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Face Time: Moving on after decades as labor leader

Alan Link is retiring as secretary-treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council.   (Christopher Anderson)
Alan Link is retiring as secretary-treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council. (Christopher Anderson)

Mead-born Alan Link will retire at year’s end as Washington State Labor Council secretary-treasurer, a post he has held since 1994. With the exception of two years of military service that included a tour in Vietnam, he has been involved in the labor movement since taking a job at Kaiser Aluminum Corp.’s Mead smelter in 1961.

Q. How did you get started?

A. My grandfather and father worked at the smelter for Alcoa (which operated the plant for the U.S. government during WWII). Seven days after I graduated from high school, I started at Kaiser. I became a U.S. Steelworkers Local 329 assistant shop steward and griever in 1962, and held several other posts during the 1960s and 1970s. The union meetings were pretty rough-and-tumble, as was Kaiser.

Q. You were a bricklayer, but you were a Steelworker?

A. The Steelworkers had all the crafts. I was a carbon-setter. Then I drove crane. And then I went to the brick shop.

Q. The Kaiser family was still involved back then. Were labor relations good?

A. We always got 10 cents more (per hour) than the master contract (which covered all aluminum plants). The reason was Henry Kaiser paid $240,000, $300,000, I forget what it was, to the government for the plants. (Kaiser leased the Mead and Trentwood plants for $485,000 in 1946.) They called it Kaiser’s folly. He made a profit. ($5.6 million the first year.)

We never had any strikes – except for a couple of quick wildcat strikes – in all those years.

The big change came when a multimillionaire Englishman by the name of Alan Clore took it over. He took it private (in 1986). We knew that wasn’t a good thing.

Q. What was your most satisfying experience as a union leader?

A. I was vice president of the local in the early 1980s, and there were contract negotiations. Either we took cuts or Kaiser would close the plant, so we took a $4.50 an hour cut, $2 of that in cash. And back then we were only making $12, $13 per hour. Our members were not happy. But we kept the plant open and got the superintendent to dedicate some of our men to addressing safety issues, which was a serious need. Our guys were getting hurt.

Q. What brought about the move to the Labor Council?

A. I was elected to the council in 1982. In 1994, I ran for secretary-treasurer and won. I’ve never had opposition since.

Q. How many labor organizations belong to the council?

A. We’re the fourth-most-organized state, after New York, Alaska and Hawaii. We have about 235 per capita (dues) paying organizations. And we’re actually increasing membership, to about 22 percent of workers in Washington.

Q. How have Washington’s budget pressures affected members?

A. We struggled in Olympia this year, and a couple of our locals are upset. Candidate endorsements are not the slam-dunk people think, and we could not get the required two-thirds votes early on. We endorsed more in August, not all of them Democrats.

Q. Why are you stepping down?

A. At 67, you’re only 13 years from 80. I used to sit in the audience and watch the gray-haired men on the stage, and now I am one of them.

I’ve got some fishing to do.

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