Greg and Kyung Deblock
Picture the 1970's: jobs on the decline, unrest in the steamfitters'
union about job security, dissatisfaction with the leadership, and upheaval
from Vietnam, Watergate, and the oil shocks.
Those were the tumultuous days in which Greg Deblock cut his teeth on union
politics. The retired business manager and organizer from Steamfitters
Local 235, which later became UA Local 290, spends more time than he wants
looking back these days. In November of 2006, Greg was diagnosed with
malignant mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung linings caused by asbestos.
In the summer of 2006, Greg began having shortness of breath. He went to
his primary care physician who took a chest x-ray that revealed a pleural
effusion. His doctor referred him to a specialist who performed two thoracenteses.
On each occasion, over one liter of fluid was removed. As the fluid returned
and Greg continued to experience shortness of breath, his doctor performed
exploratory surgery to determine the cause.
During the surgeries that took place at Providence Medical Center in Portland,
Oregon several tissue specimens were removed. The diagnosis was malignant
mesothelioma. His treating physicians decided that his best hope was to
begin with chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, and follow with major surgical
In November 2006, Greg began his first of six treatments with induction
chemotherapy consisting of Alimta and Cisplatin. On January 8, 2007, Greg
had another CT scan that showed minimum regress, despite his induction
chemotherapy treatments. His primary care physician and surgeon described
surgical options including extrapleural pnuemonectomy (EPP) to remove
the encased left lung.
He struggled to find specialized care in Portland. Despite the area's
status as a hotspot for mesothelioma due to its historic shipbuilding
and paper mill industries, the closest treatment centers with doctors
who specialize in mesothelioma are in Seattle and Los Angeles.
In order to learn more about treating his medical condition, Greg traveled
to Los Angeles to consult with Dr. Robert Cameron, a mesothelioma surgical
expert at UCLA. "I wouldn't even know about Dr. Cameron if my
lawyer, Roger Worthington, hadn't introduced me. It's too bad
the local doctors haven't responded to the asbestos epidemic here
Dr. Cameron, Chief of Thoracic Surgery at UCLA, is also the science advisor
for the Punch Worthington Research Laboratory, which is investigating
ways to reduce risk, diagnose and treat occupational diseases, such as
mesothelioma. The PWR lab is named after Punch Worthington, Ph.D, a long
time union organizer and asbestos investigator from Salem, Oregon. For
more information, see
On February 9, Greg met with Dr. Cameron who after initial examination
discussed with Greg the
pleurectomy with decortication surgery which would save the underlying lung, followed by radiation and
maintenance therapy with interferon. Greg was interested in the P/D but
eventually chose to undergo the EPP which was performed on April 27, 2007
in Portland. Close to his home.
Greg began as a dispatcher with steamfitters Local 235 in 1976. His popularity
led him to be elected as financial secretary/treasurer in 1977. Greg became
interim business manager when Matt Walters unexpectedly died, and then
became business manager at the next full election in 1980. Unemployment
was high and the union was in debt, but Greg was able to bring it into
Greg with some of his catch from his boat the 'Bar Hopper' 1986
His best memories about the job? "Helping people," he says without
hesitation. "You could use your position to resolve disputes, negotiate
on behalf of the membership, fight for higher wages-we negotiated the
highest percentage wage increase we'd ever had. I'd go talk to
other party regarding problems with the work site, or maybe a worker had
a personal problem and needed help, and I'd work it out with the other
party. Helping our members was at the top of my priority list and it gave
me the most satisfaction. I have sat on numerous boards and commissions
and used those positions to the benefit of our members and organized labor
as a whole."
According to Mike Fahey, former Executive Secretary of Metal Trades Council
of Portland and the Vicinity, "Greg was always respected by the people
he represented and the employers he negotiated with. He was fair. He had
integrity and was greatly liked. He was a welcome addition to any contract
negotiations, and respected by the membership because he never forgot
where he came from. Greg Deblock was a man who remembered what it was
like to carry a lunch bucket and punch a time clock."
Times, however, have changed. "The biggest change is skill development.
Steamfitters today have more skills. While the job of steamfitter continues
to involve the big pipe fitting type of work, the methods of doing so
have also changed. We have evolved into the high tech area of manufacturing.,
which requires added skills. We have been able to pass these skills on
to our members through our state of the art training center, thus making
the Portland area one of the premier high tech areas in the world that
possesses the skills necessary for high tech manufacturing. Along with
these skill developments are the management of those skills. So you see
the times have really changed.
"This area is saturated with high tech; Intel, IBM, Xerox, and many
others, and the work is more technical than it used to be. You deal with
different kinds of welding, high orbital welding instead of plain arc
welding. Pipe systems are also designed differently because of the electronics
involved. Now valve systems are all high tech, electronic, and automatic,
and often as not controlled from remote locations or via satellite.
"For labor the biggest change is the actual amount of physical labor.
Nowadays a steamfitter's got to have a license to work on boiler high
pressure piping and vessels, licenses for high tech orbital welding, low
voltage licenses, and others as well.
"Labor relations have improved, too. We used to be more adversarial,
but we don't see so many strikes because we've been able to negotiate
contracts that work around them for the benefit of management and labor
alike. I'd say there's been a meeting of the minds: in order to
get his work done the employer has got to have skilled people. He'll
go bust without them, it's been proven time and time again. as we
keep adding the skills required by the industry, we become more valuable
as a work force and can command a relatively higher standard for ourselves
and our families."
When asked about the future, Greg thinks it's pretty clear: "More
high tech. More skills in electronics and microprocessing. Less physical
demands, more high tech skills if we want to stay in the business, and
any other skills the future may require."
*** POSTED OCTOBER 25, 2007 ***
- A Conversation with a Union Giant (1/25/07)
- Union Giant Changes Oregon Law, Fights the Good Fight. Portland, OR (11/5/07)
*** Mr. Greg Deblock passed away on October 29, 2007 ***