Reporters giving Eileen Brady a pass on labor issues

by Steve, June 10th, 2011

[audio:LetsAllGoShopping.mp3] Let’s all go shopping

The Oregonian has never been much for covering labor issues, at least not since they busted their unions back in 1959-61. The O sets the pace for the rest of Portland’s media outlets, which are generally tone deaf to labor issues.

With a mayoral election looming, one of two early contenders coming from the business community, and an ugly national trend of attacks on collective bargaining rights, labor issues should be at the fore of this election. Or at least talked about.

But so far, not a single reporter has asked New Seasons founder Eileen Brady about her status as a non-union employer in a heavily unionized industry. Her campaign Web site features the subtitle “Progress the Portland way.”

Now, I realize “progress” can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, as a reader of history, there would have been no social progress in the 20th century without a strong organized labor movement. A non-union employer claiming to be progressive is a slap in the face to all the workers who sacrificed to bring us weekends, the eight-hour work day, and child labor laws, among other things.

But to Portland’s pliant news media, “progressive” is just another buzzword, like “sustainable” or “green.”

Let’s name names:

  • The O’s Steve Duin waxes at length about Brady, giving her hubby a pass when he says “What we do is basic: Take care of your staff….”
  • The O’s Brad Schmidt quotes a Brady supporter calling her “progressive,” and even interviews AFSCME rep Rob Wheaton about the race… but somehow doesn’t manage to ask Wheaton or Brady about labor practices at her business.
  • The O’s chief political hack Jeff Mapes blathers a bit on OBP radio about Brady entering the race, but somehow avoids broaching a single issue, much less labor. He also notices that she’s a woman, and declares this to be an issue in the race. Way to get to the crux of the matter, Mapes.
  • The O’s Anna Griffin is fascinated with Brady, and wants her and the other candidates to “start the civic conversation about what Portland will be now that it’s grown up.” (Wait… when did that happen?) That conversation would include “economic problems” but apparently, somehow, not labor policy.
  • The Tribune‘s Jim Redden extensively quotes Brady’s campaign literature. He doesn’t appear to question any of this, including the parts about creating jobs.
  • The Mercury‘s Jeopardy Champ Denis C. Theriault lets Brady utter the word “progressive” without asking her what that means with regard to labor issues.
  • OPB lets Brady prattle about “the greenest city in the world with strong and safe neighborhoods, and…a vibrant economy” and leaves it at that.
  • KATU recorded a campaign video for Brady. She’s “laser focused,” yo! She’s not a career politician! (Funny, but it doesn’t show up as an in-kind donation on Brady’s rapidly bloating balance sheet.) Oh, and the raw interview clip is preceded by an ad for “pro-business, low-tax Idaho.” What the….
  • Not to be outdone, KGW’s Randy Neves gave Brady a few seconds of air time to spew some happy talk. They evidently didn’t have time to do a full campaign video for her like KATU, so they embedded her official campaign video on their site, where she talks about Values! How she “created a progressive workplace with a true sense of community!” How she’s focused, yo!
  • No surprise that the dick-wagglin’ hacks (wait, is “dick-wagglin'” hyphenated?) at Wankers’ Corner, er, I mean, Blue Oregon ask lots of meta questions but jump down the throats of anybody who brings up labor issues. (And I thought Blue Oregon was a Democratic Party blog, and the Democratic Party was pro-labor, and… Oh, never mind.)

Portland’s credulous scrivener corps doesn’t understand that grocery industry spending and employment are relatively flat. This gets into some rudimentary economics, so let me spell it out. When New Seasons opens a store and hires staff, they’re not creating a net increase in jobs (assuming overall grocery spending remains flat). Instead, they take business from union grocery stores, effectively converting union jobs to non-union jobs.

Is that “Progress the Portland Way?” It’s a fair question, but not a single one of these hacks is asking it.

4 Responses to “Reporters giving Eileen Brady a pass on labor issues”

  1. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Steve, be interesting to see how this union stuff plays out. As a past union president and a person often protected by my union, and one who has seen a lot of negatives within the union also, it would seem that having a workplace which might be happy enough to not worry about having more control would seem to be a pretty good deal sometimes. I know that I have quit shopping at Safeway, a very unionized grocery, mostly because of the overall attitude toward the customer. I think you are absolutely correct to continue to suggest Eileen Brady answer the question of how she would treat union organizing in her store. This is different than saying they need to be unionized. I have worked in schools where the union was pretty innocuous because it was such a good place to work and also have worked in schools where I was damn glad the union was there.

    One of the Blue Oregon kindergartners :)

  2. Comment from Steve:

    The fundamental question is: Who gets to decide?

    It’s not up to management to say they’ve “set up an alternative work environment. I don’t think our employees support a union.” (Brady’s husband, Brian Rohter, quoted in Willamette Week, January 29,1997, defending his heavy-handed resistance to allowing a union election at Nature’s, New Seasons’ predecessor.)

    No union is perfect. But without collective bargaining, it’s always One Employee vs. The Company (and all its resources). This is great if the One Employee is liked by management and is content with his lot, but not so great if that One Employee has a problem with compensation or working conditions, or is the wrong color, sex, age, religion, or sexual orientation.

  3. Comment from Steve:

    Re. my “Kindergartners” comment: Having run blogs for a while, I find it astonishing that Kari lets comment threads get so trashy. It reflects poorly on him and the entire community he’s running over there. Give the dipshits who like to argue a time out.

  4. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    Speaking as a grrrl, give me my union, please. Cuz otherwise I’m going to get less money than the boys, I’m going to get hassled (physically and in other effed up ways) and have no one to stand with me to fight for my rights, and as soon as I “turn up pregnant,” I’m canned and out the door.

    (These are all situations I have dealt with, with and without a union, and without? No good.)


    Union Maid