By Jason Cox
Of The Keizertimes

Union dollars make up almost 90 percent of contributions promoting a ballot measure enacting retail building size limitations.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 555 has pumped $15,000 into Keep Keizer Livable’s coffers in the past three weeks alone as the March 8 ballot deadline approaches. Keep Keizer Livable has also retained the services of a John Kitzhaber campaign veteran and a political strategy firm.

In the coming few days, KKL co-founder Kevin Hohnbaum said efforts will be focused on “continuing our get-out-the-vote campaign, based on door-to-door, a good deal of phone calling, and a little bit of direct mail.”

The group, founded to oppose a big box discount grocer at Lockhaven Drive NE and Chemawa Road NE, has come out in force during the past two months in particular, spending $21,481 in the past two months, $17,302 of it in February alone. The group spent $10,435 in 2010.

And about 89 percent of its contributions came from labor unions, including $21,000 from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 555. Three chapters of the AFL-CIO put in a combined $5,000 toward the effort.

A union representative told the Keizertimes last August, when this newspaper first reported UFCW’s involvement, that his organization’s interest was in “preserving communities, having local, family-wage jobs that provide affordable healthcare and safe pensions.”

The union represents some or all of the employees at Roth’s Fresh Markets, Safeway and Albertsons, along with all Fred Meyer employees.

Jeff Anderson, secretary and treasurer of UFCW 555, said Wal-Mart in particular “is the number one predator, not a competitor” and said the company shifts costs like employee health care onto taxpayers via publicly-funded healthcare programs.

“Much of the retail industry does not provide affordable health care to their employees,” Anderson said. “Very few actually offer pensions. So there’s a spiral down when you expand big boxes into communities, you actually also lower the wages of the community that you enter.”

The measure would restrict retail buildings 65,000 square feet or larger to the currently-developed portion of Keizer Station. The restrictions would apply to both single-store retailers like Walmart and strip malls with multiple tenants, meaning any new retail buildings would have to be less than this size. Ballots are due March 8.

Roth’s Fresh Markets has given a total of $2,200 in cash and in-kind contributions, state records show. About $893 came from other cash contributions.

As of Tuesday, about 22 percent of ballots had been returned. Sharon Ricks, supervisor of Marion County Elections, said this was a “good” turnout so far, but it’s too early to tell for sure what the final turnout might be. She said about 50 percent is a solid benchmark in a special election, “but we would like 100 percent.

“I do know there are campaigns out there, notifying the people who are not voting,” Ricks said. “That will make a difference.”

Campaign finance records from the Oregon Secretary of State’s office show the single biggest expense – $6,950 – as a recent payout to Winpower Strategies, a campaign consulting firm that does direct mail, strategy and voter targeting, according to its website.

Records also show $500 paid to Miles Eshaia, who was the Salem-area field organizer for now-Gov. John Kitzhaber’s campaign.

Other significant expenses include attorney fees, signs and printing, postage and advertising in the Keizertimes and Statesman Journal.