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Battling Union Busters with Gary Ewing (1942-2000)

HistoryLink.org Essay 2723 : Printer-Friendly Format

Gary Ewing (1942-2000) died after a long battle with colon cancer on October 5, 2000, one week past his 58th birthday. This extraordinary, courageous, funny man was a passionate champion of working people and a loyal friend of many. Gary was an officer in Teamsters Local 174 in the early 1980s and later a lobbyist and representative for waste management firms Rabanco, Emerald Service, and Cedar Grove Composting. He was a former president of the International District Rotary and active in many political and community groups. His wife Violet is a veteran teacher in Seattle Public Schools. In this account, Walt Crowley remembers Gary's role in creating an innovative ad campaign to resist "union-busting" by local beer distributorships.

Gary first made headlines in the 1970s as the crusading "hippie truck driver" who defied his employer, Totem Beverage, and union, Teamsters Local 174, by refusing to cut his hair. For Gary, it was a matter of principles, not follicles, and he sacrificed much to defend them.

Union leadership changed in the early 1980s, and Gary Ewing was retained by Teamsters 174's new secretary-treasurer Bob Cooper as a business agent and, later, good and welfare officer. These were dark days for organized labor as President Reagan crushed the air traffic controllers union, stacked the National Labor Relations Board, and encouraged the decertification, or "busting" of established unions.

At this moment, in the spring of 1981, Gary sought out my wife, Marie McCaffrey, and me for advertising counsel in a long, bitter strike against Premium Distributors, which delivered Olympia ("It's the Water") Beer in King County. The union was getting no traction in the media and Gary thought a little ad campaign might help (my wife and I had founded a tiny agency the year before).

We met at Larry's Greenfront in Pioneer Square and took our seats in the sidewalk section on 1st Avenue. Gary had the imposing physique of a veteran trucker (without the stomach) and a pair of bright, impish eyes that could either dance or drill depending on his mood. As we tried to discuss strategy, Gary paused to shout obscenities the occasional "scab" (non-union) beer truck driver who drove by. Great, I thought. This guy is going to get me killed before I can bill him.

Despite these distractions, we came up with a plan. Olympia had just invested millions in a new ad campaign premised on the existence of invisible, troll-like "artesians which actually made Oly." The main slogan was "I seen 'em" (a la Bigfoot or UFOs). Pretty dumb, but, hey, no dumber than using frogs and lizards to peddle your beer.

Knowing the sensitivity of ad executives to any parody or negative connotations that might sour the public impression of their message and client, we calculated that a little interior bus card campaign mocking these critters might set off alarm bells at Oly, and in turn lead it to pressure Premium to settle.

This was a real long shot (and bordered on an illegal secondary boycott) but Local 174 approved a couple of grand for the bus cards, which read, "I Seen 'Em: Scabs Delivering Oly in Seattle." Within a month of the appearance of the first ads, a very ticked-off Premium reluctantly signed a union contract. Our goofy plan actually worked!

So we did it again, targeting Rainier Beer's main distributor in South King County. Not only did the company settle, but Rainier ran an ad proudly affirming its loyalty to working people. The formula was not guaranteed, however, and most distributorships actually went non-union during the early 1980s. Gary and Bob Cooper did yeoman service for 174 members, but they got bounced anyway.

On Bob's recommendation, Rabanco waste management (and later Emerald Service) hired Gary as a lobbyist and public spokesperson. He secured the company lucrative contracts, protected union wages and rights, and staunchly resisted the entry of outside, non-union garbage handlers into King County. Gary also became fast friends with Warren Razore and Stephen Banchero. His last service was helping to perfect and promote recycled all-natural fertilizer products for Cedar Grove Composting.

Gary and his wife, Violet, a Seattle Public School teacher, were also active in numerous community causes, and Gary was a past president and indefatigable booster of the International District Rotary. He was survived by Violet and their children Lena Lenn, Lilli Ewing, and Luis Ewing. Gary will be missed in many ways by many people.

Sources:
Walt Crowley personal archives; W. Crowley telephone interview with Violet Ewing, October 10, 2000.


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Gary Ewing (left) and Walt Crowley, spring 2000
Courtesy Walt Crowley


This interior bus ad helped to win Teamsters Local 174 a new contract in June 1981
Courtesy Walt Crowley


A second Teamsters Local 174 bus ad featured dead Rainiers
Courtesy Walt Crowley


This poster targeted non-union Rainier distribution in South King County
Courtesy Walt Crowley


This poster targeted non-union Rainier distributors in South King County
Courtesy Walt Crowley


Local prize fighter Boone Kirkman joined the fight against union busters in 1981
Courtesy Walt Crowley


 
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