequent closures confirmed those concerns. At least 230 members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 555 and 26 members of Bakers Local 114 have lost their jobs.

WEIRICH SAID HIS UNION, UFCW Local 555, is working with Labor's Community Services Agency to provide counseling and displaced workers' services to members whose lives are in upheaval.

As he contemplates retirement, Weirich said, "The grocery business was good to me. We had good wages and benefits, thanks to my union. I love my union." When he started as a teen-aged boxboy at the old Beaverton Safeway, his union was named Food and Drug Clerks Local 1092, which since a 1985 multi-union merger has been UFCW Local 555. Before being hired at Kienow's, Weirich worked for more than a decade at Fred Meyer supermarkets, followed by shorter tours at Thriftway and an independent store.

Three decades ago, Weirich suggested to Local 1092's leader Gordon Swope that the union establish a college scholarship program. Swope assigned him the job of researching the idea, members subsequently approved setting up union-sponsored education grants, and Weirich was appointed scholarship committee chairman. He's held that volunteer post most of the years since then but will relinquish it upon his retirement.

"WHEN THE SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM started, Local 1092 gave out two $500 awards," Weirich recalled. Years later a much larger "Local 555 gives away $20,000 in scholarships each year," he noted.

In addition to his work on the scholarship committee, Weirich has been active in his union in other ways. He's served as a shop steward and as an Executive Board member.

Retirement won't mean an empty schedule for Weirich. He's a single parent with two teen-agers, a daughter and son, in high school.


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