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Herb Rothschild Jr.: Unions, women and Senate District 3

I begin with two personal disclosures pertinent to the subject matter of this column. I’ve long been a member of Communication Workers of America; I’ve continued to pay monthly dues during my retirement. The union never directly benefited me, but my membership puts me in solidarity with the millions of workers whom labor unions lifted from exploitation and poverty. The drastic shrinkage of union membership in the U.S. since the 1960s (by two-thirds), with their consequent loss of political power, is the primary reason why the fruits of our labors have become so grossly maldistributed.

Second, during the 1970s, when the feds were pressuring universities to diversify their faculties, I oversaw affirmative action in my department, the largest on campus. When colleagues would complain that we were being forced to hire unqualified applicants, I told them no. The rule of thumb was that, everything else being roughly equal, we would choose a female or person of color over a white male. Actually, the quality of our faculty greatly improved during that decade. Since then, I’ve used the same rule of thumb when choosing candidates for public office.

To a large extent, unions have been responsible for their own decline. Our leadership seems unaware of the importance of public relations, so the enormous good we’ve done goes unnoticed. Can you recall ever seeing a positive story about unions in the mainstream media? Almost every newspaper and TV network has a business section or business report, but none have labor reports. When Oregon’s minimum hourly wage last stepped up (to $10.50), the Mail Tribune ran a story for which only business owners were interviewed. I faulted the paper in a letter to the editor, which to its credit was published, but the Oregon AFL-CIO should have issued a statewide news release to make sure that news outlets had ready access to workers’ response to the increase, which low-wage workers sorely needed.

More devastating has been the inability of union leadership to anticipate structural changes in the economy. As the manufacturing sector shrank and the service sector expanded, there was no major effort to unionize new workers. Finally, in the ’90s, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) got so disgusted by the AFL-CIO’s refusal to fund major organizing drives that it pulled out.

Which brings me to the Oregon AFL-CIO and its president, Tom Chamberlain. It is firmly behind the projected Jordan Cove connector pipeline and the LNG plant in Coos Bay. Its advocacy is a major reason Gov. Kate Brown remains silent on the matter, which totally compromises her self-presentation as a champion of climate action. Focused on the pitifully few in-state jobs the project promises, Chamberlain and some building trades officials can’t see the economic promise of the green economy.

The state AFL-CIO has endorsed Athena Goldberg in the Democratic primary for our State Senate district. It told Jeff Golden, another candidate, that it wouldn’t consider endorsing him if he didn’t agree to take its money, which he on principle refused. Goldberg took it. I can only infer that Chamberlain believes money means control, and Goldberg has been far less decisive on Jordan Cove than the other three candidates. But Chamberlain also may believe 2018 is the Year of the Woman in politics.

I hope so, but not in State Senate District 3. Goldberg is the least qualified of those running. Golden is the most. Of necessity, I’m voting for a white male unendorsed by organized labor.

Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Tidings every Saturday.