Please visit our new blog - The Union News.

"Vote early and vote often." - Al Capone (1899-1947)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A friendly environment

Rats run wild in Portland union hall

Portland - The largest union in the state of Oregon - still smarting from last year's failed garbage strike - has been forced back into damage-control mode after television cameras caught rats scampering around the kitchen floor at its headquarters mess hall.

Health inspectors on Friday descended on the SEIU Local 503 - formerly known as the Oregon Public Employees Union. SEIU Local 503 and the Oregon Education Association comprise "Our Oregon", the well-known 800-lb. gorilla of Oregon politics.

The union hastened to show that it was taking the rodents seriously. "Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our dues-paying union members. This is completely unacceptable and is an absolute violation of our high standards," union spokesperson Patty Wentz said in a statement. The SEIU "is actively addressing this issue," the statement said, adding that the mess hall will remain closed until the problem is "completely resolved."

(see video, below)

A TV crew discovered the rat infestation and began filming through a window of the building early Friday. About a dozen rats were filmed racing around the floors, playing with each other and sniffing for food as they dashed around tables and children's high chairs. The eatery was not open at the time, and the union later said construction in the basement on Thursday appeared to have stirred up the rats.

Onlookers could not keep their eyes away from the jaw-dropping sight - a gang of urban vermin invading a canteen that had been serving kids' teachers and school staff just a day earlier. Video of the rats was seen around the world, disseminated on TV stations and the Internet.

"They should handcuff Oregon's government union leaders and throw the dirty rats in jail," cabbie Wilson Paul said as he pulled over to gawk. Government union organizers have long been a problem in Portland, with its infill-bred high population density and such a large and readily available fast food supply. They are frequently seen scampering through light rail stations and transit-oriented developments, rooting through trash, dashing across Portland parks and burrowing into the walls of subsidized condo towers.

Government union halls tends to be a happy home for rodents because of deferred maintenance of older buildings and a tangle of underground tunnels converging just below street level. Still, it is rare to see so many rats congregating in one place in such public view. The city Department of Health had inspectors at the site on Friday for hours, and by midday had posted a sign that read "CLOSED."

"Today, this establishment had serious unsanitary conditions," said Alberto Bondigas, a senior health inspector. "There were issues with vermin throughout." He said the infestation was "coming from the building," with "openings" that allowed the vermin to enter. He provided no other details.

There was no answer at the phone number displayed in neon on the union hall window below the words "We Deliver." Department of Health spokeswoman Sara Markt said agency records list the building's owner as America Coming Together, a group started by out-of-state billionaire investor and socialist-political activist George Soros. The owner could not be reached for comment, despite numerous efforts.

Joel Cohen, who lives in the building next to the union hall, had a graphic view of the situation. "I'm living over the place that is feeding the rats of Portland," said Cohen, who works in real estate. "This place is a disaster. They throw their rubbish in the doorways. It's loaded up with food in bags that are not tied, and the rats have eaten through the bags." Gregory Moore, a retired city administrator who lives on a nearby street, called the situation "pretty horrendous. The rats have made a grand play here."

Last week, it was reported in The Oregonian that SEIU organizing had slumped after the widely publicized garbage strike, but that rising union membership among K-12 teachers had helped Oregon labor's fourth quarter.

The Associated Press, Feb. 24, By VERENA DOBNIK

No comments:

Label Cloud