UFCW LOCAL 555 STRONG AND PROUD
THE PORTLAND CONNECTION
The Portland connection to Local 555 began in 1936 with the creation of Local 1092, started by seven grocery clerks. They were reacting to the pitiful lot of Portland Area grocery clerks, who worked as long as 72 hours a week for around $14.00. They had no job protection, no guaranteed breaks, no paid holidays and no benefits. Premium pay for Sunday or night work was unheard of. Paid vacations were for other people.
These seven clerks decided to try to do something about it. Tom Lenhart was elected President, and Malcom MacCloud, Secretary-Treasurer. It took nearly a year of meetings and sign-ups before the group felt able to apply for a Charter from the Retail Clerks International Association. It was granted on December 28, 1936, and Grocery Clerks Local 1092 was formed.
The fight had just begun. They had some success organizing the large independent grocers of whom there were many. Most of them were now paying higher wages for shorter work weeks, which were still closer to 72 hours than 40. The big chain operations were hostile, and refused either to recognize or bargain with the Union. Their employees were wary of joining for fear it would “cost them their job”.
TEAMSTERS COME TO THE RESCUE
The big breakthrough came with the aid of the Teamsters. They went to the chains and issued an ultimatum: “No union recognition, no deliveries.” Very soon after that the employers formed their own association, Food Employers, Inc., to deal with the upstart Union.
The new Local began to pick up steam. At a single mass meeting several hundred clerks signed membership cards. In February of 1937 negotiations for a contract began. Within a year the clerks were engaged in their first strike. They were out from May to September. The final Settlement gave them $2.50 a week increase in wages.
WOMEN ENTER THE WORKFORCE
The decade of the 1940’s passed swiftly. These were the war years, and a good portion of the membership was away in military service. The women grocers became an accepted part of contract language. Two breaks for her in the work day was a part of the industry. Wage, price controls and rationing were the order of the times.
There was much activity as the 1950’s unfolded. The Pharmacists were organized, and for a period the Local was called the Food and Drug Clerks Union. A short and bitter strike occurred in 1952. A major issue was medical insurance. The cause was lost, however, when a few clerks with company insurance took a small wage increase, and forced a settlement which withheld a medical trust for the entire membership. However, company paid medical was a benefit whose time had come. In the 1957 negotiations, an Employer paid trust for the membership became a fact. A third week of vacation after ten years, and a company paid sick leave came at the same time. A Journeyman Clerk’s wages had improved by the mid 1950’s to $1.31 per hour.
PENSIONS AND DENTAL CARE BECOME A REALITY
Urban explosion into the suburbs was rampant by the 1960’s and the employers made the move with the population. Step by step the members gained benefits that helped keep more of their paychecks in their pockets, and their contracts exceeded those of most labor groups. The Portland clerks gained a pension, dental care and prescription drug benefits.
LIGHTOWLER DYNASTY ENDS
George Lightowler, a long time Union Activist, served as Secretary Treasurer of the local from 1940 until he retired, because of ill health, in 1963.
The leadership reins were handed to Gordon Swope who served as Secretary Treasurer and later as President until 1974. During this period great strides were made in wages, contract language and benefits. Journeyman wages went from $2.80 per hour in 1966 to $3.92 in 1970. During the early 70’s all unions were traumatized by the Nixon wage and price guidelines which restricted pay increases to 5.5%, while allowing inflation to rise with few restrictions.
MERGERS MAKE US BIGGER
The Grocery units of Local 1121, Oregon City/West Linn were merged with Local 1092 on May 1, 1963. The non-food contracts went to the Retail Mercantile Union, Local 1257.
A major reorganization of the Retail Clerks Locals began in 1968. Local 1565, which represented clerks from Hood River to Bend was split and merged with locals 1092 and 992 of Salem. The Hood River/The Dalles area went to Local 1092 and the Bend/Redmond units were given to Salem. With this merger Local 992 ceded representation at the Yamhill County stores to Local 1092. Also effective July 1, 1968 was the merger of Local 147, Astoria/Tillamook, with Local 1092. The membership of the combined locals topped 6000 clerks. The reorganization was completed with the mergers of Local 201, Eugene/Roseburg, with Local 265 of Medford and Local 1257 with Local 1092.
With the election of 1973 came a new President, Dan Fortune, an employee of Fred Meyer. He was a long time Union activist and he defeated Gordon Swope at the polls. Dan was to serve less than a year before he was stricken with cancer and died in office.
Walt Derry, who had been Secretary Treasurer, became the new President. During his term, he moved the Union office from Ankeny Street to Davis Street. This was the fourth home of the Local. Original offices were in the old and then the new Labor Temples. The Davis Street building became a mini Labor Temple as extra space was rented to six labor related groups. The general election campaign of 1976 brought a complete change of leadership. Elected were Mike Hereford, President; Mike Swope, Secretary Treasurer; four new Union representatives, and six new Executive Board Members. This was the last election for union representatives. By a change in the International Constitution, all Rep’s were to be hired by the President with the approval of the Executive Board.
In the late 1970’s Local 800, a group of Professional and Health Care Workers and the Boot and Shoe Workers Local 366 merged with Local 1092.
These were followed by the merger of the newly formed Local 1093 representing the Memorial Coliseum workers with Local 1092. The membership now soared to over 7000.
The first shop steward program for the local was originated and headed by Grievance Director, Gene Pronovost in October, 1978. In 1979, two important resolutions were passed by the membership which established “coordinated bargaining”.
The summer of 1978 will be known as the year of the Portland Grocery Strike. The members were out twenty three days. The emotionally charged issues were the Employer proposal to reduce the health benefits for retirees and the issue of hours. Lost was the holiday closing for grocery. However, time and a half pay was negotiated for working the holiday. Portland’s Local 1092 was the last Local on the West Coast to give up holiday closings. The wage for Journeyman Clerk went to $7.215 per hour and “Cost of Living” language was paying off very well.
BUTCHERS JOIN THE CLERKS
Recognizing that there were many common areas among their members, the “Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen” and the “Retail Clerks International” began exploring ways to effectively merge the two unions. The talks continued throughout the 1970’s and culminated with the Merger Agreement of 1979, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union was born in June of that year.
The Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen came into being with a formal AFL charter in 1897. the Amalgamated was created out a group of Federal Labor Unions representing cattle butchers, hog butchers, sausage makers and retail meat cutters. But unlike the craft unions which made up the AFL at that point, this new unit was an international industrial union.
In the period between 1940 and 1964, the Amalgamated became know as the “merging union”. The greatest membership expansion took place during these years.
The movement started with the merging of the Sheep Shearers International Union in 1940. The United Leather workers International Union came into the Amalgamated fold in 1951, followed by the Stockyard workers Association of America in 1955.
Under the leadership of Abe Feringlass, the International Fur and Leather Workers Union, the major union in its field, also merged with the Amalgamated in 1955. The Agricultural Workers Union, headed by President H. L. Mitchell merged with the Amalgamated in 1960. And finally, the largest merger was accomplished in 1968 when Ralph Helstein led 95,000 United Packinghouse Workers to join the Amalgamated.
In November, 1979 Mike Hereford and Mike Swope were elected to the second term as the chief executive officers of Local 1092. Journeyman Clerks were being paid $7.715 per hour.
The 1981 contract gave Journeymen raises of sixty cents each year over the life of the three year contract. A cap of twenty cents was put on the C.O.L.A. (cost of living increases) due to some hefty raises over the previous three years. By June of 1983, the Journeyman rate was $10.55 per hour.
In 1982, after a spirited and lengthy campaign, Mike Hereford was re-elected as President and Joe Osa was elected Secretary Treasurer.
The 1983 negotiations were conducted during a time when business in general was struggling, and the Employers were adamant not to increase their costs. Journeyman rates were supposed to raise to $10.90, but because of a shortfall in Health contributions, twenty cents of that raise was diverted to the Trust. A thirty-five cent raise in 1986 was the last raise to be received in the 1980’s.
LOCAL 555 IS FORMED
Starting in 1983, the executive officers of Meatcutter Locals 143A and 1011 met with their counterparts in the Retail Locals 1092, 303 and 942 to discuss a merger along the lines of the 1979 International Merger. An agreement was reached in early 1985, and it was approved by the members of all the Locals. The International approved the merger, and Local 555 came into being.
Mike Hereford, Local 1092, was selected President. Bob Hogan, Local 143A, became the Secretary Treasurer. An executive committee was formed of the officers (Ken Gabriel, 143A; Joe Osa, 1092; Jim McCormick, 303; Cecil Cardwell, 303; Arliene Theisen, 942; Walt Derry, 942; Keith Jons, 1011, and Craig Marlette, 1011) of the former Locals. Betty Deulen of 143A was Recording Secretary. The Executive Board was composed of five members from each of the merging locals. The combined staff was too large for the building on Davis Street, and after a careful search, the Local moved into the Crossroads Center Building in Tigard.
1987 was a busy year, as the Portland contract was open and election of officers was mandated by the merger agreement. The Employers were still crying the blues and all wages were frozen for the next three years.
The election campaign was a tough and bitter struggle which was waged in lunch rooms, parking lots, restaurants and corporate boardrooms. The final count was close, but the membership had decided that they wanted to change to a leadership which promised improved contracts and fiscal responsibility. Ken MacKillop, a union representative from Salem, defeated Mike Hereford for the Presidency. Kathy Morris, a 17 year veteran meat wrapper from Safeway, won a large victory over incumbent, Bob Hogan former president of Local 143A, in a run-off election.
STRIKE BRINGS HIGHER WAGES
The Local entered the 1990’s with a bang. Negotiations were opened in Portland in April. Wage increases were agreed to early, but the Employers were proposing drastic cuts in the Health Care Package. The “Last and Final” offer was turned down by the membership, and a strike was necessary to settle the issues. Immediately following the strike, Ken MacKillop and Kathy Morris were re-elected to a second term. The Portland Journeyman Clerks were now earning $11.35 per hour and will be up to $12.20 in 1993.
A NEW HOME FOR LOCAL 555
In 1990, the Local 555 Executive Board decided to call a halt to paying high rents, and bought a building to call home. It was only two blocks from the Crossroads building and the move was completed by December 1990.
’94 FRED MEYER STRIKE
In 1994 another strike occurred in Vancouver and Portland involving Retail Grocery, Meat, and CCK. The primary employer target of the strike was Fred Meyers, and the main issue was seniority and the right for senior employees to secure more hours than junior employees. The strike theme was “Part Time America Won’t Work!”
UFCW 555 was not alone in this strike, as the Fred Meyer Teamsters at the warehouse struck Fred Meyer at the same time. Pickets on the Fred Meyer locations were staffed by both UFCW and Teamster members.
A newly organized non-food unit at the Coos Bay Fred Meyer location also joined the strike.
The very popular strike line daily newsletter “Freddy Front Lines” played an important role in keeping the strikers informed, and the morale high. News media and other labor organizations also wanted the daily newsletter. It took about 4 hours to fax the newsletter to all that wanted it.
The Vancouver-Portland strike ended after 87 days, and the Coos Bay strike ended a couple of weeks later. We were successful in getting new contract language which gave senior employees the right to claim schedules of junior employees that had more hours.
THE PRONOVOST PRESIDENCY
In 1996, President MacKillop and Secretary-Treasurer Morris retired, and Gene Pronovost was elected Union President and Ed Clay was elected Secretary-Treasurer.
When President Pronovost took office he was shocked to learn that the Union was fiscally broke, in fact had $100,000s in outstanding unpaid bills. With the support and cooperation of the International Union, an interest free loan was secured.
Getting the Local financially healthy was to be a significant hurdle, but President Pronovost proceeded with his plans to build a better union. The dues rates were standardized, a political education budget was created, payroll deductions for union dues was approved, and improvements in technology were implemented. The mortgage on the building was paid off, as was the debt to the International.
In 1999, Gene Pronovost established the first Steward Summit. It was to show appreciation to the stewards for their hard work and to continue the educational program. The annual summit has become a very popular and important part of the steward program that continues on today.
In 2001, International Union President Doug Dority nominated President Pronovost to serve on the International Executive Board as a Vice President. The International Executive Board serves approximately 1.4 million members. He was confirmed by the Board, and became the first International Vice President from Oregon.
In 2002, President Pronovost led UFCW Local 555, among other labor organizations, and the proponents of Ballot Measure 25 in Oregon. Ballot Measure 25 was a minimum wage bill that sought to raise the minimum wage in Oregon. Ballot Measure 25 was important because it included a provision for an annual cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA). President Pronovost was successful in passing Ballot Measure 25.
The 2002 Eugene Retail Food negotiations proved to be very challenging. The employers had been securing significant concessions in wages and benefits all across the country. A new contract was ratified as the Thanksgiving holiday approached. It did not include the two-tier concessions found in other union’s contracts.
In 2005, Secretary-Treasurer Ed Clay announced his retirement, and Lin Mayes, the Union’s Staff Director was appointed to replace him.
In 2005, President Pronovost, Secretary-Treasurer Lin Mayes, Recorder Mary Verpoorten, and their slate of 25 Vice Presidents made history for being the first time all officers were unopposed in their re-election bid. President Pronovost’s re-election to a fourth term was also historic.
In 2006, Secretary-Treasurer Lin Mayes announced his retirement, and Jeff McDonald, Executive Vice President was appointed to replace him.
CHANGE TO WIN
Change to Win was founded in September 2005 by seven unions and six million workers devoted to building a movement of working people with the power to provide workers a paycheck that supports a family, universal, affordable health care, a secure retirement and dignity on the job.
Change to Win’s primary focus is to unite the 50 million workers in Change to Win affiliate industries whose jobs cannot be outsourced and who are vital to the global economy — but who are not given a chance to reach the middle class. We are uniting workers in industries such as hospitality, construction, retail, food processing, healthcare, trucking and transportation among others.
The seven affiliated unions are: International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Laborers’ International Union of North America, Service Employees International Union, UNITE HERE, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, United Farm Workers of America, and United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
2008 Union Elections
In 2008, Union President Gene Pronovost decided to retire. Secretary-Treasurer Jeff McDonald and Union Representative Dan Clay both ran for the open seat. Following months of campaigning, the membership of Local 555 decided to support the campaign for change and elected Dan Clay to be president by a nearly 3-1 margin. Also elected was Clay’s running mate for Secretary-Treasurer, Jeff Anderson, and their entire slate of 25 vice-president candidates.