Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

November 2, 2001

IN A RECENT ISSUE, this column listed some of the trade unionists of the past who belong in a hall of fame for the late greats of the Oregon labor movement. The list of yesteryear's legends continues in this issue.

KELLEY LOE, one of a number of printer-editor members of Multnomah Typographical Union No. 58, worked for the Labor Press in the late 1920s and into the 1930s after running his own weekly newspapers in the Midwest and in Washington across the Columbia River from Oregon.

After his Labor Press years as an assistant to Editor Clarence M. Rynerson, Loe became the research director for the Oregon State Federation of Labor and a distinguished labor lobbyist at the Legislature in Salem. As was noted in the Oct. 5 Labor Press, Loe assisted May Darling, a founder of Portland Teachers Local 111, in starting the labor federation's college scholarship program in 1947. She was the first woman elected as a vice president of the state labor federation, attaining that office in 1934.

Tom Scanlon, a member of the Newspaper Guild and an editor of the Union Register published by the Lumber and Sawmill Workers, succeeded Loe at the labor federation in the early 1950s. In 1956, Scanlon played an important behind-the-scenes role in ironing out the details of the merger of the Oregon Federation of Labor, an affiliate of the American Federation of Labor, and the Oregon CIO - Congress of Industrial Organizations. The national merger of the AFL and CIO took place in 1955. Scanlon followed in Loe's footsteps with his own distinguished career as a publicist and lobbyist for the state federation of labor. He also served as a governor-appointed member of state panels including the Oregon State Board of Education, and was on an advisory committee for the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. He was one of the founders of the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association.

TWO UNIONISTS who held seats at the same time on the Portland City Council were Bill Bowes of Typographical Local 58, and Stanley Earl, the leader of the Oregon CIO. Bowes was elected in the late 1930s with help from the Labor Press. He was succeeded as Local 58's secretary-treasurer by Al Clayton, who also served for years as chairman of the board of the Oregon Labor Press Publishing Company, the non-profit, labor-owned entity that publishes the NW Labor Press. When Earl was elected a city commissioner in the 1940s, the leadership of the state CIO was taken over by George Brown, an organizer for the Woodworkers.

When the Oregon AFL-CIO was formed in 1956, Brown became its elected political and legislative director. By the time he retired in 1969, he was widely regarded as a canny and effective political strategist and labor lobbyist.

The top post in the state labor federation was executive secretary-treasurer. James T. Marr held that job in the AFL state body from 1944 until the 1956 merger and continued as the leader of the merged federation until his retirement in 1965. That is the longest tenure of any federation leader. Marr was a founder of Municipal Employees Local 483, an affiliate of the Laborers International Union of North America, AFL-CIO. In his Local 483 days, Marr worked for the City of Portland's Parks Bureau.

THE LONGTIME presiding officer at meetings and conventions of the state labor federation was J.D. (Rosy) McDonald, who held the presidency from 1943 until his retirement in 1967. That year the Oregon AFL-CIO convention changed the top officer's title from executive secretary-treasurer to president. The change made secretary-treasurer an administrative post. McDONALD, WHO HAD PLAYED basketball for Clatskanie High School, served in the U.S. Army in World War I and afterwards ran two meat markets in St. Helens. He later was elected secretary-treasurer of Meat Cutters Local 143 in Portland and worked at that job while holding the part-time job of president of the state labor federation.

Marr, the executive officer, pressed McDonald into full-time duty as a lobbyist during the biennial sessions of the Oregon Legislature in Salem, and in 1952 the federation convention made the presidency a full-time office. McDonald was given the assignment of recruiting more local union affiliates of the AFL Oregon State Federation of Labor. His nickname of Rosy stemmed from the fresh rose he wore in his lapel.

GERTRUDE SWEET of Portland had as long a career as anyone in the Oregon labor movement. She joined Waitresses Local 305 in 1920, soon became its elected leader and went on to a long run as an international union vice president. When she retired from the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union in the 1990s, her career had covered more than 70 years and she was in her 90s.

Alice Wesling, a Local 305 leader after Sweet had moved up to the international union's staff, told the Labor Press in 1975, "The real work of organizing women did not begin until passage of the Wagner Act in 1935 made large-scale organizing efforts possible." The Wagner Act - also known as the National Labor Relations Act - stated that it was federal policy that workers had a right to join a labor union. Democrat Robert F. Wagner was a U.S. senator from New York. When he was in Portland as a senatorial observer of the bloody 1934 West Coast waterfront strike, he was riding in a union car that was fired on by police and employers' armed thugs. That was in the days when, to use the words of Portland police union leader Dave Callison, "Police were bagmen for the establishment and bully boys for the employers."

MRS. WESLING was one of the first women to serve on the Labor Press board of directors, doing so in the early 1950s. She was the only woman member of the blue-ribbon committee that thrashed out the fine points of the 1956 merger of the state bodies of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Agnes Quinn and Mary Jackson were among Local 305 activists who set up and operated a soup kitchen for striking Longshoremen in the 1934 strike. Jackson, later the leader of Local 305 and a member of the Oregon Wage and Hour Commission, served on the Labor Press board in the late 1950s. May Strand of #305 was on the board in the 1960s.

Janet Baumhover, who died recently at age 100, was a leader in the Portland chapter of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. She was an actress of note in Civic Theater productions and for many years ran the Committee on Political Education office of the Multnomah County Labor Council. She was a friend and colleague of another AFTRA leader, TV newsman and commentator Tom McCall, who was elected secretary of state and governor in the 1960s, serving into the 1970s.

OTHER LATE GREATS in the Oregon labor movement include Al Hartung, a president of the Portland-based International Woodworkers of America, and Earl Hartley and Kenny Davis, early-day leaders in the Portland-based Lumber and Sawmill Workers. The latter union is now the Western Council of Industrial Workers, an affiliate of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.

THREE MEN ARE AMONG many leaders of the Teamsters who should be mentioned: Ed Benjamin, Joe Edgar and Frank Kies. Benjamin, of Salem, was a president of Teamsters Joint Council 37 and had close ties to Mark Hatfield when he was governor. Edgar, of Portland, also was a president of Council 37 and was a friend of Neil Goldschmidt and other governors. Kies, also of Portland, was secretary-treasurer of Bakery and General Sales Drivers Local 499. In the time when the Teamsters were not affiliated with the AFL-CIO, Kies and Chuck Dodge of Food and Drug Clerks Local 1092 made the Portland Provision Trades Council a vehicle for unity between Teamsters and AFL-CIO unions in the food industry.


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