Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

November 20, 1998

BUILDING TRADES UNIONS on both sides of the Columbia River from the gorge west to the Pacific Ocean last week celebrated the beginning of the Portland Building Trades Council, which 25 years ago evolved into the Columbia-Pacific Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO.

Joining the Portland council in forming the Columbia-Pacific were building trades councils on both the Oregon and Washington sides of the mighty river.

One of the early leaders of the Portland Building Trades was G.Y. Harry of Sheet Metal Workers Local 16. In those days, "the Portland Building Trades Council was regarded as the backbone of the labor movement, being the leading group in fighting for the eight-hour day," according to labor historian Kelley Lee, a union printer-editor who once worked for the Labor Press and later was a labor lobbyist at the Legislature in Salem.

Democratic Party activist Harry was a visionary who saw the importance of having a statewide labor organization through which local unions could advance a political and legislative agenda of benefit to workers and their families. Described in the Labor Press as a man with a heavy handlebar mustache and whiskers, Harry traveled the state, visiting local unions to preach the gospel of labor solidarity.

ALMOST SINGLEHANDEDLY, Harry formed the Oregon State Federation of Labor in 1902, with encouragement from the legendary Sam Gompers, the cigarmaker who was the founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor in Washington, D.C. Harry served as the Oregon federation's first president but declined to run for re-election.

Early building tradesmen employed innovative methods to spread the union word. As Frank Flori reported in the 75th anniversary edition of the Labor Press in 1975: "An eye-catching promotion by the Portland Building Trades Council in 1909 was the distribution of 25,O00 envelopes containing toothpicks and notices that said the new building of Olds, Wortman & King, a department store, was built with non-union labor." Decades later the store was just Olds & King, and later went out of business. The structure was remodeled into the Galleria.

One of the great successes of the Portland construction trades was the formation in the early 1960s of the Union Labor Retirement Association, which built the federally-financed, high-rise Union Manor retiree apartment complexes in the metropolitan area. The leaders in providing affordable housing for retired workers were Earl Kirkland, executive secretary-treasurer of the Portland Building Trades Council and later of the Columbia-Pacific council; Fred Manash, who preceded Kirkland in the Portland council post, and labor attorney Herbert Galton. Kirkland, now retired, lives in Arizona but still heads the Union Manors' sponsoring association. Manash and Galton are deceased but their major contributions to the Manors should not be forgotten.

WESTMORELAND'S UNION MANOR in southeast Portland, the first labor-sponsored apartment complex, opened in 1966. Marshall Union Manor in northwest Portland was dedicated in 1974, and the three Kirkland Union Manors got their start at SE 84th Avenue and Powell Boulevard in the early 1980s.

The Kirkland Manors were named for Earl Kirkland by his fellow members of the Union Labor Retirement Association board of directors. Kirkland was the leader in creating the Columbia-Pacific Building and Construction Trades Council in 1973. When he retired a decade ago he was succeeded in the council's leadership post by Wally Mehrens. Fittingly, Columbia-Pacific's office is in one of the Kirkland Union Manors. A dinner marking the council's birthday was held Nov. 14 at the Portland Hilton Hotel.


INITIATIVE PETITION PEDDLER William Lee Sizemore of Oregon Taxpayers United (OTU) attempted unsuccessfully to deprive public workers of an effective political voice with his Measure 59.

Sizemore's #59, defeated in the Nov. 3 general election, would have prohibited public workers' unions from utilizing payroll checkoffs to receive voluntary political action contributions from their members. Pollsters predicted that #59 would pass but voters weren't listening. The average worker gives his union's political action committee (PAC) only a tiny fraction of the zero-heavy amounts sluiced into Sizemore's various politied entities by his wealthy backers. Sizemore's noms de plume include his pro-#59 PAC, OTU's PAC, and OTU's non-profit Educational Foundation, plus the PAC which took in and dispensed money for his campaign as the Republican nominee for governor. As a gubernatorial aspirant, Sizemore's 30 percent of the vote put him two Fahrenheit degrees below freezing and made him Sizeless as a candidate.

One of Sizemore's big contributors was real estate developer Robert Randall of 9500 SW Barbur Blvd., Portland, who invested at least $100,000 toward passage of union-bashing #59. Randall, who owns more apartments in the metro area than the Portland Housing Authority, has written hefty checks for various Sizemore political undertakings in the past five years, including 1994's Ballot Measure 8 which would have cut public employees' wages, pensions and other benefits.

RANDALL ALSO GAVE at least $10,000 to the defeat of the South/North expansion of Tri-Met's light-rail system in the Nov. 3 election. Apparently, the tenants of his apartments don't use light rail.

From faraway Cincinnati, Ohio, Carl Lindner, the top banana of Chiquita Brands International Inc., peeled off $50,000 for Sizemore's Measure 59 campaign to choke the political voice of public workers in Oregon.

Closer to home, Klamath Falls door manufacturer Richard Wendt contributed $25,000 to Sizemore's hope of becoming governor. Companies and executives in the timber, construction, motel, auto and manufacturing businesses also made major contributions to one or more of Sizemore's PACs.

Sizemore has made his living the last five years by turning anti-worker, anti-tax initiative petitions into ballot measures for OTU's wealthy backers who pay him more than $50,000 a year. So it's not surprising that OTU has already announced plans to circulate petitions on behalf a #59 clone for the elections in 2000. Probably the only thing that'd stop those plans would be if Sizeless's financial angels tire of his failures and stop underwriting him.

THE REPUBLICAN MAJORITY in Congress seems to be having difficulty understanding the message from voters contained in the Nov. 3 general election results.

Illinois Republican Congressman Henry Hyde, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, is moving ahead with a full head of steam and sanctimony in his efforts to impeach Democratic President Bill Clinton over his sex and lies caper. The election outcomes and reports on voters' opinions told the nation that the public is fed up with special persecutor Ken Starr's sexual snooping and Republicans' determination to find a case for impeachment in the president's dirty linen. Voters want the White House and Congress to concentrate on the real problems facing them and the nation.

After the first of the year when two Grand Old Party faces are missing in the Senate, it may occur to Hyde-bound Republicans that something did indeed happen on Nov. 3. The two absentees will be New York's Alphonse D'Amato, who conducted the Senate's Whitewater hearings, and North Carolina's Lauch Faircloth, Ken Starr's best buddy in Congress. Faircloth was a member of that right-wing cabal of U.S. senators and judges who personally sicced the voyeuristic Starr on President Clinton.


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