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About Northwest labor press. (Portland , Ore.) 1987-current | View Entire Issue (March 3, 2006)
Let me say this about that
—By Gene Klare
Byrd seeks vacant AFL-CIO post;
COPE to consider political agenda
Executive, General and
COPE boards meet
March 10 in Portland.
Death of telegrams
THE RECENT DEMISE of telegrams as a mode of communication
recalls the long-ago life of a labor history-maker, Mrs. O.D. Cook, who
was a skilled telegrapher and Morse Code operator. She died in a Portland
hospital at age 78 on Friday, Dec. 5, 1958.
The last Western Union telegram was sent on Friday, Jan. 27, 2006. An
article in the New York Times said the death of the telegram was a case of
Western Union “bowing to the ascendancy of modern technology like e-
mail.” Reporter Shelly Freierman also noted that Western Union, which
started in Rochester, N.Y., in 1851, “drove the Pony Express ... out of busi-
ness by offering delivery of a message across the count y in less than a
day...” compared to 10 days for Pony Express. The NYT added: ‘In the
relatively recent era of e-mail and instant messaging, telegrams were usu-
ally delivered by overnight courier services...At the height of business in
1929, more than 200 million telegrams were sent around the world. Just un-
der 21,000 were sent last year.”
TELEGRAPHER COOK preferred using her initials instead of her
first and middle names, Ola Delight. Her friends called her “Cookie.” She
was born Jan. 21, 1880, in Millersburg, Illinois, and soon moved with her
parents to the Deep South. As a young woman she became an accom-
plished railroad telegrapher and Morse Code operator, working on rail-
roads in Alabama and Georgia. She joined the Railroad Telegraphers Union
She became a union organizer shortly after joining the RTU and was an
active participant in the early struggles to organize railroad and textile
workers in the South. She once described her experiences in these words:
“I went through hell for this labor movement. I rode boxcars. I was chased
by railroad police. I hid behind depots and I fought them.”
SAMUEL GOMPERS, the founder and first president of the American
Federation of Labor, admired O.D. Cook’s courageous organizing and be-
came her friend, referring to her as “daughter.” He appointed her as an AFL
organizer and gave her a credential attesting to her connection with the na-
tional labor federation. Her AFL role was unpaid but she proudly carried
the Gompers credential throughout her life.
In some of the early Textile Workers’ strikes before World War I, Mrs.
Cook was assigned to help strikers and their families who had been evicted
from company-owned houses. She arranged for setting up tents to house
them and established community kitchens to feed them.
HER UNION ACTIVITY resulted in Cook being blacklisted by the
railroads in the South, so in 1923 at age 43 she decided to move far away
and picked Portland as her new home. By the time she arrived, she was
broke. She sought refuge at the YWCA — the Young Women’s Christian
Association — where she was given a room and a job washing dishes to
pay for her meals and lodging. She soon found a job at the Postal Tele-
graph office — a competitor to Western Union. Later, she went to work for
Western Union where she helped establish Commercial Telegraphers
Union Local 92. She represented Local 92 for more than 15 years at the
central labor council and the state labor federation. She also maintained a
close association with railroad unions and devoted many hours to volunteer
work for labor’s Committee on Political Education.
Mrs. Cook never forgot the helping hand extended to her by the YWCA.
In 1955 she sparked labor’s participation in financing the construction of a
new building for the YWCA. She served on the organization’s board of di-
rectors from 1955 until her death in 1958.
MRS. COOK RETIRED from Western Union in 1950 at the age of 70
and was honored at a party given by her fellow members of Commercial
(Turn to Page 11)
The Oregon AFL-CIO Executive
Board will appoint a new secretary-
treasurer when it meets at 10 a.m. Fri-
day, March 10, at the Sheet Metal
Workers Local 16 Hall, 2379 NE 178th
The post has been vacant since De-
cember, when longtime Secretary-Trea-
surer Brad Witt was ruled ineligible to
serve because his union, United Food
and Commercial Workers Local 555,
was not an affiliate.
UFCW pulled out of the national
AFL-CIO last July and joined with five
other unions to create the Change to
Win labor federation. Change to Win
unions at state and local levels had the
option of signing AFL-CIO “Solidarity
Charters,” but Local 555 chose not to.
The uncertainty of Solidarity Char-
ters (which must first be approved by
national AFL-CIO President John
Sweeney and expire after one year),
created a budget nightmare for state la-
bor federations and central labor coun-
cils. That uncertainty resulted in a res-
olution at the Oregon AFL-CIO
convention last October making the sec-
retary-treasurer a part-time, unpaid
($400 a month stipend) position.
At press time, the only announced
candidate was Barbara Byrd, a member
of the American Federation of Teach-
ers-Oregon who is the senior instruc-
tor/Portland Center coordinator of the
Labor Education and Research Center
of the University of Oregon.
“Barbara has my support,” said Ore-
gon AFL-CIO President Tom Cham-
berlain. “I think she will be a valuable
asset to our organization. She is a
skilled strategic planner and she has
great relationships with both public-
and private-sector unions.”
If no other candidate comes forward,
Byrd will be elected by acclamation. If
there is opposition, the Executive Board
will decide the winner by majority vote.
Later in the day on March 10, the
AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political
Education (COPE) will gather to con-
sider endorsements in statewide politi-
cal races and ballot measures.
Chamberlain said Oregon AFL-CIO
Political/Campaign Director Duke
Shepard has completed candidate inter-
views and questionnaires and has met
with political coordinators from several
large unions to discuss endorsements.
COPE has already endorsed Dan
Gardner for labor commissioner and
Susan Castillo for superintendent of
public instruction. As of press time, nei-
ther incumbent had opposition.
The filing deadline is March 7.
Early endorsements have also gone
to State Senators Bill Morrisette and
Frank Shields; and state representatives
Peter Buckley, Paul Holvey, Arnie Rob-
lan, Phil Barnhart, Elizabeth Terry
Beyer, Brad Witt, Mary Nolan, Carolyn
Tomei, Diane Rosenbaum, Chip
Shields and Jackie Dingfelder, and to
Mary Botkin, who is not an incumbent.
COPE has also weighed in on sev-
eral initiative petitions filed for the 2006
general election. The AFL-CIO opposes
Initiatives 15, 17, 20, 44, 45, 46, 47 and
48 — all initiatives that restrict the
voice of union members in the political
COPE also opposes Initiatives 1, 6,
33, 34, 35, 36, 42 and 43 — all arbitrary
limits on appropriations that affect the
ability of state and local governments to
provide basic public services.
Two initiatives filed by Chamberlain
— Initiative 149, the Fair Share Health
Care Initiative, and Initiative 148, the
creation of a Rate Review Board within
the Department of Consumer and Busi-
ness Affairs to evaluate and approve
rates for specified group health insur-
ance plans — have been challenged.
“AOI (Associated Oregon Indus-
tries) and some big guns from the in-
surance industry have come out against
our initiatives,” Chamberlain said.
Until the initiatives are certified by
the secretary of state, signature gather-
ing remains on hold. Initiatives 148 and
149 are statutory changes that will re-
quire 75,630 valid signatures of regis-
tered voters to qualify for the Novem-
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MARCH 3, 2006