DO YOU KNOW THE MUSHROOM MAN?

Daniel B. Wheeler dwheeler at teleport.com
Tue Jul 31 01:45:44 EST 2001


>From Willamette Week, July 25, 2001, p 7

DO YOU KNOW THE MUSHROOM MAN?

Sporting a buzz haircut and a conservative suit, Mike Swaim hardly
looks like the lefty radical he's turned out to be. But the Salem
Mayor is credited with the current success of a boycott against
Pictsweet mushrooms.
	The Salem Pictsweet plant employs between 300 and 400 people, mostly
Hispanic, who work in catacomb-like quarters, scouring peaty beds for
button mushrooms, for which they're paid a piece rate. Last spring
workers complained that the less-plentiful specialty mushrooms they
were harvesting caused their wages to drop below the state's minimum
wage. When the Tennessee-0based company didn't respond, the workers
say, they turned to the Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United,
better known by its Spanish acronym, PCUN.
	Around the same time, OR-OSHA got involved and found numerous safety
violations in the plant, one which resulted in the loss of a worker's
arm.
	PCUN followed up in May with a boycott of Pictsweet mushrooms.
	Swaim got involved in the Pictsweet fight at the request of workers.
The company wouldn't talk with him, so, earlier this month, he
contacted Sam Duncan, president of Fred Meyer. Duncan was already
familiar with Pictsweet. Before coming to Freddy's, Duncan had been an
executive at Ralph's Grocery in California (now owned by Fred Meyer)
and had supported a similar boycott against Pictsweet. He immediately
agreed to stop carrying Pictsweet mushrooms.
	Last week, California-based Safeway followed suit and joined the
boycott.
	It's unusual for a mayor to take on a large local employer such as
Pictsweet, but the 58-year-old Swaim has proven to be an unusual mayor
since winning election in 1996.
	On the heels of Seattle's WTO rally, for example, he faced off with a
securiyt guard at a Salem mall as he tried to deliver a letter calling
for an end to sweatshop labor. Swaim has potested clearcutting above
Salme's watershed, and he has his own cable access show on which he
pokes and prods his guests about the controversial issues of the day.
In short, Swaim is not your father's mayor.
	"It's been tremendously significant to have the mayor of Salem
involved in the struggle, and a breath of fresh air to have a mayor
supporting workers," says Erik Nicholson of PCUN. "Mayors have
traditionally been very active supporting businesses and corporations,
but not workers. The fact he's willing to get involved is great and
sets a powerful example."
	Swaim, a Democrat, will soon find out how such activism plays with
voters. He's running for the state Senate seat vacated by conservative
GOP Senat President Gene Derfler.

-- Patty Wentz

Posted as a courtesy by:
Daniel B. Wheeler
www.oregonwhitetruffles.com




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