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Why the Oaks Park Labor Day picnic is no more

Aug 17, 2022 Culture


"For thousands of union members and their families, it was a tradition that lasted over 20 years: The biggest official Labor Day gathering in the Portland metro region meant a visit to Oaks Amusement Park, and a day of hamburgers, rollercoasters, fellowship, music, and speeches by politicians. As many as 16,000 attended in a typical year, a logistical feat that involved offsite parking near OMSI and a free-for-the-day train ride.

But the Oaks Parks Labor Day Picnic is no more. The picnic took a hiatus in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 health guidelines restricting large crowds. But the picnic’s return in 2022, organizers say, was killed off by the park’s own management. 

The park is run by the nonprofit Oaks Park Association, and after its longtime director died, it hired a new CEO, Brandon Roben, who’d led the troubled Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville. Picnic organizers say Roben made a slew of changes that might as well have been crafted specifically to put an end to the event. Last October, park management terminated longtime picnic director Brenda Stephens, a 30-year employee who had worked with the labor council to make the event a success. The park also dismantled the stage where politicians and union officers spoke. They cut down trees. They reduced the number of picnic areas from 22 to 14. They eliminated the in-house catering department, and announced a 20% service fee for outside caterers the labor council would  want to bring in. And to top it all off, they proposed to triple the prices for ride bracelets, from $13.17 to $47.95 each. The park is charming, but it’s no Disneyland, and that would be an absurd amount to pay on the busiest day of the year, when long lines would limit the number of rides kids could take.

And that’s not even all. They also eliminated a crucial policy that made the event a success—allowing unions to buy ride bracelets in bulk and return unused bracelets for a refund. Instead, unions could buy bracelets at a 25% discount up to three days before, but would have to pay the full price for more on the day of.

Labor Council leaders were incredulous when IBEW Local 48 financial assistant Tracey Powers and other volunteer picnic organizers reported the changes this Spring, but focused on a leadership transition, the council was unable to pull together an alternate location this year.

The central labor council wasn’t the only labor organization to end its tradition at Oaks Park: IBEW Local 48, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 8 and the Machinists, which held their own summer picnics there on other dates, moved elsewhere this year. 

ILWU Local 8 had been holding its annual picnic at Oaks Park even longer than the labor council — at least 40 years, says Local 8 office manager Shelby Palmer. The longshore union’s picnic, drawing up to 1,500 attendees, was always on the same day: July 5. That’s a sacred day for ILWU members, because it commemorates the day when San Francisco police killed two workers during a West Coast dock strike. That 1934 strike played a crucial role in the union’s formation, and to this day, “Bloody Thursday” is a paid holiday in the West Coast longshore union contract. Every year, Local 8 members and their families would honor the slain by placing wreaths in the Willamette River at Oaks Park, a solemn scene captured in an OPB documentary that aired earlier this year.

So it came as a shock and surprise when ILWU Local 8 was told that Oaks Parks is no longer open on Tuesdays, and wouldn’t make an exception to let ILWU hold its picnic there this year, Tuesday, July 5. Palmer says that—and an initial ask of $75 for ride bracelets—made the union feel unappreciated, and unwelcome. Local 8 moved its picnic to Alderbrook Park in Clark County. Palmer says Alderbrook has picked up a lot of picnic business from Oaks Park; Local 8 expects to hold theirs at Alderbrook again next year, and won’t be going back to Oaks Park.

The Oaks Park Labor Day picnic was a joyous event, and unifying, bringing together not just the AFL-CIO unions of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council but also members of unaffiliated unions like the Carpenters and SEIU.  

Prior to 1998, the Labor Council held its picnic at Blue Lake Park. That will be one option as organizers look for a suitable venue for the picnic’s return in 2023."


Toxic Work Environment

Aug 17, 2022

You name it, AFSCME-represented hazardous waste workers handle it. The job combines science, a strong stomach and a whole lot of caution.


Shipyard painters go union

Aug 17, 2022

A dozen workers who paint vessels on Swan Island in Portland have unionized, increasing the union density at the Vigor Industrial shipyard.

The above information is Copyright © 1997-2022, via Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.

 Older stuff

Ironworkers protest Facebook

Apr 18, 2018 Jobs

By Don McIntosh

Out-of-work members, retirees and staff from Iron Workers Local 29 showed up April 11 and 12 outside the Facebook data center in Prineville, Oregon, to protest the use of low-wage nonunion ironworkers from out of state in a major expansion. Facebook has received $71.5 million in Oregon property tax credits — and got a special legislative fix to lower its data center tax bills — and yet its general contractor Fortis Construction has hired nonunion subcontractors like Sure Steel of Utah on the Prineville expansion.

see more at:


Fast Track traitors being uninvited from the Labor Day picnic (which they have been at every year) is a great first step.

Northwest Labor Press's photo.

Fair Trade or Bust Fast Track Protest

By Don McIntosh, Associate Editor 

The AFL-CIO has begun an all-out campaign to defeat “fast track” in Congress, and a vote on it is expected within days or weeks.

Fast track, also referred to as trade promotion authority, is legislation that would make it easier for Congress to pass more NAFTA-style trade agreements — including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a super-secret agreement being negotiated with 11 other Pacific Rim nations. Under fast track, when the president presents a trade agreement, Congress must hold an up-or-down vote within 90 days, with limited debate and no amendments.

If Congress passes fast track this time, the consequences could be enormous. TPP has been called “NAFTA on steroids” by its critics. It would cover almost 40 percent of the world’s economy, including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.

more at:

Union Organizing

After obstruction and delay, City of Portland ordered to proceed with union election for park rangers

City obstructed and delayed for a year, but now park rangers get to join DCTU…

Collective Bargaining

Portland State University professors authorize strike

AAUP says they’re ready to walk out to promote greater stability and defend faculty role in governance…

City of Portland workers voting on
tentative contract agreement

By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor

After nearly a year of contentious negotiations, about 1,300 City of Portland workers had a chance to vote on a new union contract this week and last. They are members of the seven-union coalition known as the District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU). DCTU represents 1,583 City workers, but a little over 300 of those are “fair share” employees who chose not to join the union and therefore don’t get to vote on the contract.

The rest of these stories:
Pictures above include work by W Labor Press associate editor Don McIntosh, as published in NW Labor Press.


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