What follows is a personal account of Mike Fox, one of the attorneys who represented Gene Viernes, Silme Domingo and Silme’s brother Nemesio Domingo in their fight against race discrimination in the cannery industry in Alaska. Mike had dedicated his life and career to the representation of farm workers, cannery workers, and the downtrodden and neglected. On the bench he was widely acclaimed for his fairness, and sense of justice. It is my personal honor to present Mike’s heartfelt reflections on our fallen heroes, Gene Viernes and SIlme Domingo:
I am Michael Fox, a retired Superior Court Judge (1988-2011). I practiced law in Seattle from 1969 until February, 1988, when I was appointed to the King County Superior Court by Washington State Governor Booth Gardner. Throughout my career as a lawyer, I concentrated on civil rights work centered on securing equal employment opportunities and improving working conditions for low income minority workers. I represented the United Farm Workers Union, AFL-CIO, from 1970-1988; the United Construction Workers Association (UCWA), a primarily African American organization, from 1971 until 1986; and the Alaskan Cannery Workers Association (ACWA) from 1973-1977. I was one of the attorneys involved in representing Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes and the ACWA in several federal employment discrimination lawsuits against major employers in the Alaskan salmon canning industry, including the New England Fish Company (NEFCO); NEFCO-Fidalgo, a joint venture between Whitney Fidalgo, Inc., and NEFCO, and Wards Cove Packing Company.
Gene and Silme became my close friends as well as my clients. They were young, bright, and dedicated labor organizers and political activists. Through their groundbreaking work in organizing cannery workers, they were elected to lead ILWU, Local 37, which controlled the dispatching of cannery workers to the major cannery companies in Alaska. They were assassinated in 1981 in the union office. When I learned of their deaths late at night on June 1, 1981, I immediately called the Seattle Police Department to inform them of my familiarity with the background of the victims’ having taken over Local 37, and the extreme hostility this engendered in those ousted, specifically Tony Baruso, the former union Business Agent. I had taken the deposition of Baruso some years earlier, and I knew of his extreme hostility toward both Gene and Silme, as well as the other leaders of ACWA. Baruso was later convicted, along with three others, of the murders.
It never occurred to me at the time of the assassinations that Ferdinand Marcos or others in the Philippine government could have been involved in these crimes. When I first heard these theories, I was flabbergasted, and skeptical. Over the years that followed, however, the painstaking and thorough investigative work through the civil litigation process led to conclusive proof, and a unanimous jury verdict, that Marcos, his government, and his agents in the United States initiated and led the conspiracy to assassinate these two young heroes.
This is a story which must be told. It not only will reveal the full story of these killings, but will show how the U. S. government turned its back on efforts to uncover the conspiracy to commit murder on U. S. soil, but actively hid evidence that would have led to a much earlier discovery of this terrorist act. Michael Withey, the attorney who led the investigation and successful prosecution of this amazing case, is the one person in the world best situated to tell this story.
Michael J. Fox
To watch more of Michael J. Fox’s oral history and connection to the
Civil Rights movement visit the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History site.