Schadenfreude

by Steve, June 22nd, 2012


Even though I don’t live in Portland anymore, I spilled some bits trying to keep Eileen Brady out of City Hall, mainly based on having crossed swords with her distinctly anti-union husband, Brian Rohter, while working for him in the 90s.

Brady was the first to declare, raised (and spent) a ton of money, had the support of the business community, and was the early front-runner. But she was ultimately eliminated in the May primary. She spent $1.3 million and took only 22% of the vote. Willamette Week notes this all-time spending record comes out to a whopping $46 per vote.

(About $31,000 of that scratch went to none other than BlueOregon publisher Kari Chisolm’s Mandate Media, which took close to $17,000 of public finance money from Jesse Cornett’s third place city council run in 2010. “In a rational universe,” one astute observer remarked to me, “Chisolm might develop a reputation as an over-priced loser.” But Portland is many, many miles from any kind of rational universe — see, for example, “Goldschmidt, Neil, continuing political influence of.”)

Willy Week published this map showing precinct-by-precinct results. Despite her massive spending (and Kari Chisolm’s campaign work) Brady only managed to win two (very small) precincts city-wide (marked blue on the map).

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I would guess that Brady, who floated trial balloons for a US Senate run in 2008, is done with electoral politics. The same can’t be said for the Kari Chisolm clown show. I’m sure they’ll keep taking money from clueless candidates and delivering virtual bupkes.

Friendly is as friendly does

by Steve, February 15th, 2012

labor

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Let’s all go shopping

Adding a little spice to the mix of the “progressive workplace” Eileen Brady helped create, supporters of fired New Seasons Market worker Ryan Gaughan held a rally outside of the Seven Corners store yesterday.

Ryan was well-regarded by customers and coworkers, and has a reputation for speaking up for himself and others. His supporters insist he was fired on trumped up charges.

(photo by Doug Geisler, used under the terms of a Creative Commons license)

So far, they’re just calling on New Seasons to rehire Ryan, and for a peer-review system for discipline.

Lurking behind it all is the dreaded “U word”, of course, but they don’t want to utter it just yet. They just want to focus on getting Ryan his job back first, a worthy cause if ever there was one. (They also probably don’t want to muddy the waters with any kind of Eileen Brady tie-in, but god help me, I just have to connect the dots of the bigger picture.)

I understand, because I’ve been there. It’s all so very familiar. In 1996, I was working for Stan Amy (president of New Seasons) at his previous grocery chain, Nature’s fresh Northwest. When Stan and his co-owners sold their business to publicly-traded GNC, some of us knew the old talk of being an “alternative” workplace wasn’t going to hold up. We tried to get a union certified, first for the entire chain, and finally just for the truck drivers. (Stan’s henchman, Brian “Mr. Eileen Brady” Rohter, fought us tooth and nail, and prevailed.)

Before we got the union involved, we tried a lot of what Ryan’s supporters are trying now. We spoke up at staff meetings. We wrote letters to the president and general manager. We asked politely. We got nowhere.

The same thing was going on at Food Front in the mid 90s. People writing letters. Asking. Demanding. Getting nowhere. They eventually ended up with UFCW Local 555 and a contract that was totally reasonable and workable from the management perspective. I worked there briefly and served as an assistant shop steward after leaving Nature’s in 1997. In 2007, Food Front staff voted to decertify their union. (I’m still shaking my head over that.)

Anyway, the point is, no matter how “cool” or “alternative” an employer is, the only way workers will gain a modicum of protection from arbitrary discipline is under a collective bargaining agreement. Without it, everything is only “cool” as long as you play along with management. If you speak up (or party with the wrong crew), you better watch your back.

New Seasons’ staff are facing a situation similar to what we faced at Nature’s: a once “family-owned” business is now majority-owned by an investment capital firm. The “friendly” factor looks more and more like a hollow marketing slogan than a way of doing business.

I wish them the best and offer my solidarity in their struggle against workplace injustice.

Make no mistake, even though they’re only minority investors, this is exactly the kind of “progressive workplace” Eileen Brady and Brian Rohter fostered with their business investment. Small wonder New Seasons turns out to be every bit as anti-union and anti-labor as Nature’s was, in pretty much the exact same ways.

Eileen Brady’s pass expires

by Steve, February 1st, 2012

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Let’s all go shopping

Last year, when Eileen Brady declared her intent to run for Portland Mayor, I started trying to draw attention to her and her husband’s anti-labor past with Nature’s fresh Northwest and its successor, New Seasons Market. Portland’s non-union (and often anti-union) media missed the boat completely and gave her a pass when she claimed credibility as a “progressive” employer.

Now Nigel Jaquiss, one of the few reporters in town who not only “gets it” on any number of issues, but also has the editorial freedom to “write it,” has dug up a remarkable passage in the New Seasons employee manual Brady takes credit for writing (her paternalistic husband claims he wrote the passage in question).

Labeling unions “extremist” and lumping them in with “anti-human rights organizations,” the manual appears in conflict with federal labor law (which guarantees workers the right to talk with and about unions).

Read Nigel’s piece to get all the hilarity of Brady’s husband Brian Rohter (who screamed sexism at an earlier WW piece) trying to shield his wife from criticism on this.

Way to go, Nigel. Glad there’s at least one reporter in Portland who is willing to probe Brady’s questionable past with regard to organized labor.

Update 2/1/2012 2:00pm: Brady’s campaign wasted no time getting a defensive e-mail blast out (read it on her campaign Web site).

YES for Beaverton Schools

by Steve, October 26th, 2011

Just so nobody’s confused (!) I support Beaverton School District’s local option levy on the ballot as measure 34-193.

I’ve written at great length about Oregon’s inadequate and unstable school funding, and urged our old district, Portland Public Schools, to turn to local funding. They renewed their local option levy at a higher rate. Now it’s Beaverton’s turn.

If you are in BSD, please vote yes on 34-193.

For the children.

(And the local, professional, living-wage, full-benefits jobs, and the economic development inherent in funding quality education.)

Happy Labor Day, from the anti-labor Oregonian

by Steve, September 5th, 2011

laborThe Oregonian has been nominally anti-labor, at least since their acrimonious 1959-1961 destruction of their own union. They have become more actively anti-labor since the 2009 appointment of libertarian N. Christian Anderson as publisher.

This Labor Day the Oregonian splashed the headline “A public unions battle in Oregon?” across A-1, above a story by clueless political hack Jeff Mapes which, without a hint of irony, details the anti-labor initiatives which may or may not make it onto the Oregon ballot, as well as past measures which have lost.

And who’s been the O’s go-to guy on this shit for years? Why of course, we get a money quote from and convicted felon Bill Sizemore above the fold on this day to celebrate working people: “It would be fun to have this on the ballot again…. It would be the ghost of Bill Sizemore on the ballot again.”

You’ve got to read well past the jump, to A-7, to find to a couple quotes from labor leaders. You know, the folks who actually have credibility with working people in this state.

Also above the fold is a headline about the US Postal Service’s fiscal woes, with a deck blaming “generous labor contracts” (and “the Net”).

Of course the O can’t be expected to note that working people are the vast majority of people, or that public sector unions buoy wages, benefits and working conditions for all workers, or that a major aggravating factor in the current, persistent recession is the loss of public sector jobs. Instead, we get the persistent drum beat of anti-worker, libertarian/monetarist, anti-deficit, counter-progressive propaganda. It’s not just the O, of course. But it’s kind of sickening to wake up to this crap on Labor Day.

Some answers to questions you may have

by Steve, August 7th, 2011

Looking at the server logs, I see you have some questions… and I got answers!

Is Portland passive aggressive?

Why yes, it is.

What do you love about Portland?

Many things.

Do you have any cartoons about gay marriage?

I linked to a bunch of cartoons back in 2007, when Oregon passed its domestic partner law. (This has been a long-standing prime driver of traffic to this site, believe it or not.)

Are there hockey stores in Portland?

Northwest Skate Authority has a pro shop at Sherwood Ice Arena and one at the Winterhawks Skating Center. Decent selection (for a small shop), good prices and great service.

Are there hockey bars in Portland?

Claudia’s Sports Pub is rumored to be a decent place to catch a game. I’ve never been there, though.

Is Portland mayoral candidate Eileen Brady anti-union?

I don’t know, but her hubby sure was back in the 90s. And so far, Portland’s credulous scrivener corps hasn’t bothered to ask her about it much.

Are employees at Brady’s New Seasons stores union?

Nope.

Did Paul Newman do his own skating in Slapshot?

Yes he did, at least according to the commentary by the Hansen brothers on the DVD.

Where are good seats at Portland’s Memorial Coliseum?

I’ve always liked section 69, row H for hockey. It’s second tier, center ice. I’ve also enjoyed sitting in the Hosers’ section in the end above the goal where the Hawks shoot twice. But the place has great sight lines all around.

Is Oregonian reporter Bryan Denson a stupid fucking credulous hack?

Dan Savage sure thinks so, and I couldn’t resist putting a link to his criticism on the front page of the Oregonian Web site. (I don’t see any queries in the logs like “Is the Oregonian a useless dinosaur of an establishment rag that can’t figure out how to operate in the new media world?” but the answer is, of course, an emphatic “Yes!!”)

And finally, the number one search that brings people to this site lately:

Do you have a Portland ZIP code map?

Well, sort of. I’ve got one I scanned out of a phone book several years back, then color coded to show the shameful maldistribution of educational investment in Portland. You’ll have better luck finding a ZIP at the US Postal Service site. Funny that this post still brings visitors, as it was the post that launched my brief but intense career as a pundit, citizen journalist, and community activist in Portland Public Schools.

Anti-union video all Target (and New Seasons?) employees must watch

by Steve, June 14th, 2011

It’s amazing how little the anti-union rhetoric changes. As Target enters the grocery business, they freely admit they’re poaching union jobs. I wonder if New Seasons’ owner and mayoral candidate Eileen Brady would be so candid.

Reporters giving Eileen Brady a pass on labor issues

by Steve, June 10th, 2011

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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.

It’s all good; it’s $ustainable!

by Steve, June 2nd, 2011
How the bad seed of greed infested Nature's

New Seasons Market founder Eileen Brady has declared in the race for Portland mayor. Since she has no political experience, she is leaning heavily on her experience as a “progressive” employer, among other things.

I’m down with a lot of the things she’s worked for: local, sustainable agriculture and health care, for example. But I got some bones to pick with the idea of New Seasons modeling a progressive workplace, based largely on my experience working for Brady’s husband Brian Rohter and New Seasons co-owner Stan Amy at Nature’s in the 90s. Things are obviously different at New Seasons today than they were 15 years ago at Nature’s. But casual conversations with New Seasons staff confirm to me that a general antipathy toward collective bargaining lurks at New Seasons just as it did at Nature’s.

In all the news coverage of Brady’s nascent campaign, I have yet to see a journalist broach organized labor with her. For example, can she call herself a progressive employer when she’s talking about the largest non-union grocery chain in town? A decent reporter with any sense of labor history might at least bring this up. The natural foods industry, led nationally by Whole Foods, is making non-union inroads into the traditionally well-organized grocery industry; it is the only growth sector in the business. But lazy Portland media, led by the consistently anti-union, pro-business Oregonian, will probably just leave this angle alone, despite its pertinence to a largely working class electorate.

So: Is Eileen Brady anti-union? If not, would she and her co-owners direct New Season’s management to recognize a staff union on card check, rather than intimidating workers and forcing a divisive certification vote, as happened at Nature’s in 1997? (The certification narrowly lost after a protracted war of attrition by management.)

I was involved at the outset of this effort to organize staff at Nature’s stores starting in 1996, and faced disciplinary action and textbook anti-union tactics for my efforts. Below is my story. It ran in the Portland Alliance in July 1997. (Willamette Week also covered the campaign, but their online archives also do not go back that far.)

Oh, but wait, before we get into that! I’m so excited about Eileen’s campaign, I’m making a video about her stores! It’s not quite ready, but here’s a rough mix preview of the song I wrote for it.

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Listen to that while you read this:

How the bad seed of greed infested Natures

By Steve Pings Rawley

It was the classic “good cop/ bad cop” routine. The general manager demanded information about the union. The human resources manager assured me that it was for my own good to tell all. Having collected union authorization cards from a majority of the eligible staff at my store, I knew I had to hold my ground.

The interrogation took place in a dank storage room above the funky Corbett Nature’s and followed a meeting in which general manager Brian Rohter and human resources manager Carole Ann Rogge explained the responsibilities of supervisors during a union campaign, including a prohibition on interrogations. When I refused to give any information, I was suspended for two days and forced to seek legal counsel. In order to keep my job, I was compelled to sign a gag order and a series of restrictive agreements.

The union campaign at Nature’s began in earnest shortly after the former owners sold the company for $17.5 million in August of 1996 to Pittsburgh-based General Nutrition companies. Stan Amy (who remains president with a five-year contract) pocketed $11.5 million, and as a polite gesture (perhaps to ease his conscience) distributed $500,000 in stock to the staff.

Nature’s, with its hippie roots, makes much of its commitment to earth-friendly causes and its development of staff as “knowledge workers.” Much is said about the company’s diversity, but a quick look around the room at a quarterly management meeting shows that Nature’s is overwhelmingly white in the upper echelons. By contrast, in a crowded kitchen in the basement of the Fremont store, a mostly Mexican and Central American crew toils to produce Nature’s own line of prepared foods.

A union contract for the staff would “destroy Nature’s culture,” says Rogge (who has only been with Nature’s since September of 1995). But this fiercely defended culture seems to be nothing more than a cult of personality surrounding Stan Amy. It is a throw-back to the times when there were only two or three stores employing fewer than 100 workers.

Nature’s employs close to 600 workers at six retail locations, and is owned by a multinational, publicly-traded corporation with 2,500 retail outlets. In light of this, many workers have begun to reject this notion of culture” imposed from above.

“They’ve got enough money to buy their own culture,” said Alan Ambrocio, a pro-union truck driver for Nature’s. “As a normal working person I just want a slice of the pie.”

The slice Nature’s workers currently get is small, with most jobs starting under seven dollars an hour and topping out at $10. Family insurance is prohibitively expensive, costing hundreds of dollars a month.

“If people could realize that they create their own workplace culture, their lives would better,” said Chris Ayers, another trucker and union activist. “We are the same people we were before the campaign began. We do our jobs, we love our jobs, and we’re good at it. What we’re doing is living out our ideals, and that’s what our culture is.”

Management has decided to fight to keep its staff from organizing at any cost. To this end they have retained the law firm Bullard Korshoj Smith and Jernstedt, renowned for their union-busting savvy. In response to a flyer written and distributed by Nature’s staff last fall, Rohter fired off a memo straight from his lawyers’ play-book.

After thoroughly trashing the union, using inflated figures and misstated data, the memo wrapped up, “Nature’s is not anti-union.” While many staff members were in hysterics at the irony, others were cowed by management’s surrealistic logic: If you are pro-union, you must be anti-Nature’s.

Management has attempted to control all information regarding the union. They have reacted largely with fear and denial, successfully whipping the faithful into an anti-union lather.

Union representatives were prohibited at all Nature’s sites, then criticized for making house calls. With a dearth of accurate information about collective bargaining available to staff, the union campaign appeared to be losing steam by the end of a chilly winter.

A core group of employees kept the faith, though, and the campaign resurfaced after 10-year veteran truck driver David Chavez was denied a promotion which was given to a driver with less than two years on the job. When Chavez protested, he was offered two weeks’ pay to find another job.

A self-described “company man” who likes his job and has a family to support, Chavez weathered this slap in the face from those he once considered friends and made the decision to organize. At a May 21 quarterly management meeting, he presented general manager Rohter with a letter requesting recognition of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 to represent the five truck drivers at Nature’s. Management’s response was predictable.

“Not only are they fighting it, they’re spending a lot of time and money trying to stop it,” said Chavez.

Management appealed the truckers’ request for a certification election to the National Labor Relations Board on specious ground. It became clear that this was merely a stalling tactic at the NLRB appeal hearing June 9 and 10, when management attempted to make the case that Nature’s is different from traditional employers and deserves special treatment under the law.

Human resources manager Rogge testified that Nature’s is “non-hierarchical,” and that decisions are made “with staff involvement… a lot of information is shared with staff in order to make decisions.”

“Nobody asked me if we should open a new store,” said Chavez. “Nobody asked me if we should sell the company.” With the appeal “they were reaching for anything” to slow down the process, he said.

Nature’s resistance to its employees’ efforts to organize is uncannily similar to the tactics of another hippie-gone-corporate company, Borders Books. There too, management attempts to trade on its leftish roots, and claims that collective bargaining will destroy “Borders culture.” Behind the friendly face of community, however, standard tactics of intimidation and legal wrangling are exercised to keep workers down.

Like Nature’s, Borders claims to want “one-on-one dialogue” with staff members, but retains Jackson, Lewis, a law firm known for its anti-labor work. Both company’s make a lot of noise about the salaries paid to union presidents, while keeping their own management salaries under wraps. [GNC CEO William Watts pocketed a cool $1.3 million in 1995.] And in the end, both companies make huge profits on the backs of under-paid retail workers.

The significance of these campaigns is not lost on the “born-again capitalists” (Stan Amy’s self-description) who run these companies. It is ultimately about retail workers taking control of their lives and demanding some modicum of power over their jobs. Whether or not a company has a “social mission” is irrelevant if workers are not provided a living wage, family benefits, protection for seniority, and democratic control in their workplace.

“Nature’s is a multimillion dollar corporation, owned by an even larger corporation,” said Chavez. “As much as they want to hold on to that ‘culture,’ their bottom line is making money.”

Portland rally for Wisconsin workers

by Steve, February 24th, 2011
  • Friday, Feb. 25, 4pm.
  • Director Park


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