Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

September 6, 2002

JEAN NORDMARK, 65, who made her mark in the Astoria area seafood industry,basks in the early September 2002 spotlight of Labor Day and Union Label Week as the newest member of the Northwest Oregon Labor Retirees Council's Labor Hall of Fame.

The Labor Retirees Council is affiliated with the Portland-based Northwest Oregon Labor Council of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

Before Mrs. Nordmark retired in 1985, she was secretary-treasurer and a business agent of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union's Local 143-A. She held that job after a merger of Astoria UFCW Local P-554 with Portland UFCW Meat Cutters Local 143-A. Her retirement followed the 1985 formation of Oregon and Southwest Washington UFCW locals into Local 555, based in Tigard, which is the largest AFL-CIO local in Oregon's private sector.

SHE WAS BORN as Shirley Jeanne Black on July 27,1937 in Leadville, Colorado, where her father toiled in the region's metal mines. While she was a child, her parents moved their family to Warrenton, near Astoria, on Oregon's North Coast. Jean received her schooling in Warrenton and was on the rally squad in high school.

After running a seafood canning operation, her father opened a union retail market at which all family members worked. They belonged to the United Packinghouse Workers Union, which was affiliated with the CIO. "I've been in the seafood industry most of my life," Mrs. Nordmark told the Northwest Labor Press.

In the early 1950s, she left the fish industry to work as a long-distance telephone operator in Astoria and belonged to the Communications Workers of America. That was in the days when the "Ma Bell" System provided efficient nationwide local phone and long-distance service and virtually all its workers belonged to labor unions.

AFTER FIVE YEARS Jean grew weary of sitting at a switchboard pushing telephone plugs in and pulling them out, so she left the phone job for clerking in a Seaside store.

There she joined the Retail Clerks Union, one of the unions that later became a major part of the United Food and Commercial Workers. In 1962 she returned to the North Coast fish industry, taking a job at the Point Adams Packing Company in Hammond. There, packing tuna fish, she rejoined the United Packinghouse Workers, which later merged with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America. That union also was a bulwark in the 1979 formation of the UFCW. After seven years at the canning plant, she ran for and was elected secretary-treasurer of Local P-554. In that job she negotiated labor contracts, handled grievances and took care of the myriad of other duties involved in running a local union and representing its members, including overseeing health and welfare and pension trust funds.

At its zenith, Astoria Local P-554 had 1,500 members employed as far north as South Bend and Raymond in Washington, and as far east as St. Helens in Oregon. The union's biggest employer was the Bumble Bee cannery in Astoria. When new owners closed the plant and moved the company's operations to San Diego, California, "it devastated the town," recalled Mrs. Nordmark.

MRS. NORDMARK REPRESENTED her local union at conventions of its parent international union and the Oregon Federation of Butchers as well as the Oregon AFL-CIO. She won election to the state AFL-CIO's Executive Board in the 1970s and served until her retirement. She also was active in the Clatsop County Central Labor Council at the Astoria Labor Temple and held several offices including secretary-treasurer and the presidency. She campaigned for labor-endorsed political candidates including Democrat Les AuCoin, who represented Oregon's First Congressional District.

Jean and her husband. Perry Nordmark, have been married since 1969. He worked for 37 years as a member of Portland-headquartered Electrical Workers Local 125. He was a lineman-foreman for Pacific Power & Light. They make their retirement home in Seaside.

Jean has a son, Steve Holthe of Portland, from an earlier marriage, and five grandchildren. She has two brothers, Jerry Black of Warrenton, who's retired from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Bob Black, also of Warrenton, who's a retired electrician from Portland State, and a sister, Mary Ann Kelly, of Kennewick in Eastern Washington.


IN THIS UNION LABEL WEEK, the State of Oregon celebrates its 116th Labor Day, and the Northwest Labor Press observes its 102nd birthday.

Oregon was the first state in the United States to legislate a Labor Day - doing so in February 1887 - to honor the state's working men and women. The Oregon Legislature picked the first Saturday in June for Labor Day, and the first observation was held four months after the bill's passage. Governor Sylvester Pennoyer of the Democratic-People's Party signed the bill into law. Thirty-one other states established Labor Day holidays within six years after Oregon blazed the way. Most of the other states set the first Monday in September as Labor Day and Oregon switched to that date in 1893.

A NATIONAL LABOR DAY holiday on the first September Monday was designated by the U.S. Congress in 1894 and Democratic President Grover Cleveland signed that legislation into the law of the land.

A huge parade by labor unions in New York City in September 1882 was the first recorded observance, albeit unofficial, of Labor Day in the United States of America.

Canada established the first Monday in September as Labor Day the same year, 1894, that U.S. legislated the workers' holiday. In 1899, some European nations put Labor Day on their calendars but selected May 1, May Day, as their date of choice.

AN OREGON LABOR DAY was not universally popular. "This is the cheapest and shabbiest measure of the Legislature up to this date," griped the Portland Oregonian newspaper in 1887 when the legislators, duly assembled in the Capitol in Salem, were considering proclaiming Labor Day. In 1916 an anti-worker Portland School Board sneered at Labor Day by scheduling the opening of classes on the first Monday in September. But delegates to the Portland Federated Trades Assembly, the central labor council, organized a successful boycott, keeping their children and those of other supportive parents at home on Labor Day.

THIS UNION NEWSPAPER was first published on Labor Day 1900 as the weekly Portland Labor Press. A history of the Oregon labor movement called the start-up of the Labor Press "The most important single event of the year 1900."

On Labor Day 1915, at the request of the Oregon State Federation of Labor, the newspaper's logo was changed to Oregon Labor Press. In 1985 the name was changed to Oregon-Washington Labor Press, to be shortened in 1987 to simply, Northwest Labor Press.

The Labor Press was published weekly from 1900 until 1982 when the Reagan Administration, Congress and the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors doubled the already high postal rates for labor publications. Delegates from shareholding and subscribing labor organizations met and decided to reduce the paper's frequency of publication from weekly to twice a month. This was done because the beleaguered unions could not afford to finance the increased cost of maintaining weekly frequency. At that time, the labor movement was hard hit by the Reagan Recession and the anti-union policies of the Republican president.


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