Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

October 5, 2001

LABOR'S HALL OF FAME, whose honorees have been chronicled here since 1997, was set up by the Northwest Oregon Labor Retirees Council to salute retired union workers for their contributions to the labor movement and to society in general. The retiree council meets monthly at the Portland office of the NW Oregon Labor Council, AFL-CIO. At those meetings delegates make their selections for the Labor Hall of Fame.

Because the Hall of Fame was established to honor living unionists, those labor figures who died before the hall was founded are not eligible for inclusion. So, perhaps it is time to call the roll of some of the legends of the past so that their names are not forgotten.

Reaching back to the beginning of the last century, a name that comes to the fore is G.Y. Harry of Portland Sheet Metal Workers Local 16. Harry's determination and hard work brought about the formation in 1902 of the Oregon State Federation of Labor as an affiliate of the American Federation of Labor, and he served as its first president. Elected with Harry were William H. Barry, Portland printer, who was the federation's secretary; Charles Mickley, Portland tailor, treasurer; vice presidents included J.F. Welch, Astoria fisherman; W.E. Miller, Salem federal unionist; Fred Langever, Pendleton painter; G.F. Johnson, Baker federal union member, and George Hornby, Portland longshoreman.

CHARLES H. GRAM of the Teamsters was the next president of the state labor federation and later was elected as the Oregon labor commissioner. He headed the Oregon Bureau of Labor from 1919 to 1943, when he was succeeded by Willam E. Kimsey, a member of Multnomah Typographical Union No. 58 of Portland. Kimsey held the office until the mid-1950s. The next labor commissioner was Norman O. Nilsen, a member of Portland Plumbers Local 51, who was elected in l954 and continued in office for 20 years.

The unionists who led the effort in l900 to launch this newspaper as the Portland Labor Press included Millworker J.A. Bushman, president of the Federated Trades Assembly; E. Edwards of the Cigarmakers; J.A. Goldrainer of the Barbers; John Beigi of the Brewers; George M. Orton of the Pressmen; B. Hesselberg of the Typographers; C.H. Weber of the Clerks; Frank Allert of the Machinists; W.H. Robertson of the Letter Carriers, and August Eachie of the Beer Drivers.

Others to remember include Otis D. Forte of the Brewery Trades; Frank R. Raeubig of the Metal Trades; E. J. Stack of the Cigarmakers, and Ben Osborne of the Building Trades. They were among the union leaders who later served on the board of directors of the Portland Labor Press, which in l914 became the Oregon Labor Press; and in 1987 was renamed the Northwest Labor Press. Osborne, the leader of Iron Workers Local 29, also served as an international vice president of the Iron Workers, and also was the executive secretary-treasurer of the Oregon State Federation of Labor from 1926 until his death in 1938.

LABOR LEADERS outside of the Rose City included Joe Moore, who was secretary of the Astoria Central Labor Council in the early 1900s; Claude Sylvester, secretary of Typographical Local 496 in Eugene, and O. C. Reynolds, secretary of Carpenters Local 1455 in Eugene. In 1919, C.F. Parker started a central labor council in Klamath Falls.

Captain Jack O'Brien, a member of Typographical Local 58, was an early 1900s president of the Portland Federated Trades Assembly, which was the city's central labor council that AFL President Sam Gompers had come to Oregon in the 1880s to personally establish.

WILL DALY, another printer from Local 58, also became the Rose City's central labor council president, and then headed the Oregon State Federation of Labor from l909 to 1912, when he was elected to the Portland City Council.

William A. Marshall, also of Local 58, who edited the Labor Press in 1911 and 1912, became known as "the godfather of the state's workmen's compensation law"because of his leadership in a successful ballot measure campaign to provide job-connected insurance to compensate injured workers and the dependents of those fatally hurt. Governor Oswald West appointed Marshall to the first State Industrial Accident Commission. Years later, in 1939 another governor, Charles Sprague, appointed another Labor Press editor, Clarence M. Rynerson, to the same commission.

Rynerson, who was yet another Local 58 member, had edited the Labor Press for 25 years. Gene Allen, then 24, a college-educated business agent for the Teamsters, succeeded Rynerson as editor. Allen later was elected a state senator and a Portland School Board member.

AN IMPORTANT labor official during many years of the last century was Otto Hartwig of Painters Local 10, who was president of the Oregon State Federation of Labor from 1916 through 1924. He also held the presidency of the Portland Cooperative Labor Temple Association, which in the early 1920s built a new Labor Temple on Southwest Fourth Avenue at Jefferson Street.

A pair of aces with distinguished careers in the Oregon labor movement were Gust Anderson, secretary of the Portland Labor Council from 1923 until 1958, and Phil Brady, who was the council's president during many of those years. Anderson, a 1917 charter member of what's now Transit Local 757, served in the Oregon Legislature at Salem as a Republican. Brady, for many years the secretary of Teamsters Local 499, also was president of Teamsters Joint Council No. 37 in addition to being the central labor council's president. Brady served in the Legislature as a Democrat.

THE ROLL CALL of labor legends of the past includes many women workers and union leaders. As was noted in this labor newspaper's 75th anniversary issue in 1975, "One of the great heroines of the Oregon labor movement is the woman responsible for the first wage and hour law in the country, Caroline Gleason. Miss Gleason, a social worker, in 1912 undertook a study of working conditions in factories and stores. As part of her survey, she took a job in a Portland paper box factory, pasting labels on the end of shoe boxes.

"After two or three labels our hands were covered with glue and had to be washed,"she told the Labor Press before her death, "but there was no hot water. We carried five-gallon pails of water to another part of the plant where live steam was pouring from a pipe. We held our pails under the pipe until the steam had heated the water. You must remember that this was piecework and all these preparations took time. In three days I earned $1.52."

MISS GLEASON also took careful note of the appalling sanitary and safety deficiencies in this and other plants. Her survey, published late in the year, had such an impact that a wage-hour bill was introduced on the opening day of the 1913 legislative session.

Caroline Gleason became Sister Miriam Theresa at Marylhurst College near Lake Oswego ... and as head of the sociology department educated young women to be social activists.

In 1916 a leader of the Portland Garment Workers, Elizabeth Gee, ran for the Oregon Legislature with the endorsement of the Labor Press but did not win.

In 1917 May Darling took the lead in founding Portland Federation of Teachers Local 111. In 1934 she became the first woman elected as a vice president of the Oregon State Federation of Labor. In 1947 she and Kelley Loe started the state federation's college scholarship program, which still continues, with several scholarships carrying her name.

(More names of labor legends of the past will be published in this space soon.)


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