Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

June 2, 2000

THE NORTHWEST LABOR PRESS celebrates its 100th birthday with this history-packed issue. The newspaper's actual century mark will be reached on Labor Day 2000, but this early observance was scheduled because by September the staff will be heavily involved in covering organized labor's participation in political campaigns.

This newspaper was founded on Labor Day 1900 as the Portland Labor Press under the auspices of the Portland Federated Trades Assembly, the name of that era's central labor council.

Labor unions affiliated with the Trades Assembly started this labor newspaper so they could provide their members with the fair and accurate news of labor movement activities that was sorely lacking in the Portland commercial dailies of a century ago. Today, only one of those dailies remains, the monopolistic, union-busting Oregonian, which since 1950 has been one of the most profitable links in the New York Newhouse family's mega-billion media empire.

"The most important single event of the year 1900 was the appearance of the Portland Labor Press." So wrote scholar Jack E. Triplett Jr. of Coos Bay in his 1961 dissertation on the history of the Oregon labor movement. The survival of the Portland-published Labor Press into its second century ranks as an important event of the year 2000.

IN 1915 THIS NEWSPAPER'S name was changed to Oregon Labor Press at the request of the Oregon State Federation of Labor. Seventy years later the logo was given the transitional name of Oregon/Washington Labor Press, and a year later came the changeover to Northwest Labor Press - to reflect the newspaper's significant role as the only surviving provider of general labor news in the Pacific Northwest.

The Portland Labor Press was established as a non-profit corporation whose shares were owned by various local unions and the Portland area central labor council. A century later the Northwest Labor Press still operates that way through the non-profit Oregon Labor Press Publishing Company, Incorporated, whose shares are owned by AFL-CIO-affiliated local unions and councils including the Oregon AFL-CIO.

At age 100 the NW Labor Press, delivered by the all-union United States Postal Service to as many as 76,000 homes and offices, ranks as the largest-circulation general labor newspaper published west of St. Louis, Missouri. The paper is on file at many libraries including some in Oregon and those of colleges as far east as Harvard. The Labor Press, printed weekly for its first 81 years, went to twice-a-month frequency in 1982 to cope with a doubling of postage rates fostered by the anti-union Reagan Administration.

THE NW LABOR PRESS is one of the few labor newspapers dating back as far as 1900 or beyond that are still publishing. Not too many years ago there were more than a dozen community labor newspapers published along the West Coast. But rising costs, especially escalating postal rates, coupled with communications-indifferent leadership by central labor councils and state labor federations stilled the presses of virtually all of them.

IN ITS FIRST 14 YEARS the Labor Press had more editors than it has had in the last 86 years.

The first editor was H.B. Metcalf, who held the job just two years. His union affiliation isn't known. Printer H.G. Kundret of Multnomah Typographical Union No. 58 came next. He left after three years because he'd been elected secretary-treasurer of the Oregon State Federation of Labor, which had been formed in 1902. Another printer, R.A. Harris, followed in the editor's chair but his occupancy was short-lived because he supported Democrat William Jennings Bryan for president in 1908 in opposition to the labor council's choice, Republican William Howard Taft, who won.

Then came H. J. Parkison, a lawyer-carpenter who'd moved to Portland from California in 1905. He practiced law from an office in the Labor Temple and also was business manager of the Labor Press while Harris was editor. Parkison belonged to Carpenters Local 808, which later lost its identity in mergers.

Parkison once disguised himself as a hobo and succeeded in getting himself arrested for vagrancy in order to get an account of the conditions in the city jail. "His report was a condemnation not only of the jail but also of the police and conditions in that part of the city ... and most especially of a social structure that made it a crime to be without a nickel in one's pocket," wrote Triplett.

After three years as editor Parkison left the paper for other pursuits.

Clarence Mortimer Rynerson, another printer-editor member of Typographical No. 58, succeeded Parkison early in 1911 but ill health caused him to leave after only three months. However, he was to be heard from later. William A. Marshall, another printer, was the next editor. It was common in bygone decades for printers to also possess editorial skills. In fact, the International Typographical Union claimed organizing jurisdiction nationwide as being the logical union to represent the staffs of labor newspapers.

Editor Marshall was given the appellation "godfather of the state's workmen's compensation law" in recognition of his leadership in the initiative petition campaign that led to a ballot measure, approved by voters, establishing an insurance system to provide financial benefits to injured workers and to the dependents of workers killed on the job.

In 1912, Governor Oswald West, known for saving Oregon's ocean beaches for the public, appointed Marshall to the first State Industrial Accident Commission to administer the new workers' compensation insurance system.

ANOTHER PRINTER, Arthur Lawrence, became interim editor in 1912 while doubling as secretary pro-tem of the Portland Central Labor Council. He also represented the printing trades unions on the Labor Press board of directors. Lawrence ran the paper briefly until A.H. Harris was appointed Marshall's successor. There is no indication that he was related to the earlier editor with the same last name. But Harris, a printer-editor, moved on in 1914 after only a two-year stint.

It was commonplace for earlier generations of printers, reporters and editors to move from city to city, working on one newspaper after another, as though they regarded life as one long job-hunt. In the parlance of the printing trades, they were "boomers." That probably accounts for some of the turnover among early-day Labor Press editors. BUT THE TURNOVER was about to come to an end. In 1914, to succeed the second Harris, came the return of C.M. Rynerson, who'd served fleetingly in 1911. His health restored, "Ryney," as he was called, settled in for a long run.

RYNERSON RAN the Labor Press for 25 years - from 1914 to 1939. With him at the helm, the newspaper gained stability, weathering financial and labor political ups and downs. He kept the paper afloat during the Great Depression of the 1930s. A Republican, he sought elective office without success, and also ran for president of the state labor federation. He left the paper in 1939 when Governor Charles Sprague, publisher of the Salem Statesman, appointed him to the State Industrial Accident Commission.

Gene Allen, who succeeded Rynerson, was a college-educated Teamsters Local 255 business agent who, at age 24 was - and still is - the youngest editor in the Labor Press's history. While editor, Allen was elected to the Portland School Board, serving from 1942 to 1954. He chaired the Multnomah County Civil Service Commission, and was president of Office and Professional Employees Local 11. A year after leaving the editorship, he was elected, as a Republican, to the Oregon State Senate. He later went into the restaurant business.

James W. Goodsell, son of a Methodist minister, veteran of World War II , a Portland and Astoria print and radio journalist, and a Democratic activist, took over as editor and manager of the Labor Press in 1951. He modernized the tabloid newspaper's typography and won many awards for journalistic excellence from the International Labor Press Association.

Mayor Terry Schrunk appointed him to the Portland Dock Commission, and he was active in the City Club, Urban League and other organizations. He was a member of Machinists Local 63. Goodsell resigned in late 1965 to become a foreign trade executive in the United States Department of Commerce.

THE NEXT EDITOR, Gene Klare, had worked for Goodsell three years before succeeding him. Klare was a veteran of the Portland newspaper strike, having been a pre-strike Oregonian reporter. He'd worked for the strike-born Portland Reporter; been managing editor of dailies in Pocatello and Boise; was a reporter for papers in other states; owned a small weekly; ran a one-man advertising and public relations agency, and served as a sergeant in the Marine Corps. He'd been president of the Portland Newspaper Guild, chaired the Multnomah County Civil Service Commission, was president of the International Labor Press Association, active in Democratic politics and served on city and state civil rights commissions. His 1964 exposŽ of corruption in the Multnomah County coroner's office helped elect a reform candidate and won an award from the American Political Science Association. He's a 35-year member of Office and Professional Employees Local 11.

Portland native Michael Gutwig, the present editor and manager of the NW Labor Press, took over in late 1986 after working as a reporter, sports editor and advertising manager for the award-winning Central Oregonian (not associated with the Portland Oregonian) at Prineville. He's a vice president and former secretary-treasurer of the Western Labor Communications Association, is active in the International Labor Communications Association, and serves on the board of Labor's Community Service Agency.

A HIGH-TECH editor-printer, Gutwig has equipped the Labor Press with a desktop publishing system and embarked into the World Wide Web, where pages from the Labor Press are posted at www.nwlaborpress.org.

The Gutwig-edited NW Labor Press has garnered a wall-full of journalistic awards from ILCA, including first places for general excellence the past three years.

Current staff members are Don McIntosh, a reporter, photographer and computer whiz; Cheri Rice, office manager; and Diane Whitehead, an office staff member. Along with the editor, all are members of Local 11.

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