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

labor

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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).

Child rapist Neil Goldschmidt and what would have been (convicted felon, registered predatory sex offender)

by Steve, January 30th, 2012

If justice had been served in the case of Neil Goldschmidt’s serial rape, he would now be in prison, or, if he’d already served his time, he would be a registered sex offender.

If, as he said, he started raping his victim when she was 15, he would have been convicted of one or more counts of third degree rape, a class C felony.

If, as she said (may she rest in peace), he started raping her when she was 13, he would have been convicted of one or more counts of second degree rape, a class B felony.

Second degree rape is an Oregon Measure 11 crime; each count carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 6 years and 3 months.

In either case (second or third degree), Goldschmidt would have been branded a convicted felon and compelled to register as a sex offender after serving his time, likely as a predatory sex offender. As such, he would be prohibited from schools, parks, day care centers, skate parks, or other places minors congregate.

So, Krista Swan, you may have your feelings hurt by getting called out on this, but think of it this way: if justice had been served, would you be as giddy to have run into a registered predatory sex offender at the West Café, and would your friend April Severson be honored to be on his top five list? Would you write about it and post it under “Family” on your mom blog? What if it had been Jerry Sandusky instead of Neil Goldschmidt?

You ask the twitterverse “Does it mean I’ve ‘made it’ as a blogger when I start getting hateful, ‘What kind of mother are you?’ comments on the blog?”

What do you expect to hear back? “Oh, it’s okay that you venerate a child rapist. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t go after your daughter.”

I’m sorry you think we “suck” for pointing out how disgusting it is to pay homage to this sick bastard. Maybe you should consider how much it “sucked” for Goldschmidt’s victim, knowing that if she went public, she’d be pilloried by people who still worship Goldschmidt, who still think he’s “the man.”

The fact is, Neil Goldschmidt didn’t just repeatedly rape a teenager. He destroyed a human life. Was that life worth nothing in the end?

From within the hermetic little world of Portland’s elites, it must create a great deal of cognitive dissonance to hear Goldschmidt called what he is: a child rapist, a destroyer of human life. After all, so many people in this little berg owe their careers, wealth and status to the patronage machine he created.

As his victim said, “Neil Goldschmidt is God.”

But from outside that incestuous world, to normal parents fiercely protecting their children above all else, he’s sick and dangerous. He needs to be separated from the herd, not revered, not allowed to re-emerge as a public figure whose opinion is to be valued.

The “conspiracy of indifference,” as Fred Leonhardt called it, must finally be exposed and destroyed.

So here’s what you do, if you’re at a restaurant and a known child rapist (say, Neil Goldschmidt) walks in: Inform your server that you are not comfortable dining in his presence. If they seat him anyway, get your food packed to go, get up, and walk out.

Update 2/6/2012: Krista has, to her credit, removed the offensive post about Goldschmidt.

Update 2/9/2012: Evidently, the post was only removed by accident. Or maybe Krista wants to stand up to the Internet Meanies. In any case, it’s back. Some people have no shame.

Sickening doesn’t begin to cover it

by Steve, January 28th, 2012

A friend tipped me of to this blog post, by a local blogger Krista Swan, giddy over her encounter with child-rapist Neil Goldschmidt. He flattered Swan’s friend April Severson with a spot on his list of top five Oregonians.

At the top of the list is none other than Phil Knight, who recently made national news making excuses for Joe Paterno at the late football coach’s funeral.

This isn’t the first sign of Goldschmidt trying to rehabilitate his image. Was this blog post encouraged for that purpose? We’ll never know for sure. Swan might be playing his useful idiot, or maybe she was genuinely charmed by him.

She posted a link to her blog post on Facebook, and got some sickeningly saccharine responses.

“He always knew how to charm the ladies,” comments one of her friends. Sick sick sick sick sick.

Swan’s blog post was filed under “Family.” Somebody better tell Krista’s daughter to stay the hell away from this predator as she gets older. It doesn’t sound like her mother is likely to protect her.

Update, 1/28/2012 8:20pm: I see Steve Duin beat me to this by a couple days. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks this is really, really off base.

Update, 2/6/2012: Krista has removed her blog post about Goldschmidt.

Update 2/9/2012: Evidently, the post was only removed by accident. Or maybe Krista wants to stand up to the Internet Meanies. In any case, it’s back. Some people have no shame.

Rob Ingram

by Steve, November 27th, 2011

A great man passed today. Rest in Peace, Rob. You will be missed.

“I’m one of those guys who believes that actors and musicians and athletes are a little over-paid, and our teachers and social workers are way under-paid.” –Rob Ingram, in a 2009 audio podcast interview.

A real labor candidate to challenge Eileen Brady?

by Steve, August 9th, 2011

laborAFL-CIO president Tom Chamberlain is considering running for mayor. This could finally force Portland’s complacent news media to talk about labor issues as a factor in Portland’s mayoral race.

I love this quote: “I really think the issue of jobs has to be from someone who has either created jobs, or represented workers, or worked on an agenda to create jobs. I don’t know if the other two candidates have done that.”

New Seasons co-founder Eileen Brady likes to talk about all the warm and fuzzy jobs her company has created, but as I’ve pointed out before, she hasn’t created a net increase in grocery jobs. Instead, she’s creating non-union grocery jobs where union grocery jobs used to exist. Put a bird on it, call it sustainable, and sell it to the hipsters. But that shit don’t fly when up against a real labor leader.

Reporters giving Eileen Brady a pass on labor issues

by Steve, June 10th, 2011

politics

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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.”

The unpunished child rapist, and those who winked and nodded

by Steve, February 13th, 2011

Fred Leonhard has a great op-ed in the Eugene Registar Guard comparing Portland and the Neil Goldschmidt child rape story to the title city in Ursula K. Leguin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” (Both The Oregonian and Willamette Week declined opportunities to publish this piece.)

The parallels to LeGuin’s story are powerful and haunting.

Many, many still-powerful Portland figures knew about the ongoing child rape. They are accessories to a crime that claimed the life of a girl. So far, nobody’s saying names out loud (ahem– Greg Kantor, Earl Blumenauer), but suffice it to say, the list is extensive and almost all-inclusive. Will nobody pay any price for this woman’s life?

Only Fred has (so far?) had the moral conviction and courage to speak out.

So the mayor, a councilman and a billionaire walk into a bar…

by Steve, October 14th, 2010

Geo. W. Bush and Henry Paulson

If you know me, or if you’ve read this blog from time to time, you’ve got some inkling what I think of Merritt Paulson, ultra-rich scion of former Goldman Sachs CEO and Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. (If you don’t know me, and don’t want to follow the links, here’s what I think: he’s a spoiled rich kid playing sports team owner and an annoying little twit.)

After a bizarre series of attempted deals with the Mayor of Portland, Sam Adams, and the shadow mayor, Portland Commissioner Randy Leonard — who tried like hell to figure out a way to build the Paulsons two stadiums on the public dime, but ran into tenatious opposition from veterans, architects, urban planners, neighborhood activists and historic preservationists — poor wittle Merrit only got one stadium and had to sell his wittle baseball team for lack of a suitable playground.

(His daddy is a partner in his minor league sports empire, by the way, so it’s a wonder he wouldn’t put up more cash to build a stadium if it’s such a sure fire financial win to invest in sports stadiums as is frequently claimed. But I digress….)

The excavators are already busy at PGE Park (nee Civic Stadium; the Paulsons get the dough on the naming deal), ripping out part of the $38.5 million renovations done in 2001. These renovations, that Portland is still paying off, were done to make it a better venue for baseball, including a retro, manually-operated scoreboard. It’s a long story. Cutting to the chase: they’re re-renovating nine years later as a soccer-specific venue, to the exclusion of baseball.

Today comes the news that the Portland Beavers have been sold as expected, and are officially moving to Escondido, California.

I generally avoid the crappy comments section at OregonLive, the crappy Web partner of our crappy daily The Oregonian, but today I couldn’t resist jumping in to the Soccer v. Baseball war when somebody posted an invitation to a “Timbers Army/Sam Adams joke contest.” Here’s my entry, edited here in a vain attempt to punch it up a little:

A mayor, a councilman and a billionaire walk into a bar. A couple sleepy customers are watching a baseball game on the screen behind the bar. Bartender says, what’ll it be, boys? Mayor says, whatever my friend here wants, it’s on the house. Bartender says, no way pal, hit the road.

Next thing you know, a bunch of drunken, middle-aged, white man-children wearing scarves are flooding through the front door, knocking over tables and singing vulgar songs…. pretty soon the sleepy baseball fans are out on their ears, there’s a soccer game on the TV, the billionaire’s behind the bar with his hands in the till and the bartender’s getting beat up by the councilman.

The mayor takes out his phone and tweets: “This is a great day for Portland. #timbersarmy #mls”

Yeah. It’s a joke, but it’s not very funny.

Do me better. What’s your Portland/Sam Adams/Merritt Paulson/Randy Leonard/Timbers Army/Beavers joke?