Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

October 3, 1997

THE NORTHWEST Oregon Labor Retirees Council has named to its Labor Hall of Fame Keith Johnson, former president of the International Woodworkers of America (IWA).

Johnson, 67, who is retired and living in Portland, was selected by delegates to the retiree council at their meeting last month in the board room of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

Johnson was the IWA'S last international president. He held the top job in the Portland-headquartered union from 1973 until 1987 when the membership decided to divide the union along national boundaries. That decision created two autonomous national unions-IWA-USA and IWA-Canada. IWA-USA has since become a division within the International Association of Machinists.

After the split, Johnson, a native of Canada, returned there to work for several years as a special representative of labour in the Canadian government's overseas market development program for that nation's timber products. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Johnson organized IWA worker delegations to visit major overseas markets and report back to their locals the findings of their trips.

JOHNSON WAS BORN in Edmonton, Alberta, on July 20, 1930. His parents were homesteaders from Northern Saskatchewan who'd settled in Alberta in the early 1900s. After leaving school he worked at various jobs, one being as a fireman on the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

At age 19 he joined the Canadian Navy for a five-year hitch and experienced extensive combat duty in the Korean War, serving on a destroyer off the Korean coast. After his naval service he returned to Edmonton in 1955 and took a job in a Weldwood of Canada plywood mill. He helped organize the mill's workers into the IWA and subsequently was elected plant chairman and a vice president of his local union. In 1957, with major organizing drives taking place within his local's jurisdiction, he was appointed an assistant business agent.

Three years later he was appointed financial secretary-business agent of the local and in 1962 was elected president-business agent. After serving on the IWA Western Canadian Regional Council executive board from 1960-64 he was elected to the union's international executive board in 1964.

JOHNSON MOVED to Portland in 1967 when he was elected international vice president and director of organization, working out of the IWA's international headquarters on North Lombard Street. In 1969 he was elected first vice president and in 1973 his fellow Woodworkers elected him international president. At that time he was only 43 years old, making him one of the youngest men and one of only two Canadians to lead a major union in North America.

With his elevation to IWA president, Johnson became active in labor affairs in the U.S. and overseas.

In 1974 he was elected a vice president of the AFL-CIO's Industrial Union Department and by 1987, when the IWA split occurred, he was the IUD's longest-serving vice president.

As an IUD vice president, Johnson was on various standing committees within the organization and assisted in presenting reports and recommendation to congressional committee hearings and IUD conventions. He also was a trustee of the Workers Institute for Safety and Health and a member of the U.S. Department of Labor's advisory committee for trade policy and negotiations.

JOHNSON SERVED three times as a workers' representative to International Labor Organization meetings on woodworking and forestry-related matters in Geneva, Switzerland, where the workers met with government and industry delegates from around the world. The worker delegates elected Johnson as their chairman, and he was instrumental in the formation of an ILO industrial committee for the wood industry.

In 1979 Johnson traveled to mainland China as a member of the first American trade union delegation to visit the People's Republic of China following normalization of relations between the United States and the Communist Chinese regime.

He was active in the National Labor Committee in Support of Democracy and Human Rights in El Salvador and accompanied other trade unionists on a tour of El Salvador and Nicaragua in February 1985.

Johnson and his wife Linda have made Portland their home since 1967 when he became an IWA vice president. Their four grown children also live in Portland.

THE OREGON LABOR Hall of Fame was started last April by the Northwest Oregon Labor Retirees Council to honor retired union activists for their achievements and thereby give younger union members a sense of labor's history. Officers of the retiree council are Arlene Collins, president; John O'Halloran, vice president, and Harold King, secretary-treasurer. Collins is a former president of Multnomah County Employees Local 88 and a former vice president of the Oregon AFL-CIO. O'Halloran is a former business manager of Portland Iron Workers Local 29, and King is a former officer of Oregon City Local 68 of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers.

OREGON REPUBLICANS, who've controlled both chambers of the State Legislature since the1995 session, are exacting their revenge for Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber's 43 vetoes of their ill-tempered legislation in the January to July 1997 session at Salem.

The Republicans rejected one of Governor Kitzhaber's appointments to the Portland Port Commission as one way of getting even with the Democratic chief executive. And in late September the Republican-controlled Legislative Emergency Board, which allocates funding in-between sessions, put off spending $1.5 million to help the Oregon Food Bank feed the hungry Oregonians whose food stamps were canceled by so-called "welfare reform." The not-so-Grand Old Party legislators probably figure that most economically-downtrodden people vote Democratic and aren't deserving of consideration by well-off Republicans.

One critic of the governor, State Representative Lynn Snodgrass, a Boring Republican, said Kitzhaber "does not consider the Legislature to be an equal and competent partner in governing this state."

Equal, perhaps. Competent, no. At least not on the record the Republicans have compiled as the majority party in the Legislature.

Snodgrass, by the way, had a 13 percent "right" voting record in the 1997 Legislature. She voted "right" on only one of the bills used by the Oregon AFL-CIO to assess House members' voting records.

Fifteen Republicans senators and representatives voted against working people on every one of the issues used on the AFL-CIO scorecard. Those with zero records included the right-wing ringleaders of the GOP. A few names: Brady Adams of Grants Pass, the Senate president; Gene Derfler of Salem, an advocate of privatizing and contracting out government services; Randy Miller of Lake Oswego, a former state GOP chairman.

QUESTIONABLE EXPENDITURES: U.S. taxpayers have paid out billions for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) research in outer space. Have we learned anything more, for example, about Mars than we did from the old Buck Rogers comic strips? Have the billions shot into space by NASA cured cancer, AIDS, or the common cold?

Taxpayers have paid $9 million through a special prosecutor to investigate the alleged wrongdoing by former Clinton Administration Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy, who's accused of taking $35,000 worth of gifts and gratuities from agriculture-related firms and individuals. Does it make sense to spend $9 million to investigate $35,000?


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