A few days ago I saw some guys holding a banner on the sidewalk in front of Salem's Withnell Dodge dealership on Commercial Street. Couldn't read the banner as I drove past. I figured it was some sort of advertising for the dealership.
Nope. It was a protest by the Pacific NW Regional Council of Carpenters. I learned this via a February 27 letter to the editor in the Statesman Journal from David Withnell.
On Jan. 23, 2013, I showed up for work to find three people in front of my Dodge dealership with a 50-foot banner stating, “Shame on Withnell Dodge — Hurts our community.” Not knowing what this was about, I called the number on the flier and asked.
Apparently the union had a labor dispute with a company that the Northwest Agricultural Show used to build their booths for their event in Portland. Our involvement was solely as an exhibitor in the show. I don’t know this union nor the company they are upset with.
The ag show was a four-day event at the end of January and, 40 days later, they are still out front of my dealership, every day, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. How is this action helping their cause?
They admit they don’t have an issue with me, yet their misleading banner makes it look as if I’m at fault for something.
So shame on the Pacific NW Regional Council of Carpenters (from Kent, Wash.) and shame on the people who think this type of protest is beneficial or right.
Curious about what the labor dispute was about, and somewhat skeptical about Withnell's claim that his dealership was in the dark about it, I fired up Google and did some digging in cyberspace.
First, a quick look at the Council of Carpenters' Facebook page shows that the union calls "Shame On..." fairly frequently. I counted seven shame photos, including the Dodge dealership's (above). So Withnell Dodge shouldn't feel like it's being singled out.
But shame for what?
Searching for information on what the protest was all about led me to Bill Post's blog, where he'd written "Union Thugs Picket Car Dealer in Salem." Thugs? The guys I saw on the sidewalk were just calmly standing there, holding a banner.
A letter from the Council of Carpenters included with the post made them sound even less thuggish. The letter, dated January 16, 2013, was addressed to the Northwest Agricultural Show -- where Withnell Dodge was an exhibitor.
Withnell Dodge was cc'd along with other apparent exhibitors, so almost certainly the dealership was sent a copy of the letter. Thus when David Withnell says that he had no idea on January 23 what the protest was about, and that he had never heard of the Council of Carpenters, seemingly either he hadn't read the letter, someone at Withnell Dodge had failed to tell him about it, or the post office took more than a week to deliver mail from Kent, Washington to Salem (unlikely).
Regardless, by February 27, when his letter to the editor was published, Withnell certainly should have been aware of what the Council of Carpenters had told the Northwest Agricultural Show and the ten cc'd exhibitors.
I found the language courteous, albeit strong and demanding. The Council of Carpenters makes it clear that anyone associated with the Show and its claimed payment of substandard wages through a contractor is at risk of a "peaceful and lawful display of banners and distribution of handbills."
Given that Withnell Dodge was an exhibitor at the Northwest Agricultural Show, and was cc'd on the letter sent by certified mail to the director of the Show, it sure seems that David Withnell isn't justified in claiming that the union doesn't have an issue with him.
Pretty clearly, they do. Whether their gripe is justified... that's another question.
I can understand how someone could sympathize either with the Council of Carpenters, or with Withnell Dodge. My point is just that the Carpenters union contacted Withnell Dodge before the protest began and told the dealership why it might be targeted for a banner display.
Which is what has happened. The union followed through on what it said it might do. Withnell Dodge followed through on participating in the Northwest Agricultural Show. Each organization is doing what seems right to it.
No problems there.
However, what bothers me about David Withnell's letter to the editor is that he makes it sound like the protest at his dealership was a complete surprise to him, and that he has no idea why the Council of Carpenters is upset with Withnell Dodge.
Free speech, including protesting peacefully and lawfully, is part of the American way.
Withnell Dodge should respect that right rather than wrongly portraying the Council of Carpenters as singling out the dealership for a protest without any reason.