Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

April 20, 2001

ROBERT NORRIS HULEN, 73, who retired eight years ago from the Northwest Labor Press, took his place this month in the Northwest Oregon Labor Retirees Council's Labor Hall of Fame. Delegates to the council selected Hulen in recognition of his long and varied career as a unionist, newspaperman, government official and political campaign director.

The retiree organization is affiliated with the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, AFL-CIO, headquartered at 1125 SE Madison St., Suite 103, Portland. Judy O'Connor is executive secretary-treasurer of NOLC , and Robert Petroff is its president. Mary Kelso is president of the retirees and Harold King is their secretary-treasurer. The Labor Hall of Fame was started in 1997 to salute retired workers for their accomplishments. Hulen, born in New Haven, Conn., while his father was finishing up at Yale University there, worked summers on a railroad while attending high school and college. He obtained bachelor's degrees in history at Pennsylvania's Bucknell University and in journalism at the University of Missouri. He was a reporter for the Evening Telegraph in Dixon, Ill., before joining the U.S. Air Force at the time of the Korean War.

THE AIR FORCE sent Hulen to the Portland Air Force Base where his assignments included being a public information specialist and editor of the base newspaper. In his off-duty time he wrote free-lance articles for the Sunday Oregonian's Northwest Magazine and later worked part-time in the Portland daily's sports department. The Oregonian hired him full time after he completed his Air Force enlistment in 1953 wearing the three stripes of a sergeant.

In his years at the Oregonian he covered all sports, specializing in golf, worked as a sports copydesk editor, did page layout and presided over the makeup of sports pages in the composing room. He belonged to Portland Newspaper Guild Local 165, which represented reporters, photographers, editors and business office employees at the Oregonian and Oregon Journal.

During the early months of the November 1959 to April 1965 strike against the Oregonian and Journal, Hulen toiled on the docks as a longshoreman, in the Post Office as a Christmas season mail sorter, and at other part-time jobs such as taking inventory in an auto parts warehouse. In those jobs he worked alongside other newspaper strikers who were also scrounging for paychecks to support their families. WHEN THE UNIONS started the Portland Reporter newspaper for readers who had cancelled their subscriptions to the scab dailies, Hulen was appointed as the tabloid's sports editor and columnist. The Reporter began publishing in February 1960 as a weekly, quickly went to twice-weekly, thrice-weekly, then daily except Sundays.

Along with other Guild members at the Reporter, Hulen joined Multnomah Typographical Union No. 58, which took them in after their own international union pulled the plug on its Portland strikers.

When the Reporter ran out of money and wrote "-30-" to its noble cause on Sept. 30,1964, Hulen decided to pursue an advanced degree in public administration at his alma mater, the University of Missouri in the city of Columbia in the "Show Me" state. He worked as a reporter on the Columbia Daily Tribune, covering local government and politics.

In 1967 Hulen came back to the Rose City and put his mid-career education hiatus to good use as the public information assistant to Oregon State Labor Commissioner Norman O. Nilsen. Based in the bureau's headquarters in Portland, Hulen disseminated news releases, produced excellent monographs on working women and other workplace topics, and lobbied at the Oregon Legislature at Salem on behalf of the bureau's budget and for Commissioner Nilsen's Democratic agenda of issues involving jobs, working conditions and related topics. Hulen also represented the bureau at Oregon AFL-CIO conventions and other union gatherings. In his half-dozen years on Nilsen's staff, Hulen developed an expertise on apprenticeship and many other workplace and workforce subjects.

ALERTED BY A FRIEND in San Francisco that the S.F. city and county recreation and parks department was giving a civil service test for the job of public affairs assistant to the general manager, Hulen went to Baghdad by the Bay and aced the test. He held the job from 1973 until S.F. Mayor Joe Alioto left office in 1977.

During his career, Hulen often augmented his income by doing free-lance work, just as he had at the Oregonian while in the Air Force. While with the Bureau of Labor he free-lanced for the Statesman newspaper in Salem. In San Francisco he was an on-the-air free-lancer for educational radio and TV outlets. When Hulen returned to Portland after Alioto left office, he free-lanced at the Labor Press and the McMinnville News-Register while helping a friend run Moba Media, an electronic clipping service that provides clients with videotapes and/or hard-copy printouts of whatever mention they receive on local television news broadcasts.

Hulen turned his attention to politics and the Legislature in the late 1970s and early '80s, working on the election campaigns of two Portland Democrats - Jewel Lansing for state treasurer and Sue Pisha for the Legislature. He also was employed as a senior legislative assistant on the staff of the House Revenue Committee. He started working full time for the Labor Press in 1982.

IN HIS YEARS at the Labor Press, where he was a member of Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 11, he became a ubiquitous figure, covering union news in Oregon and Washington with camera, pen and notebook at labor conventions, picket lines, solidarity rallies, Labor Day picnics and countless other events.

Hulen's wide-ranging hobbies and interests form a patchwork quilt that include skiing, cycling, tennis, golf, jazz and wine-making. He pedaled from Seattle to Portland four times in the Cascade Bicycle Club's annual marathon; he put in four years as secretary of the Jazz Society of Oregon; he's served on the Portland Bowling Association's executive board; he's been a leader in the Bergfreunde Ski Club. That Teutonic name means "friends of the mountain." Years ago, his dandelion wine won a prize at the Clackamas County Fair.

His family includes two daughters, a son and three grandchildren.

Since his retirement, Hulen has done free-lance writing, some of it for the Labor Press.

Although Hulen has never mentioned it to me, a mutual friend told me about 18 years ago that Bob had talked a man with a handgun into handing it over late one night at a southwest Portland tavern. The gun-wielder apparently had too much to drink when he started to wave the gun around in the crowded tavern. The normally noisy eating and drinking place went dead silent. Bob approached the man, whom he knew casually, holding out his hand and telling the gunman to "give me the gun." After a pause, the man put his gun in Bob's hand and Bob gave it to the bartender-cook to lock up. Relieved, the full-house crowd got noisy again and looked at Bob with appreciation and respect.


A THOUGHT regarding the electricity crisis: Instead of putting Northwest aluminum industry workers on a semi-permanent unemployed status to save hydropower, let's mothball the space program for five years and use the billions of dollars spent in space to build power plants on the ground. More electric power would help aluminum workers keep their jobs and would sharply reduce the skyrocketing cost of power to consumers, industries and businesses. We could get along indefinitely without more information about mars, the moon and other bus stops in the stratosphere.


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