Local 36 Red Lager:  Put Out the Fire

Mon, 30 Jun 2014 18:55:00

When you’re hot and bothered, and it’s time to put the fire out, cool your thirst with Worthy’s Local 36 Red Lager.

local 36 red lager

Local 36 Red Lager, the “lagger’s lager,” is a zippy, zesty, and robust reddish lager spiced handsomely with Ultra, a rare Oregon grown aroma hop with “noble” Bavarian roots. It’s brewed with Czech-style yeast and a mix of domestic and imported malts. It’s muscular without being hulking. Lean without being mean. And it delivers a smooth, clean and happily hopped finish.

“I’d like to say that we toiled, sweat and bled to brew this lager,” said Chad Kennedy, Worthy’s Master Brewer. “But actually, we had a blast. It all just sort of came together. It was fun to brew and it felt good knowing it was dedicated to a worthy group of men and women who helped build our great state.”

Local 36 Lager is named after a labor union in Portland, Oregon – the Local 36 Heat and Frost Insulators Union, also known as the “Asbestos Workers.” Why would Worthy Brewing name a lager after a labor union? Is Worthy celebrating asbestos, the most toxic mineral on Earth? And what’s with the salamander on the logo?

Read on, as we connect the dots.

100 Year Anniversary

local 36 red lager

100 years ago, when the Industrial Revolution was revving up, Local 36 was formed to organize insulators, also known as, “laggers.” Laggers applied insulation on hot surfaces to keep the heat in. Most of the insulation materials at the time were made of asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral renown for it’s heat retention properties.

Laggers kept the fires burning hot. They insulated pipes and boilers in ships, paper mills, refineries, powerhouses, as well as in hospitals, schools and churches. After a hard day’s work, laggers would be covered in white dust, dust which they brought home to their wives and children.

Little did the laggers know that asbestos, touted by industrial magnates as a “magic mineral,” was in fact a toxic, carcinogenic “wicked white powder.”  The asbestos fibers infiltrated their lungs like tiny, ticking time bombs, set to go off 20-40 years after exposure. By the 1970’s, across the nation insulators began to die by the hundreds from “white lung.”

A Fire is Lit

local 36 red lager

At about that time, a college kid from Corvallis spent his summers working at oil refineries in Houston, Texas. The lad was asked to clean the inside of boilers and furnaces. The upstart asked for a dust mask. The “safety manager” said he didn’t have any and, besides, “asbestos wasn’t that harmful.” The kid went on to law school, graduated and decided he wanted to represent industrial workers afflicted with asbestos diseases.

The “lad” is of course me, the owner of Worthy Brewing. In 1989, fresh out of law school, I came back from Texas to my home state of Oregon to meet with local labor unions about representing their tradesmen. The first union to take a chance on this fresh-faced, eager beaver was Local 36.

Fighting For Workers Rights

local 36 red lager

For the next 24 years, it was and continues to be my honor and privilege to represent some of the finest people in the world — hard working men and women who helped us win wars, build industries, and advance civilization, but who in so doing were deliberately poisoned by the worst corporations in the world.

Quite frankly, my law firm’s representation of laggers, pipefitters, boilermakers, carpenters, welders, drywallers and other tradesman and women afflicted with asbestos diseases has helped build Worthy Brewing. Local 36 Red Lager is Worthy Brewing’s way of honoring Local 36 on it’s 100th anniversary. And it’s my way of saying “thank you.”

Why a Slimy, Cold-Blooded Salamander

Now, about that salamander. The salamander is featured on the Asbestos Workers logo. Oddly enough, it’s shown casually roasting on a pipe over a red hot fire. Why did the founders of the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators way back in 1903 choose this toothless, cold-blooded amphibian as their mascot?

To answer that, you have to go back in time. Way back before Aristotle and Pliny the Elder. According to the prevailing legends of the time, the cold and clammy salamander was imbued with the power to extinguish fire. That’s right. You could roast ‘em, you could toast ‘em, but they would not burn.

One Talmudic scholar scribed that the salamander was “created by Fire.” It’s not unimaginable, and here’s why. Salamanders hibernate in old, moist, rotten logs. It’s likely that an old timer tossed a wet log on a fire, the salamander sleeping inside woke up, and then scampered out of the smoke. And thus the legend was born.

In the 1200s, Marco Polo famously sojourned from Italy into Siberia, where the local merchants offered to sell him garments that would not burn. They called this inextinguishable fabric, of all things, “salamander’s wool.”  But Marco Polo was no dummy. Salamanders had no hair. He traced the weirdly named wool to a local mine, from which a glassy white mineral fiber was extracted, an infamous mineral which today we know as “asbestos.”

Apparently Leonardi da Vinci didn’t get the memo. In the early 1500s, Da Vinci observed that the salamander “gets no food but from fire,” the flames of which, he wrote, “renewed its scaly skin – for virtue.” Yes, it makes no sense. But it shows that even the most skeptical mind is no match for the seductive power of a loveable legend.

Love The Workers, Hate the Poison

It should go without saying that we deplore the “wicked white powder.” We wish that asbestos had remained in the ground, where it could do no harm. And we deplore the merchants of death who kept mining, milling and selling asbestos products long after they learned about it’s ugly toxicity.

But we adore the salamander. It reminds me of my youth, playing in the frog ponds in Corvallis, where the orange colored salamanders used to come out by the thousands after a heavy rain. In a tragic way, it’s fitting that the asbestos workers chose the salamander as their mascot. Today, probably because of climate change, there are far fewer salamanders. And, because of asbestos poisoning, there are far fewer laggers.

A Toast to Local 36 Laggers

local 36 red lager

So, on the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Local 36 Heat and Frost Insulators union in Portland, Oregon, we raise a toast. We honor Local 36’s legacy of craftsmanship. We honor the work they did to insulate our ships that fought the wars, from WWI, to Vietnam, to Afghanistan. We honor them for keeping our boilers warm and our coolers cool. We honor them for their hard work, their energy, their fight for living wages and safe working conditions. And we honor Local 36 laggers for their sacrifice. Despite the decline in the shipbuilding business, and the ravages of asbestos, which too often wiped out entire families of laggers, Local 36 has soldiered on, with pride, strength and good cheer.

Local 36, we salute you!  Solidarity Forever.

Now pass me a cold beer ferchrist sakes.

Roger Worthington, Esq.



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