Lee Pearson oral history interview, 2011-12-07

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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TRACI DRUMMOND: This is Traci Drummond. I am the archivist for the Labor Collections at Georgia State University Library, and I’m here today with Lee Pearson. We’re going to be talking about his history with the machinists. We are at the Winpisinger Center for Education and Technology at Placid Harbor in Hollywood, Maryland. Today is Wednesday, December 7, 2011. Welcome, Lee.

LEE PEARSON: Thank you.

DRUMMOND: We’re going to get started with a little bit of background information. Can you talk to me a little bit about your parents and where they were from and what kind of work they did?

PEARSON: My mother was born and raised in Louisiana. My father, born and raised in Arkansas. They moved to Texas, where they met. My father married my mother and then entered the Navy during the war.

DRUMMOND: What part of Texas?

PEARSON: Primarily Texarkana [Longview].

DRUMMOND: OK. So still really close to Arkansas?

PEARSON: Arkansas.

DRUMMOND: And not too far from Louisiana.

1:00

PEARSON: Louisiana.

DRUMMOND: Yeah, OK. OK. And he entered the Navy?

PEARSON: He went to -- he entered the Navy during the war, during World War II.

DRUMMOND: And they were married before he went to --

PEARSON: They were married before, and my father, when he got out of the Navy, was in San Diego, California. And so he had my mother and my older sister move to San Diego to join him.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: So I was born and raised in San Diego, California.

DRUMMOND: OK. What made him want to stay in San Diego once he got there?

PEARSON: It was just a beautiful place to be. San Diego was then, and still now, the garden place of the United States.

DRUMMOND: Did he see it, though, as also having, perhaps, more opportunity than Texarkana [Texas]?

PEARSON: Absolutely. He got out of the Navy and was able to go to work for Civil Service. So he worked for Civil Service at the naval training center in San Diego.

DRUMMOND: What did he do there?

PEARSON: He primarily was an auto mechanic.

DRUMMOND: OK.

2:00

PEARSON: But my dad was a jack-of-all-trades. He was a very skilled craftsperson, so he worked in automotive, he worked in the upholstery shop. He was an upholsterer. And did a number of things for the Navy.

DRUMMOND: OK. Did he always work with the Navy, or was he ever able to -- did he ever work in the private sector and join a union?

PEARSON: After he got out of the Navy, he was -- he stayed with Civil Service until he retired, but he held several part-time jobs.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: And one of the things he did is he had an upholstery shop at our home, and he did furniture upholstery and automotive upholstery, as well as working for the sports clubs in San Diego. At that time, the San Diego Padres were a minor league baseball team, and both he and my mother worked at the ballpark. 3:00And in high school, I worked there as well, and that’s where I got my introduction to the Labor Movement.

DRUMMOND: How so?

PEARSON: I worked for the San Diego Padres. I sold sodas and popcorn and things like that in the concessions and in the stands. You had to be a union member to work there.

DRUMMOND: Wait. How old were you?

PEARSON: I was 18 [16].

DRUMMOND: And what union was that?

PEARSON: At that time, it was Bartenders and Confectionery Workers Union.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: Which later -- it was part of HERE.

DRUMMOND: Yeah, OK. But was that your first job? Did you have anything earlier that you did, like a paper route or something?

PEARSON: While I was in high school, I did maintenance work. Painted apartment buildings. Things like that.

DRUMMOND: Did your mom work outside of the house?

PEARSON: Yeah, she worked for the San Diego Padres as well. There was a facility in San Diego called the Sports Arena, and they worked in the concessions there.

4:00

DRUMMOND: And were those seasons, did they -- were they sort of alternating seasons?

PEARSON: They were.

DRUMMOND: So they had this kind of employment throughout the year?

PEARSON: It was part-time, but for them it was during the sports seasons. So they worked -- as I say, my father worked there part-time and my mother joined him as well.

DRUMMOND: And your sister’s a little older.

PEARSON: My sister is 10 years older.

DRUMMOND: Oh, OK, so she’s a lot older.

PEARSON: A lot older.

DRUMMOND: So did she work, too?

PEARSON: When I was in high school, she left home, went to work for the telephone company, and married her husband, who also worked for the phone company.

DRUMMOND: OK. Were they part of a communication workers union, or...

PEARSON: Yes

DRUMMOND: They were?

PEARSON: Yes, they were.

DRUMMOND: So you have a lot of union background in your family.

PEARSON: A little bit.

DRUMMOND: A little bit. Also, were your grandparents ever union members or --

PEARSON: No.

DRUMMOND: More agricultural?

PEARSON: No [Yes].

DRUMMOND: No [see above]? What did your grandparents --

PEARSON: I don’t really remember, because they were in Texas and Arkansas, and 5:00we were in San Diego. And they -- my grandparents died when I was a young boy.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: And so when we would visit relatives in Texas and Arkansas, they had already passed away.

DRUMMOND: Oh, OK.

PEARSON: My father was from a family of 11 [12] brothers and sisters, and my mother had two brothers and one sister.

DRUMMOND: OK. All right. So tell me about your school, your ed-- your early years in education.

PEARSON: Well, I was, as I say, born and raised in San Diego, and spent my entire childhood in San Diego, and went through grade school and junior high school and high school in San Diego. Went to Kearny High School. And when I graduated from Kearny High School, I moved to Los Angeles, where my wife was living --

6:00

DRUMMOND: So you were already --

PEARSON: -- with her parents at that time.

DRUMMOND: So were you already married or --

PEARSON: No.

DRUMMOND: But you were dating. You knew her and you wanted --

PEARSON: I met my wife when she was in seventh grade and I was in the ninth grade.

DRUMMOND: Really? And you knew?

PEARSON: Pardon?

DRUMMOND: Did you know then that...

PEARSON: Not right then, but shortly thereafter.

DRUMMOND: OK, OK.

PEARSON: When she moved to Los Angeles -- her family moved there -- then we still communicated and talked. And like I say, then I moved to Los Angeles, and I knew then for sure that I wanted to marry her, and we did.

DRUMMOND: OK. Well, through high school, what were the expectations for you for when you graduated? Like, your dad had joined the Navy. Were you expected to go into the military or to get a job or to go to college?

PEARSON: They wanted me to go to college.

DRUMMOND: What happened?

PEARSON: I moved to L.A. and married my wife.

DRUMMOND: And went to work right away?

7:00

PEARSON: Went to work right away. Worked in a little place that made steel office equipment.

DRUMMOND: OK. And how long were you there?

PEARSON: I was there about a year.

DRUMMOND: Was it satisfactory work?

PEARSON: Yeah, it was OK. You know, you needed to support a family, so I was doing that to support my wife, and then my daughter. And so it was -- it was OK.

DRUMMOND: And you said, though, you were only there about a year.

PEARSON: About a year, and then I went and worked for a place that made mobile homes.

DRUMMOND: And was that place unionized, or...

PEARSON: Neither one of those --

DRUMMOND: Neither one, and --

PEARSON: -- shops were union.

DRUMMOND: OK, OK.

PEARSON: And when I -- we moved back to San Diego was when I went -- it was -- I went to work for a little aircraft manufacturing company in San Diego that, at that time, had transitioned their business into gas turbines.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: And that was 1966.

DRUMMOND: OK. That would be Solar Turbine?

PEARSON: Solar Turbines.

8:00

DRUMMOND: And what was your first job -- you started there in 1966?

PEARSON: Yes, June of 1966.

DRUMMOND: And what was your first job there?

PEARSON: I was what was called a metal cutter. I ran the shears in different metal-cutting apparatus within the shop. I was very fortunate that it was a union shop.

DRUMMOND: Was it a closed shop or an open shop?

PEARSON: It was a closed shop.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: And my introduction to the union really started at that time.

DRUMMOND: And was there sort of a probationary period before you could join?

PEARSON: There was a 90-day probation period in that -- at that time. And as soon as my probation period was up, you were expected and required to join the union, which I did.

DRUMMOND: OK. Did -- what were -- what were labor management relations like there?

PEARSON: Well, it was good. The --

DRUMMOND: It was a good company?

PEARSON: The union -- the union pretty much ran the shop [had a big say]. My 9:00involvement with the union started at the level -- a base level. My shop steward was very active. His name was [Danny Baehr]. They called him Yogi Baehr. And he was a great mentor for me in learning about the union. And so he made sure that everyone in his shop went to the union meetings, which were on a monthly basis.

DRUMMOND: How many folk -- how many people were in the plant?

PEARSON: At that time, Solar probably had 1,500 [800-900] people working there.

DRUMMOND: Fifteen hundred people [800-900].

PEARSON: Maybe 12. Between 12- and 15- hundred [800-900].

DRUMMOND: And so he was the steward for your section?

PEARSON: He was what we called, at that point -- he was what was called a committee person, or a committeeman. Each shop had a committee person or a committeeman.

DRUMMOND: Negotiation committee?

PEARSON: No.

DRUMMOND: Which committee?

10:00

PEARSON: This was the in-shop representative for the union. So each shop within the plant had its own committee person, and then each shift had a shop steward. And then we had a deputy shop steward and a chief shop steward. And so he was the committee person, and later became the chief steward.

DRUMMOND: OK. And you said he was sort of a mentor to you? Not only, I guess, in terms of participation in the union, but maybe also on the job?

PEARSON: He was. I was 20 years old when I hired in there. And so he and several other people that worked in the shop that I was employed in were very active in the union. And then, as a result of me going to the union meetings and becoming familiar with the union and its operation, then he would introduce me to other 11:00people that were also active in the union, and we formed like a little coalition of activists, and tried to, as best we could, to steer the direction of our local lodge to represent the people within that factory as best we could.

DRUMMOND: About what percentage of membership would go to meetings? Was it -- did you all have pretty good turnouts at the --

PEARSON: At that time, it was -- there were huge turnouts. We had each –- we had a [combined] first and third shift meeting, and then there was a second shift meeting. So everyone that worked on first or third shift could come to a meeting, and everyone that worked on the second shift could come to a meeting. The first and third shift meetings, I’d say it would not be unusual to have 100, 150 people at the union meetings.

DRUMMOND: About 10 percent, then, of the whole shop?

PEARSON: About 10 percent [15 percent].

DRUMMOND: OK. Fantastic. So it’s mid-1960s in California.

PEARSON: San Diego.

12:00

DRUMMOND: San Diego. And perhaps compared to the rest of the country, California was, at that time, maybe a bit more progressive?

PEARSON: Progressive, and employment was booming.

DRUMMOND: The aerospace industry -- post-World War II space race aerospace industry.

PEARSON: Was huge. In fact, the first jobs that I had as a metal cutter were -- was cutting the material to form the fuel lines for the space program.

DRUMMOND: Oh, really? So the work you did was for the space program and not for aviation?

PEARSON: Correct.

DRUMMOND: OK. Interesting. Did you -- so do you think a lot of maybe that more progressive spirit that was in California at the time, and this sort of boom and this growth, do you think that that all contributed to the strong membership and the strong turnout at meetings? And do you think that that was -- you know.

13:00

PEARSON: Absolutely. When a person got out of high school in the San Diego area, there was a number of places that you could go to work for within the defense industry, with the aircraft industry. So employment was good, and most of the facilities were unionized. Either the Machinists Union or the United Auto Workers. They represented some folks in the aircraft industry. And so those shops were very progressive and formed a tight alliance within the Southern California area. But growing up in San Diego, you have to remember that so many people that came to San Diego were ex-Navy, ex-military, that the unions weren’t viewed too highly. This was an evolutionary process that took place to bring the unions to the forefront in Southern California.

14:00

DRUMMOND: OK. And the part of town you were in, did you work near the plant you were -- or did you live near the plant you worked at?

PEARSON: About 25 miles away.

DRUMMOND: About 25 miles away. Because I was just going to ask, was the plant sort of an anchor in the part of town it was in? Like, a lot of people in the area had jobs there, and that it very much sort of helped to push the local economy.

PEARSON: During that timeframe, most of the folks that worked there were ex-military.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: The coastal area of San Diego, the downtown area, was ringed with these aerospace plants. You had Ryan, Rohr, Solar Turbines, General Dynamics. A number of these places. And so there was a huge workforce. When I first got involved with the union, in my local lodge, as I say, we had 12 or 15 hundred [800-900] 15:00people, and we were considered one of the small locals. So our district lodge, we had over 50,000 people in our district lodge.

DRUMMOND: OK. How long did it take you to get involved and to start participating in --

PEARSON: Almost immediately.

DRUMMOND: And not just membership meetings, but maybe being -- you know, getting on committees, or maybe becoming a steward. What was that? What was your experience?

PEARSON: Well, I transferred out of the shop where I was a metal cutter and went to another area within the plant, and ran for committee person and was elected as a committee person in that shop. And functioned as a committee person within that area for probably about six months.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: And then I transferred to another plant and was the committee person in 16:00a shop in another plant within the same employer structure. And...

DRUMMOND: And why was there a transfer? Were you going to do different work?

PEARSON: Yeah, I was -- I had applied for a promotion and received it, and I became what was called a turbine packaging mechanic, which was the people who put together the package that consisted of the turbine engine, the generator, whatever this turbine had to drive.

DRUMMOND: And what were some of the grievances that people would bring to you? I mean, were you getting a lot of stuff around this time?

PEARSON: We had a very progressive contract. A very good contract. We had -- the contract provided for union time, for folks to be able to, on the job, sit down and talk to their union representative if they had a problem. And as I said, each shop had a committee person and each shift had a steward. So at the plant that I was -- that I had moved to -- well, at every plant, if you had a first 17:00shift, you had a first shift committeeman [committee person] in every department, you had a steward. If you were on the second shift, same thing. Committee person in every department. You had a second shift steward. If you were on the third shift, committee person in every department and a shift steward, third shift steward. And then you had the chief steward. And so when I moved to the facility which was then called Rose Canyon, as I said, I got elected as a committee person within my shop there, and then I ran for shop steward and got elected as the shop steward, and then eventually was elected as the chief steward.

DRUMMOND: When you ran for shop steward, were you on the ballot, or was it sort of a single election?

PEARSON: No, it was on a ballot.

DRUMMOND: It was on a ballot. So you ran on a -- with a slate of other folks?

PEARSON: Yeah. Each shop had an election for their committee person, and each shift had an election for their steward.

DRUMMOND: OK.

18:00

PEARSON: And then within the entire local lodge, we had an election for chief steward.

DRUMMOND: And what percentage of a turnout did you all have for votes? Do you know? Do you remember?

PEARSON: Well, departmentally, we were allowed to vote on company time within our department. So at lunchtime, we would have our elections, which were yearly, and you would vote on your committee person. And then for shop steward, those were a local lodge type election, and so everyone on the shift at the plant where the steward would be the steward would vote on their steward. First, second, and third shift steward by plant. And turnout was usually in the high 60 -- you know, 60, 70 percent.

DRUMMOND: Fantastic.

PEARSON: Very active local lodge.

DRUMMOND: So with a more progressive company, then perhaps you didn’t have too many grievances.

PEARSON: We had a lot of grievances.

DRUMMOND: Oh, you had a lot of grievances.

PEARSON: You could file a grievance on any violation of the contract, and there was also a provision in the contract that said if there was anything that really 19:00bothered you, you could file a grievance on it.

DRUMMOND: And that wasn’t --

PEARSON: Now, that grievance didn’t get to go to arbitration --

DRUMMOND: Right.

PEARSON: -- if it was not resolved. But every -- any other violation of the contract, you could take to arbitration.

DRUMMOND: Was the management pretty good about trying to resolve them and not having it go any...

PEARSON: Initially. When I first got involved, most were former union representatives --

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: -- who had taken -- advanced and taken positions in management. And so they were pretty friendly towards the union.

DRUMMOND: OK. Were there any sort of repeat grievances that would eventually work themselves into negotiations? Were there any big things that sort of came up during that time that...

PEARSON: There were a lot of issues. One of the ones that came up most often is we had a section in the contract that provided for voluntary overtime. The 20:00company couldn’t force you to work overtime. If you didn’t want to work, you didn’t have to work [overtime]. And so there were grievances from time to time about people who -- their supervisors had forced them to work and said, you know, either you come to work or you’re going to be fired, or whatever. You’re going to receive a warning. So there was a lot of grievances over this mandatory overtime issue. There were grievances on shift selections. There were grievances on promotions, or lack thereof. You name it. People could file a grievance on it, just about.

DRUMMOND: How long did it take for you to go from being steward to...

PEARSON: Chief steward.

DRUMMOND: Chief steward.

PEARSON: About a year.

DRUMMOND: About a year.

PEARSON: I was elected chief shop steward in 1974. And in 1975, we had a strike that lasted 182 days.

DRUMMOND: OK, tell me about your strike.

21:00

PEARSON: Well, it was over some of the issues that I’ve already mentioned. Voluntary overtime was a big issue. The employer said, no more voluntary overtime. If we need you to work, then you’ve got to come in and work. And if you don’t, then you have consecutive missed overtime days. They could fire you. And so that was one of the big issues. Another issue was right of the union to conduct business during company time. So -- and that strike, like I said, lasted 182 days.

DRUMMOND: And what -- about what year was that? Because you started in ’66, right?

PEARSON: Yes.

DRUMMOND: And so --

PEARSON: That was 1975.

DRUMMOND: Oh, so you’d been there about 10 years when this stuff -- and a lot had changed in the last 10 years, I suspect.

PEARSON: We change -- the ownership of the facility had changed. And with that came a new breed of managers and supervisors. The company wanted to conduct 22:00business in a little different way. And so we had -- things began to change for the union and the shop and for the employees. So it became very difficult, so it -- like I said, in 1975, we had the strike. A hundred and eighty-two days. It wasn’t necessarily a pleasant time, but it’s one that I’ll never forget.

DRUMMOND: What kind of strike benefits were you all getting at that time? And were they -- was your local or district big enough to help out with that, or were they coming from International?

PEARSON: There were International strike benefits available, but we never collected any.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: Because the Boeing folks had gone out on strike, and they had struck for so long and so many, the strike fund was -- reached a point to where it had been cut off.

DRUMMOND: So you all --

PEARSON: So we didn’t get any strike benefits.

DRUMMOND: You went out on strike for 180 days --

PEARSON: A hundred and eighty-two days.

DRUMMOND: A hundred and eighty-two days. Forgive me. So that’s...

23:00

PEARSON: Almost four months.

DRUMMOND: Almost four months.

PEARSON: Yeah. Well, no --

DRUMMOND: No, almost six months.

PEARSON: Six months, I’m sorry.

DRUMMOND: Almost six months, and nobody got any strike benefits during that time.

PEARSON: No. Now, one of the things --

DRUMMOND: How did you feed your --

PEARSON: One of the things that my local was able to do was they were able to make small loans to people who were in need. And so they were able to do that. But I don’t think the loan could exceed more than $50.

DRUMMOND: OK. OK. How did people pay rent? How did people --

PEARSON: Well, for --

DRUMMOND: -- feed their -- put food on the table?

PEARSON: For me and my family, I would go to work at the union hall every day. And then my wife and I worked cleaning houses at night. In San Diego, there was 24:00a huge building boom, and so there was a lot of new home construction. And we knew someone who was able to get us employed as custodians, and so we would pack our children -- and by that time, I had a son and a daughter -- and we would put them in a little camper that I had on my truck, and we would drive to these housing projects and we would clean the model homes while our children slept in the back of the truck.

DRUMMOND: You do that for six months?

PEARSON: Yes.

DRUMMOND: And -- but I can only imagine that there were some folks that didn’t have it that good, that weren’t able to find other work.

PEARSON: There were.

DRUMMOND: This must have put a huge strain on the community.

PEARSON: It absolutely did. Well, within all those that worked at that facility. San Diego had a lot of employment at the time, so there was a lot of people in that area. We were just a small portion of it.

DRUMMOND: Did you find that folks from, like, the CLC or maybe local churches or 25:00local community organizations, food banks, did they sort of step up and help?

PEARSON: In some cases, they did. In fact, my wife and I, we had to cut back. We had just purchased our first home. And so -- one night, the doorbell rang, and I went to the door and opened the door, and there was nobody there, but there was five sacks of groceries on our front doorstep. My children were overjoyed because there were things in the grocery bags that we didn’t buy because we couldn’t -- you know, we just couldn’t do it.

DRUMMOND: Right, right, right. So there were people in the community who --

PEARSON: That stepped up and helped us, yes.

DRUMMOND: So 182 days. You go back to work. Were you able to then negotiate the contract you wanted?

PEARSON: No. Actually, we went back to work with a contract that was a little less than the one that we had struck over.

DRUMMOND: Really?

PEARSON: So --

DRUMMOND: Did you -- but you were just sort of pushed into a corner --

PEARSON: Yeah --

DRUMMOND: -- and were desperate to get back to work?

PEARSON: Correct.

26:00

DRUMMOND: OK. OK. And --

PEARSON: We lost the ability to have voluntary overtime, and we lost some of the other things that we had worked so -- well, the union folks before me had worked so hard to achieve. And so it wasn’t a pleasant time, but it was -- like you say, there was a point where you get pushed into a corner, and people had to return to work.

DRUMMOND: Well, I know that you have sort of -- well, and perhaps it’s only to me -- a complicated work history, because you were doing so many things at once. So you were at Local Lodge 685.

PEARSON: Correct.

DRUMMOND: Which was then part of District 50.

PEARSON: Fifty.

DRUMMOND: At what point did you become the business rep of District 50?

PEARSON: I became a business rep assigned to service the folks in Local Lodge 685 in 1976.

DRUMMOND: So that was after --

PEARSON: It was a year after the strike.

DRUMMOND: A year after the strike.

27:00

PEARSON: I was elected as the business representative by the people that were...

DRUMMOND: And up to that point, because you had been -- you had held a couple of positions, did you -- up to chief steward -- did --

PEARSON: Well, there were other positions that I held within the local lodge. I was a --

DRUMMOND: Leading up to ’75?

PEARSON: Leading up to --

DRUMMOND: What else -- OK, then what else did you do?

PEARSON: I was a member of the negotiating committee. I was a member of the education committee. I served on a health and safety committee. Just almost every office that you could hold within a local lodge, I held it at some point in time.

DRUMMOND: Did you -- on the education committee, what kind of education programs did you all have? And did you all set these up locally, or did you all do them in conjunction with the district or the CLC or International?

PEARSON: They were in conjunction with the district and the International.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: Primarily health and safety educational issues. Because the plant was 28:00so diverse in what they were doing -- I mean, they were still in the aircraft business in one respect, while they were developing this turbine, gas turbine business, and then they also did some commercial work for non-defense-related industries. So there was a lot going on in the facilities, so health and safety was one of the major issues.

DRUMMOND: And did you hold any vice president/president/secretary/treasurer positions?

PEARSON: I was temporary secretary-treasurer in my local lodge for a few months.

DRUMMOND: OK. And why were you temporary?

PEARSON: Because the person that had been secretary-treasurer had passed away.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: And they needed somebody to kind of fill in until we could hold an election.

DRUMMOND: And I suspect by this time, too, you were well-known in your local. You were known as someone who...

PEARSON: That’s the result of being chief steward during the strike. I was --

DRUMMOND: You knew everybody.

29:00

PEARSON: A lot of people knew me. And then my business representative, who had been the business representative for 10 years --

DRUMMOND: At District 50?

PEARSON: At District 50, within my local lodge -- he was the business rep for my local lodge -- was out of that facility. And it was during the time when people, business representatives, were elected on a yearly basis, and he was elected over a 10-year period, and then he just retired.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: So when he retired, I ran for business representative.

DRUMMOND: And everybody knew you, so you were elected to represent 685?

PEARSON: Well, not initially.

DRUMMOND: Not initially.

PEARSON: I was -- I -- during the strike, I took out one of those small loans. My wife and I thought what we had -- we had paid back the loan. But there was a constitutional requirement that you have to be debt-free to run for business representative.

DRUMMOND: Debt-free to the union?

PEARSON: To the union.

DRUMMOND: OK.

30:00

PEARSON: And somehow or another, the last payment of my loan was never recorded. So after I was nominated and nominations were closed, it was discovered that this last payment was not recorded, and therefore people said, well, you didn’t make it. So --

DRUMMOND: And was it sort of a per-- did you take it personally or was it just business -- like, doing business the way it should be done? Or do you think somebody tried to dig up something on you?

PEARSON: Well, the check wasn’t there. Where did it go?

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: It was recorded in our checkbook. It was shown as being drawn out of our bank. So as a result, I had to sue the International. So I sued the International Union to keep them from not letting me take office, because I won the election.

DRUMMOND: OK. What was that like?

PEARSON: Well, that was probably one of the worst times of my life.

DRUMMOND: Can you tell us a little bit about it?

31:00

PEARSON: Had to go to court to defend my right to continue on as the business representative -- well, to take office as the business representative. And the court initially ruled in my favor, and the International Union appealed it. And so there was a hearing on it, and I tried to get an injunction to keep the union from stopping me from taking office, which I lost. So there was about an eight-month period between the time of the election, which I won, and the time when I actually took office. And the reason why there was eight months is the person that I beat was allowed to then become the business representative. Because I was the highest vote-getter and he was the second highest. And I think I beat him by a 2-1 margin or something like that.

DRUMMOND: Wow.

32:00

PEARSON: And so he served for about eight months, and the International Union had to step in. He was incompetent. And they removed him from office, and they put me in, because by that time, I said, well -- as soon as I found out this last payment not being recorded or no one knowing where it went, I paid it again. But it’s -- the constitution said, at the time of nomination, you have to be free of any debt to the union. So that’s how they kept me from taking office initially. So when they had to remove him, then I was put in office on a temporary basis until they could hold an election. So I had to run again. And this time, I beat the person that ran against me by a 3-1 margin. And so I became the business representative in October of 1978.

DRUMMOND: And what kind of feedback were you getting from, like, your local 33:00lodge folks at this time? Were they sort of indifferent, or did they think it was a raw deal?

PEARSON: They thought it was a raw deal.

DRUMMOND: And then they pointed out the complete irony that the International...

PEARSON: In fact, George Kourpias was the assistant to the International president, who advised the International president to rule against me.

DRUMMOND: Really?

PEARSON: Uh huh. And the International president was Bill Winpisinger.

DRUMMOND: Did you take sort of -- was there a certain sweetness in pointing out the irony that they worked so hard --

PEARSON: You mean did I revel in it?

DRUMMOND: Yeah.

PEARSON: Absolutely I did.

DRUMMOND: And they begged you to come in when the person that they put in that place was not --

PEARSON: Yes.

DRUMMOND: -- doing a very good job.

PEARSON: So I served as a business representative.

DRUMMOND: But you still wanted to be in the union? Like, it didn’t sour your desire to be part of a union?

34:00

PEARSON: You know, I understood what the constitution said, and I -- you know, I understood the rules of the organization. It was just what I didn’t understand was what happened to that check and how it escaped anybody’s notice until after the day of nomination. The next day, oh, suddenly they found out that the check had never been recorded.

DRUMMOND: Right.

PEARSON: So I believed there to be some conspiracy with some people who were in office within my local lodge, who didn’t want me to become the business representative.

DRUMMOND: Did you ever get -- perhaps not an apology from the higher-ups, but perhaps an acknowledgement that...

PEARSON: In the sense that I later became a grand lodge representative, yes.

DRUMMOND: OK, yeah, fair enough. Fair enough. That was -- but nobody ever actually said anything?

PEARSON: Well, George Kourpias did.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: Bill Winpisinger, when the person who was vice president of the Western 35:00territory --

DRUMMOND: And who was that?

PEARSON: It was Justin Ostro.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: When he made the suggestion to the International president that I be appointed as a grand lodge special representative, I’m told that Winpisinger said, “Isn’t that the guy that sued us?” And General Vice President Ostro said, “Yes, it is,” and assured him that I would do a fine job as a representative for the International Union. And George Kourpias later told me that he was really on my side. That he thought it was a raw deal, and he was glad to see that eventually justice was done, and I became a fulltime representative for the International Union.

DRUMMOND: OK. Anything else you want to say about that?

PEARSON: Probably not.

DRUMMOND: Fair enough, fair enough.

PEARSON: But, you know, what it shows you, though --

DRUMMOND: Yes.

36:00

PEARSON: -- is that, you know, you can -- within the machinists union, you can oppose the folks who were in office at the time, and if you do your job and work hard, that that’s not held against you. I mean, I sued the International Union, and I became an International vice president.

DRUMMOND: So once you were restored as business rep of District 50 for Local Lodge 685, what was the work like? Because I -- were you still on the shop and then -- and then...

PEARSON: I was fulltime.

DRUMMOND: Fulltime --

PEARSON: Working at the district office.

DRUMMOND: OK, so you were off the shop floor at that point all together, and you were only --

PEARSON: In the contract that we had at Solar Turbines, provided for the chief steward, who was a fulltime rep -- union representative, and had an office in the plant. And the office had to have four chairs, two desks, a phone answering 37:00machine, and two file cabinets, and he was provided a bicycle. Because the plant was so big that you needed a bicycle to ride around in the plant. So after becoming chief steward, and then I became the business representative, I went to work at the district lodge headquarters in San Diego.

DRUMMOND: And how big was the district?

PEARSON: Fifty thousand.

DRUMMOND: Fifty thousand. How big in terms of area? What was the furthest you might have to drive?

PEARSON: Well, for me, I represented the folks that worked at Solar Turbines, and there was a plant -- there were two facilities in downtown San Diego area, one of which is where I started. And then there was a facility in what they called the Rose Canyon area, which was the facility I transferred to when I became -- where I became the shop steward. And that was about 18 miles north of San Diego. And then they subsequently bought land and built another facility, 38:00called Kearny Mesa, and I went to work at Kearny Mesa. And so there was really four facilities within about a 30-mile radius of the downtown area.

DRUMMOND: OK. So as business rep, what kind of work -- what was your day-to-day routine?

PEARSON: Staying in contact with the membership within the local -- 685 Local Lodge. Representing all the members on all the shifts in every facility. And at that time, we had come -- as I said earlier, we had come back from a very difficult strike, and so the grievance load was very heavy. And the employer at that time was really trying to put in place an avenue to break the union, and so we had a lot of arbitrations. At one time, I was arbitrating three cases a month.

DRUMMOND: Wow.

PEARSON: So that took up --

DRUMMOND: A lot.

PEARSON: -- pretty much all of my time.

39:00

DRUMMOND: Yeah. As business rep, were you ever called in to help out with organizing or with any other...

PEARSON: We did a little organizing, but looking back at it, certainly not enough. I mean, we had this district with 50,000 people in it. I think at one time, maybe even 55,000. And so it was all aerospace or related to aerospace, and government employment. So we -- you know, we thought we were so big, we didn’t really need to organize. But there were some organizing campaigns that I had the opportunity to help out on.

DRUMMOND: Why do you think you all didn’t -- why do you think it was never sort of a priority to do more organizing? What was sort of happening at the time that --

PEARSON: Well, business representatives in this district thought, well, I’ve got enough to do to service the people I’ve already got. What do I want to go out and organize more for?

DRUMMOND: OK.

40:00

PEARSON: Absolutely the wrong way to be looking at it.

DRUMMOND: Yeah, yeah.

PEARSON: And certainly now that we look back, we wish we would have done more -- far more.

DRUMMOND: Right. Because really starting in the ’70s is when, perhaps, the decline in labor union membership. Because late ’70s, and then you head into PATCO. And then you go about 10, 12 more years, and you get NAFTA, and it’s just gone down and down.

PEARSON: Right.

DRUMMOND: And down since then -- we’ll talk a little bit more about that, perhaps, later. So how long were you concurrently a member -- or the business rep -- for 685 and District Lodge 50?

PEARSON: From ’78 until -- I think it was ’81.

DRUMMOND: ’81. And that is when you --

PEARSON: Became -- I was asked to join the staff of the International Union as a special representative.

DRUMMOND: OK. And what was that conversation like? And you had to fill out an application?

41:00

PEARSON: There was a grand lodge representative assigned to our district. His name was Bob Carter, a person who had a tremendous impact on my life, and certainly a mentor. And he suggested that I fill out an application. He said, “I think they’re going to be hiring some more grand lodge representatives.” And he was the one that filed the charges against the person who came in second, who became the business representative when I wasn’t allowed to become the business representative. Well, he was the one that filed the charges against the fellow for being incompetent and not being able to carry out his assignments. So he had a lot of faith in me, and he said, “Why don’t you turn in an application?”

DRUMMOND: And did you think, I sued them. There’s no way.

PEARSON: Yeah, that’s what I said. Well, this is going to be -- they’re pretty easily resolved. I mean, I’ll fill it out, and Justin Ostro, the fellow who was vice president at the time, is going to get it, take one look at it, and 42:00throw it in the trashcan. So I got a phone call, and I was asked to come to Long Beach, where, at that time, is the -- it was called the Southwest -- no, it was the Western terr -- excuse me, Southwest territory regional office was in Long Beach. And so I was asked to come up there and meet with General Vice President Justin Ostro, which I did. He interviewed me and said, “We’re going to -- we’d like to put you on the staff as a special representative.”

DRUMMOND: OK. And you accepted?

PEARSON: I accepted.

DRUMMOND: And -- with delight?

PEARSON: With delight.

DRUMMOND: With delight. And so your work changed.

PEARSON: Correct.

DRUMMOND: The nature of your work changed. And did you -- did that position 43:00require that you travel more than you had been --

PEARSON: Absolutely. In fact, my first assignment was in Roswell, New Mexico.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: And I didn’t see any [space] aliens while I was there.

DRUMMOND: No, no, no. But did you see --

PEARSON: But I saw every place that supposedly the aliens had landed. That was all pointed out to me.

DRUMMOND: Did you see [Tom Hurd]? Were you working there with Tom Hurd at the time?

PEARSON: I knew Tom Hurd, as we were both business representatives on separate sides of the political fence within our district. He supported one fellow for directing business representative, and I supported another fellow. So we were enemies within the political --

DRUMMOND: Oh, interesting.

PEARSON: -- makeup of our district lodge.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: So I became a grand lodge special representative and went to Roswell, New Mexico. We had a -- the machinists union represented a bus plant who built 44:00Greyhound buses, and there was a de-certification attempt – [actually a raid by the teamsters]

DRUMMOND: And --

PEARSON: -- so they assigned me there.

DRUMMOND: And what does de-certification mean?

PEARSON: It means that there was a push for the members to get out of the union, to de-certify the union as their bargaining representative, which really was a result of the Teamsters trying to organize the facility. So they had convinced a number of people that they could do far better if they were Teamster representative.

DRUMMOND: So it wasn’t the company trying to get the union out of the plant. It was a different union trying to reign --

PEARSON: To come in.

DRUMMOND: And take over. OK.

PEARSON: And so they thought de-certification would be the way to go. They were trying to convince the folks that if they would do that, then in time they could become Teamster members and make so much more money. So they assigned me -- that was my first assignment as a --

DRUMMOND: How long were you there?

PEARSON: I was in Roswell for about a year [8 months].

DRUMMOND: And --

PEARSON: About eight months, I guess.

45:00

DRUMMOND: And so you’re away from your family for the first time, and you’re in this new place, and I suspect you had a lot of Spanish-speaking...

PEARSON: I did.

DRUMMOND: Folks there, so that was perhaps a big difference for you, too.

PEARSON: Well, coming from San Diego, not really.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: Because we [San Diego] were so close to the border --

DRUMMOND: Did you have a lot of Mexican Americans in your plant, or --

PEARSON: Yes.

DRUMMOND: Or even Puerto Ricans?

PEARSON: A lot of Mexican Americans.

DRUMMOND: OK, OK. And -- but you’re in Roswell. So what were some of the challenges of...

PEARSON: Well, the biggest challenge was to convince the folks that the machinists union was really the place they needed to stay. There had been so many problems and so many things going on that the plant was in turmoil. The people were looking, really, for real leadership, so my job was to come in and establish leadership within the local lodge that represented the folks, to stabilize that so that we would win any kind of a de-certification election or 46:00representational election. And that’s what I tried to do.

DRUMMOND: And you --

PEARSON: I had a stellar reputation in arbitration, and there was a lot of outstanding grievances. I think that’s why they assigned me there, because as a business rep -- like I said, I was arbitrating three cases a day -- I mean, a month.

DRUMMOND: Right.

PEARSON: And so they needed someone to come there and really be able to guide those folks through that process. In fact, the first arbitration that we had in Roswell, I won. A lady had been terminated. I got her job back. And that really started the ball rolling to the folks really believing in the machinists union.

DRUMMOND: Right, because I’m sure that they saw you very much as an outsider when you got there.

PEARSON: Initially.

DRUMMOND: And then as you started to make these small gains for them, you earned their trust.

PEARSON: I earned their trust and confidence. When I first went to work there, a 47:00majority of people either walked to or rode bicycles to work, because they couldn’t afford -- the pay was so bad -- they couldn’t afford automobiles. One of the major things that we were able to negotiate was an increase in their [wages] -- in fact, we had a strike there. My first negotiations with those folks resulted in a strike.

DRUMMOND: Was it a closed shop or an open shop?

PEARSON: It was an open shop.

DRUMMOND: It was an open shop. So when you went on strike, it was only part of the folks that worked there?

PEARSON: Well, everyone who was working there came out.

DRUMMOND: Oh, even the nonunion folks came out?

PEARSON: Even the nonunion folks.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: The only ones who didn’t were the folks who were supervisors.

DRUMMOND: And what were -- what was so tough about this negotiation? Like, what were some of the big issues?

PEARSON: They really didn’t have any healthcare, and their hourly rates were very low.

DRUMMOND: Do you think that that had to do a lot, in part, with them being poor Mexican Americans?

PEARSON: Absolutely.

DRUMMOND: And not maybe having people who could translate and really --

PEARSON: Well, they all -- I shouldn’t say they all. The majority of them spoke English.

DRUMMOND: OK.

48:00

PEARSON: But I believe -- in fact, there was a little radio station in Roswell, and we were able to go on that radio station and talk about the issues that led to the strike. And I -- to this day, I’m convinced that the company tried to take advantage of these people because they had a sister plant in [Pembina], North Dakota. And what that plant did was also build Greyhound buses, but the buses were initially built in Canada, and then they were trucked across the border without engine components, and reassembled in Pembina, North Dakota, and those people made a hell of a lot more money than the people did in Roswell, New Mexico.

DRUMMOND: Because they had Canada to compare their benefits and wages to?

PEARSON: Yeah, and this little community in Roswell, New Mexico was a very poor community, and so they could oppress the workers very easily there. They were the only game in town. There was only two major manufacturers. There was the bus 49:00company, and Levi had a plant there that made Levi jeans.

DRUMMOND: And then, of course, if you were there in the ’70s, you know how hard things could be for the textile workers as well. I mean, I’m sure you got some of that --

PEARSON: Oh, absolutely. In fact, during the strike, the sheriff followed me around, or had one of his officers follow me around. And the sheriff was not union-friendly, and the mayor boasted that he crossed the picket line several times with a gun on the dashboard of his car. After the strike, we succeeded in electing a new mayor.

DRUMMOND: Really?

PEARSON: But we had this little radio station, and we were able to go on that station and talk about the issues, and talk about the -- what I believe to be the discrimination that existed between the folks in Pembina, North Dakota, who 50:00primarily were all Caucasian, versus the people who were in Roswell, New Mexico, who were primarily all Mexican American. After the strike was settled, a right-wing religious organization bought the radio station, and it became a radio station that broadcast religious stuff.

DRUMMOND: How big was that bus shop? How many folks were in that shop?

PEARSON: Oh, boy. I think we probably had six to eight hundred people working there.

DRUMMOND: And what percentage was union?

PEARSON: Well, at that time, maybe 70 percent.

DRUMMOND: And after the strike, did you have more folks join the union?

PEARSON: Absolutely. Yeah.

DRUMMOND: And how long did the strike last?

PEARSON: I think it lasted about five weeks. Although I may be wrong.

DRUMMOND: Strike bene --

PEARSON: We got a dime more.

51:00

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: And a general wage increase [over three years of 52%]. And we were able to pick up some benefits, some health benefits, and to get the employer to agree to join us in a study on pensions. And so those issues were significant enough that we were able, then, to vote the new proposal in. The folks accepted it. [note]

DRUMMOND: So that’s --

PEARSON: And --

DRUMMOND: Sorry.

PEARSON: I was going to say, after I left there, I was then transferred to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where GE had a plant, and I was assigned as their grand lodge representative.

DRUMMOND: So you’d been there about a year as special, and then you, after -- it’s sort of like the probationary period, and “special” is in front of the title.

PEARSON: Special, right. And then --

DRUMMOND: And then you become --

PEARSON: -- you became a grand lodge representative.

DRUMMOND: OK. OK.

52:00

PEARSON: And I went to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and while I was in Albuquerque, the machinists union took a downturn in membership, and there was a layoff.

DRUMMOND: What year was that? That would have been ’78, maybe?

PEARSON: ’78 [1980-1981].

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: So I was laid off. There was two rounds of layoffs, and I was in the second round of layoffs.

DRUMMOND: And what happened when you were laid off?

PEARSON: Well, when I -- when the first round of layoffs were announced, our general vice president, Justin Ostro, called every -- the people that were going to be laid off together for dinner. And that’s where he told them, you’re going to be laid off. In the second round, he called people together for dinner, and we knew we were going to get laid off. So my return to New Mexico from that dinner meeting, and was offered a job by the person who was then governor of the state of New Mexico, [a guy named] Toney Anaya, who wanted me to go to work for the state.

53:00

DRUMMOND: As?

PEARSON: Labor representative for the state of New Mexico in their wage and hour division. And so rather than do that -- my family was in the San Diego area, so I said I appreciated the opportunity. I said no, I think I’m going to go back to San Diego. Fortunately for me, the contract provided that if you left and stayed with the union in union representative capacity, you could return to the plant. And so I was able to return to the plant and work in the plant that I had been the business representative of. In fact, a person who had replaced me as business representative when I left to become a grand lodge special representative offered to resign so I could then run for business representative, and I said no, that’s not why I’m here.

DRUMMOND: Who was that?

PEARSON: A guy by the name of John Davidson.

54:00

DRUMMOND: John Davidson. And when you went back into the shop, what -- did you still have friends working there?

PEARSON: I went back as a turbine packaging mechanic and, you know, had a lot of friends. And that’s when I worked at this place called Kearny Mesa.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: And while I was there, I was laid off for almost two years to the day. And while I was there, I transferred into an inspection position and was in the inspection department. And of course, stayed very active in the local lodge.

DRUMMOND: And did you run for anything during those two years?

PEARSON: No, because I was -- I just didn’t think that would be fair to the folks who had filled the positions that I had held.

DRUMMOND: Right.

PEARSON: And, but then I was asked by the president of the local lodge to be a member of the negotiating committee. At that time, the bylaws of our local lodge said the president of the local lodge could appoint one person to the negotiating committee.

DRUMMOND: OK.

55:00

PEARSON: So he asked me if I would take it. It was an appointed position, and I accepted.

DRUMMOND: And I expect, too, you had a lot of folks come ask you for advice because you had seen --

PEARSON: All the time.

DRUMMOND: -- so much stuff. So you were really like the wise man.

PEARSON: I don’t know about that, but I was a person that people, you know, came to and talk -- in fact, the supervisors used to follow me around the plant.

DRUMMOND: Oh, really? To make sure you weren’t...

PEARSON: Conducting union business.

DRUMMOND: Because that was out of the contract?

PEARSON: Yes, because I wasn’t one of the elected representatives.

DRUMMOND: Oh, OK.

PEARSON: In my contract, the only people who could conduct union business had to be, you know --

DRUMMOND: An elected --

PEARSON: -- one of the people in elected capacity.

DRUMMOND: OK. And you were there two years --

PEARSON: Two years.

DRUMMOND: -- almost to the day, and you were recalled.

PEARSON: I was recalled to the International as a grand lodge representative.

DRUMMOND: OK. And did you immediately start traveling again?

PEARSON: Again started traveling.

56:00

DRUMMOND: Because the Western territory is Alaska, all the way down to --

PEARSON: It’s the 13 Western states, which includes Alaska and Hawaii.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: So I was assigned to -- back to New Mexico, and then also given Arizona and Colorado, and spent some time in Washington state. I became an aerospace coordinator. And so, initially, prior --

DRUMMOND: In your position as --

PEARSON: Grand lodge representative.

DRUMMOND: Grand lodge rep. OK.

PEARSON: Before the layoff, I was named as the Lockheed aerospace coordinator. Served in that capacity for about two weeks before I got laid off. And --

DRUMMOND: But did that include only the Lockheeds in the Western territory, or did it include all the Lockheeds in the United States?

PEARSON: All the Lockheeds. Yeah. I was the Western territory Lockheed representative, so I was the advisor -- would have been the advisor to all the Lockheed facilities within the Western territory, but then I got laid off. When 57:00I came back, I became the McDonnell Douglas coordinator.

DRUMMOND: OK. And Boeing eventually...

PEARSON: And then I eventually became the Boeing coordinator.

DRUMMOND: OK, can you tell me about the recall as special rep?

PEARSON: As I said, I was laid off almost two years to the day. And I got a notice of recall and returned to the payroll as a grand lodge special representative. And, as I mentioned earlier, assigned in New Mexico and Arizona and Colorado, and spent some time in a few other places. Prior to the layoff, I was named the Lockheed aerospace coordinator for the Western territory. After the layoff, I became the McDonnell Douglas aerospace coordinator, and then after that, was named as the Boeing coordinator. And so I served as the McDonnell 58:00Douglas overall coordinator, which was every McDonnell Douglas facility in the machinists union, and I also served as the Boeing overall coordinator.

DRUMMOND: And what did that -- what extra responsibilities did that entail?

PEARSON: Well, it was a coordination in ensuring a consistent application of the collective bargaining agreement in all the McDonnell Douglas or Boeing facilities.

DRUMMOND: OK. And so you worked exclusively with those?

PEARSON: Well, and also, I had other assignments as well.

DRUMMOND: OK. And what kind of other assignments did you have?

PEARSON: The normal course of assignments for a grand lodge representative. Would go down to a local lodge that maybe had some problems and grievances or arbitrations, and would help them with that. Assist where I could in organizing campaigns. Just the complete gamut of work that an International representative carries out.

59:00

DRUMMOND: Do you remember anything -- and what year were you recalled? What year would that have been?

PEARSON: That would have been ’83.

DRUMMOND: ’83. So post-PATCO.

PEARSON: ’84.

DRUMMOND: ’84. Post-PATCO. Was organizing more difficult? And I’ve talked to a couple of folks who say that organizing is the single-most difficult job in the union. And that it is often devastating, because you put so much into it and you might win a few, but you lose a lot more than you win. And so was there anything happening during this time, or anything that really stands out that was especially difficult or --

PEARSON: Well, I agree. Organizing was the toughest thing. For me, it was really tough because I had been involved in so many of the negotiations, arbitrations, and all those kinds of things, that I thought, why wouldn’t anybody want to join a union? I mean, if somebody comes and knocks on your door and says, “Hey, guess what? Here’s deal I’ve got for you. If you give me $10 a month, or $20 a month, or whatever, I’m going to get you a $1 an hour raise, or I’ll get you dental benefits and a $1 raise, or pension benefits.” I 60:00mean, you know, who’s going to say no? They’re going to tackle the guy and drag him into the house to sign up. So I’m thinking, why am I going around and telling people, you know, “You need to join a union”? They ought to be coming to me. So it was tough in that respect. And then, as you say, after the PATCO situation, you know, it really became tough, because now the employers were given a green light to fight you everywhere they could.

DRUMMOND: And despite the fact, too -- which I think is sort of an interesting point -- is that it was Reagan firing government -- federal employees who were striking, and during W.J. Usery’s time at –- you know, working with Nixon and then with Ford, my understanding is that he really, for the first time, codified collective bargaining and other issues for federal -- specifically for 61:00federal employees. And even Carter was unwilling to allow strikes by federal employees. Carter took a pretty strong line on that. And the PATCO folks were specifically fired because they were striking and they were federal employees, but then the private sector -- that was a completely different situation and completely different terms. But then the private sector really took that as an OK for them to follow up and do the same kinds of things.

PEARSON: Yeah, if they could get away with it in the federal government, why couldn’t they get away with it in private industry?

DRUMMOND: And do you feel like there was just really no proper policing of it? That when they were doing it, even if maybe they...

PEARSON: One of the biggest stumbling blocks was the ineffectiveness of the NLRB, the National Labor Relations Board.

DRUMMOND: To step up and really --

PEARSON: To step up and enforce the rules that were on the book. I mean, they 62:00would delay elections and do all kinds of stuff to prevent elections from taking place.

DRUMMOND: During the Reagan and Bush administrations?

PEARSON: Yes.

DRUMMOND: And that saw a loss of a lot of labor unions and a lot of membership. Not only for the machinists, but...

PEARSON: Well, for the Machinists Union, I really think that the downturn in membership was a result of the decreasing economy, as the economy began to turn down. Remember that there were thousands, hundreds of thousands of jobs that were, in effect, shipped overseas. I can remember, as the Boeing overall coordinator, telling the Boeing Company, you’re subcontracting all this work to China and to Japan and all over the world, and didn’t you learn anything, see anything from the automobile industry? And they said, well, you don’t -- we don’t need to worry about that. We give enough work away -- we’re subbing 63:00enough work away from the United States to keep these other countries busy. And we can’t sell airplanes in China unless we give them work. And so we tried to tell them, you know, there’s going to be a point in time where they’re going to be making airplanes to compete with you, just like they did with automobiles. They said, no, that’s never going to happen. Well, guess what? There’s Airbus, and then we used to say there’s going to be an Asian consortium. So now China’s making a plane to compete with the 737, which is the workhorse of the aerospace industry. So all those things led to this downturn in manufacturing, which we’re still feeling the brunt of today. We’ve lost our manufacturing base here in the United States.

DRUMMOND: Textiles are all but gone.

PEARSON: All but gone.

64:00

DRUMMOND: Did you ever have any textile unions get so small that they were ultimately wrapped into a machinists -- or any other kind of union? Like, the membership gets so small that they couldn’t really, I guess, afford the effort it would take to bargain for that small number of people and have them wrap -- and have them sort of folded into one of your locals?

PEARSON: Yes --

DRUMMOND: Or a machinists local?

PEARSON: There were the woodworkers, and then also we had a merger with the folks who were tool and die in the automobile industry. The woodworkers is the biggest one that folks probably remember. In fact, I was on the executive council when that merger was codified.

DRUMMOND: And when -- what year was that?

PEARSON: I don’t remember [1992-93].

DRUMMOND: OK, OK, OK.

PEARSON: It was not too long after I became a general vice president.

DRUMMOND: And how long were you grand lodge rep?

65:00

PEARSON: Counting -- well, I came on in ’81, and it’s on that bio sheet I think. When I became -- that sheet that I gave you. I think that’s got all the dates on there. [10 years as a GLR]

DRUMMOND: And then you went on to be administrative assistant?

PEARSON: Yeah, I became [administrative assistant in 1991]--

DRUMMOND: To the Western territory?

PEARSON: To the general vice president of the Western territory.

DRUMMOND: Who was, at the time?

PEARSON: Justin Ostro.

DRUMMOND: Justin Ostro. His name has come up before. How did your work change when you became administrative assistant?

PEARSON: Well, I guess probably the biggest thing was is that I was no longer traveling in the sense of going out for negotiations and arbitrations and organizing things like that, because I was working at the regional office. So that required a move --

DRUMMOND: Which was in?

66:00

PEARSON: At that time, it was in Oakland, California. So my wife and I moved to the Bay Area. And I worked in the regional office there, until I became general vice president [in 1992], and then I moved the regional office to Sacramento, California [1996].

DRUMMOND: OK. And at that time, you became a member of Local Lodge 946?

PEARSON: Yeah. When I became general vice president, we were in a downturn in membership, and so one of the things that I wanted to do was to put a lot of our aerospace districts and local lodges in a better financial position. And so we started merging some of our locals and district lodges. And one of the things that I did is I merged my own Local Lodge 685 into another local in what was then District 50, and then merged District 50 along with some other district 67:00lodges to form what’s now District Lodge 725.

DRUMMOND: And it -- so then it went from covering up a relatively small area, the district, to --

PEARSON: 725 district took in all the aerospace districts and local lodges from Los Angeles to San Diego.

DRUMMOND: So a much wider --

PEARSON: A much bigger area.

DRUMMOND: A much bigger, much bigger area. What was the reaction to that? What was the membership reaction?

PEARSON: Well, initially, there was a lot of people against that. They thought, well, we’re going to lose our identity. But the aerospace industry was reducing at such a rapid pace, we had to do something to save some of our locals and district lodges. And so it just made financial sense -- I mean, if you had somebody in Ontario, California doing the same thing that somebody in Los Angeles, California was doing, didn’t it make sense to combine those efforts? And so that’s what we tried to do.

68:00

DRUMMOND: OK. And how was management of the larger district? What were some of the challenges of...

PEARSON: Well, to merge those large -- what had been very large and very autonomous district lodges, and in some cases, even local lodges, the challenges were to try to convince the folks of the advantages of doing a merger. How it would help financially and logistically to create one larger local lodge or one larger district lodge in terms of geographical location, and how that could result in a more coordinated bargaining in terms of negotiations and help with arbitrations, and -- your resources became much bigger. And so -- like I said, 69:00initially, there were a lot of local and district lodge folks that resisted it, but over time, people said, there’s no other way to go. In fact, prior to that, the Northwest territory had been merged with the Western -- the Southwest territory and become the Western territory. So two territories were actually merged, and that’s how Justin Ostro became the general vice president of the Western territory, because there had been a Northwest and a Western, and they combined both of those, and the general vice president of the Northwest territory became the -- what was established as the organizing vice president.

DRUMMOND: And as general vice president -- what were the years that you were GVP?

PEARSON: It’s on there [1992-2008].

70:00

DRUMMOND: And that was your last position?

PEARSON: My last position with our union was general vice president.

DRUMMOND: What year did you retire?

PEARSON: I retired two years ago. July of -- what was it? Of ’09.

DRUMMOND: Of ’09. And --

PEARSON: No, wait. Of ’08.

DRUMMOND: Of ’08. So that was three years ago.

PEARSON: Has it been three years?

DRUMMOND: Yeah, it’s been three years.

PEARSON: It’s all in that little bio thing.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: I can’t remember what I did yesterday.

DRUMMOND: Well. And so, going from administrative assistant to the GVP to -- and you were appointed G -- that’s an appointed position?

PEARSON: No.

DRUMMOND: No, it’s not?

PEARSON: It’s an elected [originally appointed in 1992, elected 93, reelected in 1997, 2001, 2005].

DRUMMOND: It’s an elected position, OK.

PEARSON: Elected position.

DRUMMOND: And who did you run against?

PEARSON: No one ran against me. The first -- I was appointed to finish the term of the outgoing general vice president, who was Justin Ostro.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: And then I had to run for election as a general vice president. Within 71:00our union, all the general vice presidents are elected at the same time. Theoretically, the International president then appoints them to a specific area.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: And so I was -- I ran as a general vice president and was the Western territory general vice president.

DRUMMOND: OK. And during that -- the time period of the -- leading up to your retirement as GVP, what were some of the bigger issues that the Western territory had?

PEARSON: Well, the biggest issue was organizing. And it’s like if that was A1, A2 was the negotiations of contracts throughout the Western terr -- we had a huge strike at Boeing. Nearly avoided a strike at Lockheed. So between 72:00negotiations and arbitration -- I mean, those were the issues that we faced, as well as -- remember, at the same time, we were trying to reduce the footprint of our locals and district lodges in terms of overlapping of services, but yet broaden the footprint in geographical terms. So those three things were, I think, the most difficult part of my vice presidency. To try to create a Western territory that was more reflective of the diversity of the membership, taking into account the downsizing of manufacturing throughout. And aerospace was always a big part of the Western territory. In fact, that was the largest percent of our membership within the Western territory, was aerospace.

DRUMMOND: OK. Were there any particular successes you can think of?

73:00

PEARSON: Not many.

DRUMMOND: Not many.

PEARSON: Well, successes in organizing, we had some. And successes in terms of the mergers of locals and district lodges, certainly we had some there. I like to think that the strike that we had at Boeing was a success. We were able to do some things within that situation that people didn’t think we were able to do -- would not be able to do. So we had successes. Certainly organizing was where I really wanted to focus, because our territory was so drastically affected by the reduced economy, by the failure of manufacturing. And so we tried to really put an emphasis on organizing.

74:00

DRUMMOND: OK. Is there anything that perhaps we haven’t covered that you would like to share regarding your career with the machinists?

PEARSON: I think certainly the early years when I went to work in the shop. The -- I was so lucky to have people who were mentors to me.

DRUMMOND: Let’s talk about some of those people, then.

PEARSON: There are names that I could talk about that most folks wouldn’t even know. But they were -- our local lodge was so diverse. There were certainly a lot of people working there who had gone to work there during the -- during World War II. Huge female population within our shop.

DRUMMOND: And that’s one thing I forgot to ask. Like, how was your shop divided in terms of male and female workers?

PEARSON: I think probably the female population of the shop was, like, 25 or 30 75:00percent. We talk today, some of us who were visiting, about how women were discriminated against in those aerospace facilities, because they had rules that a woman couldn’t lift over 25 pounds, so that prevented them from advancing up into many positions, because there was weight -- there were things that you had to lift or move. And so they would use that to keep women from advancing. So we certainly had those issues. And I can remember some of the most important people that I had the opportunity to meet with and to talk to were the ladies who worked in the shop. A lot of welders. They were --

DRUMMOND: Really?

PEARSON: -- from the war years. They were still working. They were on the edge of retirement, of being able to then move into retirement. And so I was able to 76:00have the wisdom and the backing of a great deal of the womenfolk in the workforce in the plant.

DRUMMOND: And what’s some of the wisdom that they passed on to you?

PEARSON: Well, one of the things, you know, was to help me realize what discrimination was. What it really meant to them and how, had they not been discriminated against, how they could have advanced within the facility. A huge Hispanic workforce. And there was certainly discrimination going on there. And I came to appreciate and feel -- to understand why discrimination, in any form, is so bad. It’s just -- it’s...So --

DRUMMOND: Did you -- oh, sorry.

PEARSON: I was going to say, so I had this broad range of folks that I was able to deal with and to help me and mentor me. Some of the people -- there’s a fellow who was in our local lodge, his name was [Martin Axtel] -- he’s since passed away -- who was so very influential. And then my business representative, 77:00Norm Howard, was -- never finished high school, but probably had a better command of the English language than anybody I’ve ever met. He was a hobo for years.

DRUMMOND: Really?

PEARSON: And he used to tell stories of riding the rails.

DRUMMOND: Nice.

PEARSON: And I think that broadened his exposure to a lot of different things, and so he would share that with us. Martin Axtel was a Greyhound bus driver and shared that experience with us, and how that helped him to appreciate unions and what labor unions were able to do for folks. We had a fellow in our local lodge, [Ed Modlin], who eventually became the president of this District 50 that I talked about, who was president of my local lodge, who was very influential in helping me. So I had this great background to draw from. So certainly, over 78:00time, you reflect back, you look, and you think back at those people, and things they told you at the time maybe didn’t seem too important, but later on, you realize, my god, that’s how I came to think this way, or why I did things. So that was certainly great on me as a young representative.

DRUMMOND: So with all those people that you thought of as mentors, did it always -- did it make you conscientious of trying to always do what you could for people who had questions for you? Did it make you want to -- I always think of the union officers always have mentors, but there’s also this really great spirit of giving, I think, that comes from the solidarity of a union. Did you always think, OK, now I have the opportunity to give back to other people and to help them when they have questions and to...

79:00

PEARSON: Absolutely.

DRUMMOND: And was it important for you to be able to fill that role?

PEARSON: I believe so. I think one of the most influential things that happened to me during my career with the machinists union was the strike of 182 days. There’s not many people who have ever been on strike for 182 days. And so that had a profound effect on me. In fact, maybe so much so that it caused me to encourage our members not to strike when perhaps they really wanted to, but to try to help them understand that there’s a balance here. Because I didn’t want -- I didn’t ever want anybody to be put in the same position that I had been put in when we were on strike. And so to look for other ways of trying to seek resolution to these things. To be conscious of what -- the effect that could have on folks. So that had a tremendous impact on me.

DRUMMOND: Back to discrimination. You said there was a lot of discrimination 80:00against Mexican Americans, women in the plant. Was that, perhaps, to a certain degree, reflected in the union, too, in terms of who became officers, who became stewards, who became...

PEARSON: Absolutely. One of the things that I was impressed with -- by Justin Ostro, who was certainly a mentor to me, was his -- he put Mexican Americans on staff as grand lodge representatives when there wasn’t very many, and helped me appreciate that the union should be a reflection of its membership. So I continued on with that, and am proud to point to the fact that I’m one of the first vice presidents to put females on as grand lodge representatives and various capacities.

DRUMMOND: OK. And what was --

PEARSON: The Western territory, it was looked at as probably the most diverse of the territories.

81:00

DRUMMOND: OK. When you started putting women on as vice presidents, what reaction --

PEARSON: As grand lodge rep --

DRUMMOND: As grand lodge representatives. What kind of feedback did you get about that?

PEARSON: Well, by and large, it was -- it was pretty positive. And they were well-respected within their areas of assignment. And they carried them on -- carried out their assignments as well, or better, than anyone else.

DRUMMOND: Really?

PEARSON: And so, you know, what I used to tell people is, what difference does it make? I mean, why would you care whether your representative was black, white, female, whatever? Why would that make a difference to you, as long as that person did the job that you expected them to do? Why would any of these things make a difference? It wouldn’t to me.

DRUMMOND: Right.

PEARSON: If you’re going to be -- find yourself in a court of law, don’t you want the attorney that would best serve your -- that would serve your best 82:00interests? I wouldn’t care if they were female or black or Hispanic or Asian or Caucasian. I mean, they’re there to represent me, and that’s what I would want. And so we tried to carry on that tradition that had been started by General Vice President Justin Ostro in the Western territory.

DRUMMOND: And what was the reaction, do you remember, when he started putting Mexican Americans into office?

PEARSON: Well, initially, I think there were people who were hesitant about that. We had people that were -- they were concerned about, can they fulfill the obligation? Are they going to be able to do the job? And once they were shown that they could and would, then those kinds of things went by the wayside.

DRUMMOND: And presumably, these were people who had been stewards, and then maybe, you know, business reps or presidents of their locals, and had moved up 83:00the same way everyone else had.

PEARSON: That’s correct.

DRUMMOND: And had shown -- like, proven leadership skills.

PEARSON: Proven leadership skills.

DRUMMOND: And then, I guess, sort of coming to the forefront and being in charge of a larger territory, and maybe being higher up, and maybe more visibility.

PEARSON: Well, in the Western territory, remember as I said, it’s the 13 Western states, which includes Alaska and Hawaii. So I can’t think of a more -- a larger, more diverse population than what exists between Arizona to Hawaii, and from Southern California to Alaska. And so I think there was a tolerance there, to some degree.

DRUMMOND: That maybe folks in the Midwest or in the Northeast or in the Southern territories didn’t see.

PEARSON: Didn’t see initially, yes. We had this -- what I used to say was a 84:00cultural advantage over other territories, because we had such a diverse population to draw from. So if your –- if your union is going to mirror the faces of the people you represent, isn’t it only natural that you would have an African American, a Hispanic, a female, an Asian American? We were fortunate in being able to draw from this cultural diversity, which I think made us stronger during very, very trying times. Not only in our membership, but all across our representational area.

DRUMMOND: I think, in the South, it’s been easier to -- just based on the traditions and the history of the South, when you’re trying to organize a plant, if there are black workers and white workers, to sort of pit them against each other.

85:00

PEARSON: That’s certainly what employers did.

DRUMMOND: And to keep that stirred up enough that they could never get together to organize against the company. And do you think --

PEARSON: There always has to be somebody to oppress.

DRUMMOND: Yeah. But do you --

PEARSON: Every employer is looking for someone that can become their worker. And so the way that you prevent them from having any kind of a viable voice in the workplace is to prevent them from be -- forming a union. And so one of the ways of doing that is to pit race against race, or female against male.

DRUMMOND: And --

PEARSON: Always trying to divide us.

DRUMMOND: And then perhaps you had the advantage of having so much diversity that it would have been more difficult for management to pinpoint a group to -- but maybe that’s not true. Maybe you know of -- you have examples of, in your plant, pitting Mexican Americans against the Caucasian workers, or --

86:00

PEARSON: Well, certainly employers tried to do that. And had great success. But as workers begin to understand it’s us-and-them kind of a situation, I think they realized it was to their advantage to put those kinds of things aside.

DRUMMOND: Any more experiences that maybe we haven’t covered? Did you ever have any -- do any work as -- perhaps on the Central Labor -- as a representative to the Central Labor Council or the State Council of Machinists or anything like that?

PEARSON: Well, I was -- while I was general vice president, I was also a vice president on the California State Labor Fed. I was a vice president there.

DRUMMOND: OK. And what was that like?

PEARSON: That was our California delegation of unionists. And certainly it was eye-opening in the sense of listening to what everyone was saying and doing 87:00within the state of California. And having an occasional argument with some of my brothers and sisters at other unions to try to help them understand the importance of manufacturing and what it meant to our economic base.

DRUMMOND: Because I bet you had a lot of agricultural workers in California.

PEARSON: We did.

DRUMMOND: And public employees in California.

PEARSON: Public employees. Large, in fact. The biggest.

DRUMMOND: And some textiles. But what --

PEARSON: We even had automotive.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: A lot of people don’t know that, in addition to aerospace in California, at one time, there were automobile manufacturers in California. Ford had an assembly plant and Chrysler had an assembly plant. General Motors wanted to open up assembly plants in the old aerospace facilities in San Diego. So we had automobile. For various reasons, it didn’t last.

DRUMMOND: Right, right. And were those all AFL-CIO affiliates?

PEARSON: Yes.

88:00

DRUMMOND: OK. And then I believe that you also had a big role in the Guide Dogs of America. You were a trustee. When did your interest in the Guide Dogs come about?

PEARSON: Well, when I went to work at the Solar Turbines, one of the things that the membership had done was to adopt the Guide Dogs of America as a charity. It was the machinists union’s charity, but they really were serious about it.

DRUMMOND: So as early as ’66, you were very --

PEARSON: Yes. And so I had the opportunity to visit folks who were active in Guide Dogs, and then had an opportunity to visit the Guide Dogs facility in Sylmar. And...

DRUMMOND: And what did they do there? Did they train?

PEARSON: They trained the guide dogs. [further discusson]

DRUMMOND: OK.

89:00

PEARSON: And trained the recipients. And when you had an opportunity to see what was going on, and to think about all of a sudden losing your sight, and what that must do to a person, that I -- the wife and -- my wife and I really believe this is a worthwhile charity. So we got involved in it when I was -- when I started within the local lodge. And as I said, my local really took this on as a major thing to do. And so we always seem to be working, doing some kind of a fundraiser or something, to help Guide Dogs. And then when I became general vice president, I really felt that we needed to make a real push in the Western territory to -- because the Guide Dogs facility was in the Western territory. It was started in the Western territory. And so we really needed to make a push in the Western territory. Which wasn’t really a difficult situation, because throughout the Western territory, it was –- it was the charity of choice, so to speak. And so to convince people that we really needed a push on this, and we 90:00really needed to broaden our donations and our fundraising, wasn’t all that difficult. As a result of that, in fact, my wife was named to the state board of Guide Dogs. She was on the state governing board.

DRUMMOND: And was she a stay-at-home?

PEARSON: Yes.

DRUMMOND: OK.

PEARSON: She worked for the San Diego City Schools for a while, but then when we moved to the Bay Area, when I got transferred up there, then she was home.

DRUMMOND: OK. So she was on the board.

PEARSON: Of Guide -- the state board. And of course I was on the board of directors of Guide Dogs as a result of our union’s involvement in it. And then after I retired, I became a trustee.

91:00

DRUMMOND: Did you ever have the opportunity to, like, go to the training facility and meet people and...

PEARSON: One of the things that I had the opportunity to do that really influenced me is they had a... They had this opportunity for you to go through what a blind person went through. And so they would blindfold you, and then you would try -- you would see what it was like.

DRUMMOND: Or not see.

PEARSON: Or not see. And, I mean, that -- that was so -- it was a life-changing experience for me.

DRUMMOND: Did it -- so it was like a whole afternoon, a whole day?

PEARSON: Yeah, a whole afternoon.

DRUMMOND: OK. And you were asked to do --

PEARSON: And asked to do --

DRUMMOND: -- everyday tasks?

PEARSON: Everyday tasks, and just to kind of feel what it was like if you were to suddenly become visually impaired. Or even, over time, you can imagine having sight, and then going from having sight, not to having sight. People born 92:00without sight. I mean, it was just quite an experience. And I became so aware of the troubles and –- you know, the difficulties of the blind community. So we just really took that as our charity. We still work it to this day.

DRUMMOND: OK, so you are still involved.

PEARSON: We’re still involved. Like I say, now, you know, I sit on the board of directors, and now I’m a trustee. But in addition, every year, in the Sacramento area, we hold a car show to benefit Guide Dogs of America, to raise funds. And I think we’re -- this is our -- coming up on our 13th year. And last year, we raised about 20 -- about $10,000 for Guide Dogs. Over time, we’ve introduced that charity to so many people. And so now we have a 93:00contingency of between 80 to 100 cars that come to -- every year, come to the show. A few car clubs. It’s just been a great opportunity to bring that to people’s attention.

DRUMMOND: Are you an active retiree?

PEARSON: Active in the sense that I still do the Guide Dog stuff.

DRUMMOND: But --

PEARSON: I also sit on a board of -- for the state of California as a labor representative.

DRUMMOND: OK. And what do you do in that capacity?

PEARSON: Well, it’s a workers compensation board.

DRUMMOND: And it’s for the government? The state?

PEARSON: It’s for the state of California. It’s not a salaried position. 94:00It’s a position that requires about four to six meetings a year in San Francisco. They’ll pay for my travel there, but I don’t -- there’s not a salary associated with it. I’m what they call a labor member of the public. It’s an advisory board to the insurance commissioner of the state of California. We try to make suggestions to the insurance commissioner as to what the rates for workers’ compensation should be. So I do that, and the Guide Dogs, and the car club -- the car shows. And then try to, where I can, if I’m asked, try to help out.

95:00

DRUMMOND: What, for you, has been most satisfying about your work with the labor movement? And you can be -- it can be very general or very specific to the machinists.

PEARSON: I think that to having -- to realizing that the work that I helped folks with contributed to a better way of life for so many people. That’s got -- that’s the most satisfying. To know people’s lives were transformed, or made -- to be made a little bit better by whatever it was that I was doing. In Roswell, New Mexico, to see people go from walking to work, or riding a bicycle, 96:00to being able to have their own transportation. To see people who had no dental benefits whatsoever, to have dental benefits. Or people who had no eye care benefits, to have eye care benefits. Or didn’t have a pension, to be able to have a pension. Those are the things that are so very satisfying to me.

DRUMMOND: OK. Do you have anything else that we haven’t covered that you would like to...

PEARSON: Probably, but I can’t remember.

DRUMMOND: You can’t think about it right now?

PEARSON: Yeah.

DRUMMOND: OK. Well, then I think that will wrap up this part of our interview. Thank you so much for sitting with us.

PEARSON: Thank you.