Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

July 2, 1999

ROBERT G. KENNEDY, the first directing business representative of Portland-based Machinists District Council 24 and a former president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, stepped into Labor's Hall of Fame on a door-opening vote of the sponsoring Northwest Oregon Labor Retirees Council.

The 72-year-old Kennedy retired 10 years ago as a Denver-based Machinists Grand Lodge auditor, a post to which he was appointed in 1981. Since his retirement, Kennedy and his wife Arlene have lived in Gresham but they spend fall and winter months in Yuma, Arizona, where they maintain a mobile home.

A native of Pleasanton, Kansas, Kennedy grew up working on farms of various family members in Kansas, Iowa and Missouri before being encouraged to move to Portland by an aunt and uncle who'd earlier left the dusty plains for the Rose City. Kennedy and his mother journeyed to Portland by bus in 1942, arriving with seven cents in her purse.

While attending Jefferson High School, Kennedy worked at various menial jobs to augment the family's finances but at age 16 he got a good-paying job at the Kaiser wartime shipyard across the Columbia River in Vancouver and joined Boilermakers Local 72. After he graduated from Jefferson he enlisted in the Marine Corps. Upon his return from World War I1, Bob and Arlene, who'd met before he left, got married.

KENNEDY JOINED Auto Mechanics Lodge 1005 when as a returning veteran he began an apprenticeship constructing and repairing delivery trucks for Carnation Milk Company at its building on Southeast Morrison Street between 33rd and 34th Avenues. That location is now part of the pricey Belmont Dairy condominium complex. When Kennedy worked for Carnation the dairy had 13 fresh milk and ice cream plants in the West and trucks for all of them went through the Portland shop.

He began his full-time career in the labor movement in January 1962 as an elected business representative of Local 1005 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), Four years later he was elected as the business representative for Machinists District 24 which at that time was a one-man organizing office serving Portland Locals 63, 1005 and 1432.

In the District 24 job Kennedy represented the Machinists as an elected member of the executive boards of the Multnomah County Labor Council (now the Northwest Oregon Labor Council) and the Oregon AFL-CIO. He also became the Machinists' point man in Oregon politics and worked on campaigns for various labor-endorsed candidates including Governor Bob Straub and Congressman Bob Duncan.

WHEN THE IAM decided in 1974 to make District 24 a full-service district for the three Portland locals and expand its jurisdiction to encompass four other locals in Oregon and southwest Washington, Kennedy emerged as the directing business representative. At that time District 24 represented 13,000 Machinists including retirees. The working members were employed under more than 600 contracts with employers in Oregon and southwest Washington.

In the '60s, '70s and early '80s, in the District 24 job and later after he became president of the state labor federation, Kennedy was as busy or busier than any other leader in the Oregon labor movement. His activities at one time or another in those decades included: He was one of three delegates elected nationwide to represent the IAM at the 1971 and '73 biennial conventions of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and also represented the Oregon labor federation at the '71 national convention; he served three terms on the State Apprenticeship and Training Council with progressive Republican Governor Tom McCall being the first to appoint him; in addition to the previously mentioned memberships on the local and state labor council executive boards, he sat on the board of directors of the Union Labor Retirement Association which built Union Manor retirement apartment complexes in Portland; he was president of the Oregon Machinists Council and was elected to the board of the Oregon Industrial Union Council.

HE ALSO FOUND TIME to serve five years on the State Economic Development Commission; to help organize and be the first president of the Machinists District 24 Federal Credit Union; to participate in the Portland Automotive Trades Apprenticeship Committee; to attend board meetings of the Guide Dogs of America, a non-profit, IAM-sponsored seeing-eye dog program based in Los Angeles; and to be active in the United Way, the American Legion and the Midway Christian Church in outer southeast Portland.

Kennedy was elected president of the Oregon AFL-CIO in September 1975 at the federation's convention in Seaside on the northern coast, defeating incumbent Dean Killion of the Woodworkers. Kennedy held that post until the 1981 convention at Springfield in the Eugene area where he was opposed by two candidates, Del Ricks of Labor's Community Service Agency in Portland, who was a member of the Communications Workers, and Irvin Fletcher of the Lane County Labor Council who belonged to the Eugene Teachers. Ricks' withdrawal provided Fletcher with enough votes to win.

Following Kennedy's defeat, the Machinists appointed him as a Grand Lodge auditor based in Denver, with his assignment being to inspect the financial records of IAM local unions and to assist their financial officers in 13 states from the Mexican border extending north into Canada.

LESS THAN TWO YEARS after taking the Denver post, Kennedy was laid off, a fate that befell many representatives of the IAM and other unions in the economic recession stemming from Republican President Ronald Reagan's financial, taxation and trade policies and the problems he caused labor unions with his political philosophy that was hostile to workers and their unions. It was two years before staff retirements gave the IAM the leeway to restore Kennedy to his job, and he remained there until his 1989 retirement. During his layoff, Kennedy put beans on the table with a state job of trying to collect on defaulted student loans in the Denver metro region.

In retirement, Kennedy enjoys spending time with his family, plus fishing, bike riding and occasionally picking strawberries for the family freezer at you-pick acreages in the Gresham area. Bob and Arlene Kennedy have two sons, Robert Jr., a member of Electrical Workers Local 48, and Ronald, a retired U.S. Air Force careerist; three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Of his wife of 52 years, Kennedy said: "I couldn't have accomplished anything without the help and support of my wife Arlene."


SOME MAJOR DOMO in NBC Sports should sit down with NBA color commentator "Little" Doug Collins and admonish the former journeyman pro basketball player and lackluster coach about his overuse of the word "little" in describing National Basketball Association games. Here's a sampling of Collins' over-dependence on "little" in the last game of the finals: "A little floater in the lane," "that little free throw," "that little medium-range jump shot," "a little whirling dervish," "that little drought," "a little swing," "a little confusion," "a little jumper."

A few more include "little by little," "a little pull-up" (that more aptly describes an item of toddler attire rather than a move by a 6-9, 250-pound pro basketball player), and "a little lay-up" - a decidedly molehill term to analyze a scoring play by one of the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs' 7-foot towers.


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