Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

September 7, 2001

GEORGE M. MILLER, 66, retired directing business representative of Portland-based International Association of Machinists (IAM) District Council 24, entered Labor's Hall of Fame this month. He was selected for the honor by the Northwest Oregon Labor Retirees Council, which sponsors the Hall of Fame.

Before he took early retirement in 1992, Miller, in addition to being the leader of District 24, was president of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, AFL-CIO, with which the retiree group is affiliated.

Miller's labor career involved intense, wide-ranging activity, resulting in high blood pressure which prompted him to retire at age 57. At the time of his retirement he held numerous posts in the IAM. These included being on the IAM's National Bargaining Committee which negotiated contracts with the Boeing aircraft company for its plants in Oregon, Washington and several other states; chairing a Northwest dental benefits trust fund; serving as a trustee of a pension fund for workers in the metal industry in the West; and setting legislative and political policy as a member of the National Planning Committee of the Machinists Non-Partisan Political League. He also chaired an IAM committee that coordinated local contract bargaining in the machine and manufacturing industry in the Pacific Northwest.

IN ADDITION, he was a senior member of the Oregon AFL-CIO Executive Board and its Finance Review Committee. Other facets of his busy schedule included being a board member of Guide Dogs of America, a Los Angeles area training program for seeing-eye dogs founded over 50 years ago by the IAM; and contributing his time to the board of directors of the Oregon Labor Press Publishing Company, the labor-owned, non-profit publisher of the Northwest Labor Press.

On top of all that, Miller served as a governor-appointed member of the Port of Portland Commission, which oversees Portland International Airport, other metro area airports, marine terminals, and the various other components of the port.

Although Miller was born in the Washington County seat of Hillsboro in 1935, he grew up on Southeast 21st Avenue in Portland, not far from where he later worked in the Machinists Building on Southeast 32nd Avenue, just off Powell Boulevard. His was a large family, consisting of seven brothers and two sisters. He graduated in 1954 from Cleveland High School.

AFTER WORKING for a while as a longshoreman he took a job as a degreaser at the old Iron Fireman factory on Southeast Ninth Avenue near the Ross Island Bridge. The company had been a major manufacturer of furnaces and coal-stoking equipment but was moving into becoming a key subcontractor for Boeing, making aircraft parts for assembly into airliners at factories in the Puget Sound area. Miller first became a member of Electrical Workers Local 49 but when he shifted to a job at the firm's plant on Northeast Sandy Boulevard he started working in the jurisdiction of Machinists Local 63 and joined that union. He became an operator of radial drills and small lathes.

A SERIES OF OWNERSHIP CHANGES for the Iron Fireman plants eventually resulted in Boeing taking over in 1974. The huge complex at 19000 NE Sandy was renamed Boeing of Portland. In his years at Iron Fireman and several other corporate entities and finally Boeing, Miller was active in Local 63 as a shop steward, chief steward, negotiating committee member, executive board member, and chairman of the union's bylaws, safety and picnic committees. He also was elected a delegate to various councils and conventions. He attended IAM leadership schools at the University of Oregon, University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Wisconsin. That experience and training prepared him for appointment as a District 24 business agent in 1977 and election as directing business representative in 1981.

George and his wife, Lois, who met when they were at Cleveland High, have been married for 45 years. They have a son, Jim, a Machinist employed by Boeing in Seattle, a daughter, Terry Banton, of Portland, and four grandchildren.

MILLER KEEPS somewhat busy in retirement by membership on two state panels - the Oregon Board of Maritime Pilots and the Prison Industries Board Advisory Committee.

Golf is a pleasurable pursuit for Miller, who plays three or four times a week at the Forest Hills course. In his younger years he played basketball and softball in Portland industrial leagues.

George and Lois teach Sunday School at the Foursquare Church in Beaverton, which they've attended for many years. For his accomplishments in life, George credits "my Christian beliefs and my wife, Lois. Without her support I wouldn't have made it."

MILLER CREDITS "the support of my brothers and sisters in the District 24 locals and the district's staff" for the success he had in negotiating good contracts for members employed by 198 employers from Portland north to Longview, Wash., and south to Eugene.

"I enjoyed every minute of my time in the labor movement," Miller said. "And I miss the action. But I've tried to stay away so I wouldn't get in anybody's way."


"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." What follows is a 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 4 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 about doing a good job than management did. From them she learned that 'no job, no matter how lowly, is truly unskilled.'

"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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