Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

August 24, 2001

LABOR DAY 2001 marks the 101st birthday for the Labor Press. The labor-owned newspaper's first issue rolled off the press in time for Labor Day of the year 1900. It then was the Portland Labor Press. The name was changed to Oregon Labor Press in 1915 at the urging of the Oregon Federation of Labor, which was the Beaver State affiliate of the American Federation of Labor. The name Northwest Labor Press was adopted in 1987 to reflect the tabloid newspaper's expanded coverage and circulation.

"The most important single event of the year 1900..." was the assessment of the birth of the Labor Press by historian Jack E. Triplett Jr., author of "History of the Oregon Labor Movement Prior to the New Deal." Triplett, who grew up in the Coos Bay area, was the son of a member of the Lumber and Sawmill Workers (LSW), which now is the Western Council of Industrial Workers, a division of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. Triplett won an Oregon AFL-CIO college scholarship and in his student years worked summers as an LSW member. Triplett was employed as an economist for the national AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., before pursuing a career there with the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

THE LABOR PRESS was started as a weekly newspaper by local unions affiliated with the Portland Federated Trades Assembly, which in l900 was the name of the Rose City's central labor council. The labor newspaper's founders set it up as a labor-owned non-profit corporation, which is what it still is l01 years later. The Oregon Labor Press Publishing Company publishes the Northwest Labor Press on a twice-monthly basis.

The reason the labor movement launched the Labor Press was that the area's commercial dailies were biased against unions and the workers who were their members. That bias has not changed in the past 101 years.

In articulating their purpose in starting the Labor Press, the founders said in 1900 that "the trade unions of this city have organized the Portland Labor Press Association ... in order to educate the wage-workers upon the various phases of the modern labor movement, as well as to strengthen, protect and promote their interests ... Its object is to publish a weekly paper ... and to give the wage-workers of this city and state reliable information concerning the local as well as the international labor movement."

THE LABOR PRESS was published weekly from l900 until 1982 when the Reagan Administration and the U.S. Postal Service's board of governors doubled the postage rates for labor union publications. Delegates from shareholding and subscribing labor organizations held a meeting and decided to change the paper's frequency to twice a month because they could not afford to finance the increased cost of continuing to publish every week. Unions and their members at that time were hard hit by the joblessness caused by the Reagan Recession and also by the anti-union policies of the Republican president. Soaring postage rates and increases in production costs caused most labor publications to print fewer issues per year. But many simply ceased publishing.

Over the years the Labor Press has won scores of journalistic awards from the International Labor Press Association and its successor, the International Labor Communications Association. The newspaper also has received awards from the Western Labor Communications Association, and is the only labor newspaper to have been honored with a plaque from the American Political Science Association. That award was for an expose of corruption in the Multnomah County coroner's office, which resulted in the election of a reform candidate.

THE NW LABOR PRESS is one of the oldest labor newspapers in the United States and it prints more issues and reaches more readers than any labor paper west of the Mississippi River. In addition to public and college libraries in Oregon, the Labor Press is on file at libraries and colleges elsewhere, including Harvard, in Massachusetts.


MONDAY, SEPT. 3, will mark the 115th Labor Day for Oregon, the first state to pass a law setting aside a day honoring workers.

The Oregon Legislature, in session at Salem, enacted legislation in February 1887 setting the first Saturday in June as Labor Day. Democratic-People's Party Governor Sylvester Pennoyer signed the bill into law and the state's first Labor Day was observed in June 1887.

NEW YORK CITY unions had started staging early September Labor Day parades in 1882 but those were unofficial observances because New York did not pass a Labor Day holiday law until after Oregon's landmark legislation.

By 1893, 31 other states had followed Oregon's lead by officially proclaiming a Labor Day holiday.

Most selected the first Monday in September, and Oregon legislators changed the state's Labor Day from June to September in 1893 in the interests of interstate uniformity.

IN 1894, Congress passed a bill designating the first Monday in September as a national Labor Day holiday. The federal legislation was signed into law by Democratic President Grover Cleveland. That same year, Canada also established a Labor Day holiday as the first Monday in September.

Some European countries established Labor Days in 1889 but circled theirs on the calendar on May 1 - which came to be known as May Day.

A Labor Day holiday to recognize the social contributions made to public life by working people was not a universally popular idea. In 1887, when the Oregon Legislature was considering the idea, the Portland Oregonian newspaper sneered: "This is the cheapest and shabbiest measure of the Legislature up to this date."

IN 1916, an anti-union Portland School Board also sneered at Labor Day by scheduling the opening of the fall term on the first Monday in September. In response, the outraged Portland Federated Trades Assembly introduced School Board members to the word boycott. Union families kept their children out of school on Labor Day and the School Board got the message.

Over the years, picnics gradually replaced parades as a way union members in the Pacific Northwest celebrated Labor Day. On Monday, Sept. 3, labor-sponsored picnics are scheduled throughout the Northwest.


ORLA MAY STRICKLAND of Portland, a retired officer of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 7901, died Aug. 2 at age 71.

Mrs. Strickland, a longtime secretary-treasurer of CWA Local 7901 and its predecessor #9201, had worked for the telephone company, Pacific Northwest Bell (now Qwest), for 30 years. She retired as a supervisor in 1983.

She was renowned for her baking and cooking skills and often contributed cakes and other pastries to fundraisers for her union, United Way and Labor's Community Service Agency.

SHE WAS BORN Jan. 24, 1930 in Starbuck, Minn. Her maiden name was Borstad. She attended high school in Klamath Falls, lived briefly in California and moved to Portland in the early 1950s. Survivors include her 28-year companion in life, Dale Hertzler; a daughter, Linda Britton; two sons, Marvin and Barry; 14 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

An Aug. 15 memorial service for Mrs. Strickland filled the chapel at Portland Memorial Funeral Home. Remembrances in her name can be sent to the American Cancer Society.

FROM THE PAGES of the national AFL-CIO's America @ Work magazine comes this report under the headline "Students Take the Pledge":

"As college graduates flood the nation's workplaces this summer, some will begin their jobs with an eye on more than just the paycheck.

"While still in college, students from some campuses signed a pledge stating they would take into account the social and environmental consequences of the jobs they choose. The Graduation Pledge Alliance organization, formed in 1996 and based at Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana, helps spread the word about the program to campuses throughout the United States.

"NICK STUDEBAKER, a recent Manchester graduate, signed the pledge and now is working for AmeriCorps in Vancouver, Wash., helping students with English-language and reading skills. He says taking the pledge 'is a way to hold yourself accountable for your decisions and your actions.' As a member of Manchester Students Against Sweatshops, Studebaker participated in a 'fashion show' of sweat-free clothes. 'The pledge is a way to motivate students to explore the effects of their jobs on the public,' says the aspiring social worker."

"NICKEL AND DIMED" is the title of a book by Barbara Ehrenreich on her experiences in the low-wage jobs held by millions of Americans. The book's subtitle is "On (Not) Getting By in America." It was published by Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Co. of New York, N.Y. It contains 221 pages and costs $23.

What follows is a succinct review of Ehrenreich's excellent book by Molly Charboneau, who is an associate editor of Public Employee Press (PEP) in which her review appeared. PEP is the official publication of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 37 in New York City.

"EVERY YEAR, thousands of low-wage workers nationwide vote to better their lives by joining unions. Barbara Ehrenreich's book 'Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America' offers a personal glimpse into the terrible conditions that prompt many of these workers to organize: low pay, lack of benefits, unsafe jobs, double shifts, substandard housing and management harassment.

"A progressive, investigative journalist, Ms. Ehrenreich took several low-wage service jobs in Florida, Maine and Minnesota to see if she could survive on the $8 an hour or less earned by almost 30 percent of the workforce. She also wondered how the roughly four million women removed from benefits by so-called 'welfare reform' were going to make it on the $6 to $7 an hour they could make.

"DESCRIBING HERSELF as a divorced homemaker re-entering the workforce, Ms. Ehrenreich waited on tables, cleaned hotel rooms, scoured toilets for Wal-Mart. The maids served food in a nursing home and clocked in at Wal-Mart. Along the way she faced psychological exams, urine tests, mind-numbing training sessions, constant concern about affordable housing - which often meant paying by the week at rundown motels - and working two jobs while popping pain pills and eating at drive-throughs.

"Ms. Ehrenreich's co-workers of every race, age and nationality form the living core of the book. She gives voice to their lives. Underpaid; forbidden to talk, eat or sit while at work, lacking health or dental care or paid leave, sometimes living in their cars - these workers still cared more abut doing a good job than management did. From them she learned that 'no job, no matter how lowly, is truly 'unskilled.'

" 'Low-wage work is not a solution to poverty or even homelessness,' Ms. Ehrenreich states. "SHE ENDS her investigative report with the upbeat image of a Wal-Mart co-worker waving her fist in the air after seeing news about a hotel strike on a break room TV, leaving readers to conclude that it is low-wage workers themselves who will write the final chapter."


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