Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

November 5, 1999

MARVIN LEE KELSO, a retired grand lodge representative of the International Association of Machinists (IAM), joins other union luminaries in the Labor Hall of Fame established by the Portland-based Northwest Oregon Labor Retirees Council, AFL-CIO.

Grand lodge representative is the IAM's job title for what other unions call a general representative or an international representative.

The new Hall of Famer retired seven years ago from the IAM's staff and returned to the Portland area from his post in Vallejo, Calif.

Kelso, now 72, was born in Sutherland, Nebraska, in 1927 and moved westward with his father in the waning years of the Great Depression of the 1930s. "The sand hills were caving in and the locusts had destroyed the crops," Kelso said in recalling those grim days.

HIS FATHER, the Reverend Lee James Kelso, left the ministry because of a theological schism within the Methodist Church. The senior Kelso traveled to Idaho with his son and found a job as a union carpenter working on a Mormon Church construction project in Pocatello. Later, another Mormon project beckoned them to Nampa in western Idaho. From there the father ran a dairy near Spokane in eastern Washington. Their next stop was Centralia in western Washington where the senior Kelso returned to the carpentry trade. Marv recalled that his father helped build the U.S. Army's chemical weapons depot at Umatilla in eastern Oregon. The Umatilla facility is often in the news as the government prepares to destroy its chemical arsenal there. His father also worked on early World War II government construction projects in Alaska's Aleutian Islands and at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Marv attended high school in Centralia and spent his summers as a teen-aged welder at Todd Shipyards in Tacoma, where he joined his first union, the Boilermakers.

When he turned 17 in May 1944, he enlisted in the wartime U.S. Merchant Marine at Seattle and shipped out as a cook, baker and ship's carpenter as a member of the Marine Cooks and Stewards. After the war ended in August of 1945, Marv became a union carpenter at Centralia until being hired as a gravel truck driver, a job that took him into the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Next came Teamster jobs as an over-the-road driver for Pacific Highway Transport and Inland Motor Freight.

BY AGE 25, Kelso was a family man, living in Kennewick, Wash., and commuting to Portland to drive big rigs for Consolidated Freightways. After a decade in that Teamster job he switched to becoming a truck mechanic at CF's shop in Portland. He joined the IAM's Auto Mechanics Local 1005 and soon became its shop steward in his workplace, thus embarking on his long career in the IAM.

In 1966, three years after joining Local 1005, Kelso was elected a business representative of the union and several years later was elected as its directing business representative. When the IAM made Portland District Lodge 24 a full-service district in 1973, Kelso became a business representative assigned to shops under contract to Local 1005.

Looking back on his years as a business agent for Local 1005 and District Council 24, Kelso voiced pride in a number of negotiating accomplishments for IAM shops (except those in the medal trades) in seven Western states. These included dental coverage, a "first" for IAM shops; elimination of seniority by job classification coupled with automatic progression to the top pay scale in 48 months; apprenticeship programs for apprenticeable trades, and medical-dental coverage for retired automotive Machinists, plus coverage for a surviving spouse for a year.

IN HIS YEARS with Local 1005 and District 24, Kelso held many posts in the Machinists and in labor and governmental groups. He was president of the Oregon Machinists Council; secretary-treasurer of the Oregon Machinists Non-Partisan Political League; secretary of the IAM's Western States Truck Line Committee; chairman of the dental insurance trust fund for Western states shops; served on the Oregon State Apprenticeship and Training Council and the Portland Automotive Apprenticeship Committee; was the Machinist vice president on the Pacific Coast Metal Trades Council; and represented Local 1005 on the District Council of Trade Unions when Portland Mayor Terry Schrunk signed the city's first union security agreement.

In addition, Kelso represented the labor council on the Health Systems Agency, which passed judgment on hospitals' certificates of need for federal financing of costly new equipment that in some cases duplicated a service already available. And he served on the Multnomah County Health Commission and on the Burnside Inebriate Project Committee for the rehabilitation of addicts.

IN AUGUST 1979, Kelso joined the IAM's international staff at the request of General Vice President Stan Jensen, who headed the union's Northwest Territory with headquarters in Portland. Later, the Northwest district became part of a larger Western Territories jurisdiction with its main office in Oakland, Calif.

Only two years into his new job, Kelso was laid off due to the job losses and labor union membership losses caused by the Reagan Recession and the right-wing anti-union policies of Republican President Ronald Reagan. Kelso's expertise in worker health insurance coverage and his knowledge of the health care industry landed him a good job as the Seattle-based vice president of marketing of the Safeguard Health Plan. He relinquished that private sector plum 10 months later when the IAM recalled him back to work.

In his years on the international's staff, Kelso carried out assignments in Hawaii and Alaska in addition to duties closer to his home base of Vallejo, near Oakland, where he was in charge of the IAM's government employees department for the Western Territories. In Alaska, he negotiated a transitional labor agreement covering some 800 employees of the Alaskan Railroad as it changed from federal ownership to state ownership. In Hawaii he negotiated contracts for members of the IAM and other unions employed at various federal installations including shipyards, hospitals and Army facilities.

Public speaking was also part of Kelso's duties with the IAM. One example was an assignment given him by IAM General President William W. Winpisinger. "Wimpy" was one of the architects of the 1980s "Rebuilding America Program," which advocated that labor, industry and government form a tripartite body to rebuild the nation's economy for the benefit of all citizens. Kelso was assigned to deliver a speech explaining Winpisinger's blueprint for improving the United States to students and faculty of Washington State University at Pullman.

SINCE HIS RETIREMENT, Kelso has immersed himself in activities involving his family, labor retiree organizations, World War II veterans groups and the Masonic Lodge. He's vice president of the District 24 Machinist Retirees, represents them on the executive board of the Northwest Oregon Labor Retirees Council, and belongs to the National Council of Senior Citizens which is headed by retired IAM President George Kourpias.

He's the worshipful master of Masonic Washington Lodge 46 in southeast Portland. He's the judge advocate of the Portland area AMVETS, and belongs to the WW II Merchant Marine Veterans.

Kelso and his wife, the former Carol Bessey of Sheridan, Wyo., have been married for 52 years. "Without her I could not have accomplished anything," he said. They have two sons, Jerry and Robert Kelso; two daughters, Diane McColl and Rebecca Peterson; five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.


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