By MARY ANN O'TOOLE HOLLEY
In a union that recently celebrated its 100th year, Mark Conner has been at its core for nearly half that time. After 42 years as a member of the International Association of Machinists (IAM), including a string of promotions that took him from a working as a diesel truck technician to IAM District 9 Directing Business Representative, Conner celebrated his retirement Saturday, June 15, with friends family and representatives from the Union’s highest ranks joining at the District 9 Hall.
“The battles, the struggles, the ups, the downs that I and others have been involved in throughout my tenure have been quite a ride,” Conner said, reflecting on his 19 ½ years in the shop and 22 ½ years representing the Machinists and his District 9 membership.
“There is one thing for certain. Union members and their families as well as non-union families have reaped the benefits of these hard-fought struggles the IAM and other unions have won throughout the years.”
ACCOLADES AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr. said he attends hundreds of dinners and events filled with speeches throughout the year, but what is most special to him is celebrating the work and successes of leaders like Conner who have dedicated their lives to helping others by making the Machinists Union stronger.
“Mark is kind, caring and compassionate, and has been a backbone of this union,” Martinez said. “Mark has been everything a ‘Fighting Machinist’ could be.”
Conner served on the IAM Law Committee during difficult times, Martinez said, but always delivered — “from negotiations to picket lines.”
“Thank you for your sacrifices of family, as you made the lives of thousands of IAM members better,” Martinez said. “Mark is the epitome of a true trade unionist. He has done so much for so many, and I am proud to call him my friend.”
- Dave Weaver, District 9’s new Directing Business Representative, serving as Master of Ceremonies, said he was proud to take on the challenges of the position and wished his good friend Mark Conner the best in his retirement.
“Working under the leadership of Mark, Tony Rippeto, Roger Poole and Phil Gruber, our four former Directing Business Representatives, taught me a tremendous amount. They were a great bunch of people as well as directors. I’ve served under the best.”
Weaver also commended new Assistant Directing Business Representative Jason Tetidrick and said he felt proud to have such valued people working with him.
“Caroline Kemper, our office assistant happens to be on vacation tonight, but she deserves so much thanks. She put this all together before she left for vacation,” Weaver said. “She has also worked under the past four directing business representatives and maybe more. She does so much,” Weaver said.
- Scott Hargis, president of IAM Local Lodge 777-Automotive, thanked Conner for his dedication and brought each Lodge officer to the dais to personally congratulate and shake Conner’s hand. Hargis also led the evening’s invocation.
- Former General Vice President Phil Gruber, who retired Jan. 1, traveled from Chicago to celebrate his good friend’s retirement.
“I don’t know if you know it, but in addition to working for the betterment of our working men and women, Mark and these District 9 gentlemen also host a number of fundraisers supporting Guide Dogs of America, the Machinists own charitable organization that raises, trains and provides guide dogs free of charge to those in need,” Gruber said. “Over the years, these two people, Mark Conner and Steve McDermott (Aerospace Lodge President/retired) have hosted everything from trap shoots to bingo games to motorcycle runs to raise funds for Guide Dogs.
- Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis, who is also a Machinist, said when Conner became Directing Business Representative his goal was also Mark’s goal.
“We kicked the hell out of ‘right-to-work,’” Louis said, referencing Missouri’s recent Prop A victory defeating the anti-union, anti-worker law.
“During the fight, the long struggle to repeal ‘right-to-work’ in Missouri, Mark never said ‘No,’” Louis said. “Every time we needed something, Mark was there, and families who go to work every day in a state that has not been threatened by a ‘right-to-work’ law, have Mark to thank.”
A parade of dignitaries and special guests too numerous to post shared words of praise and private appreciation for Conner and his team.
DIESEL MECHANIC TO DIRECTING BUSINESS REP.
After earning his associate degree at Nashville Auto Diesel College, Conner began his career as a diesel technician at Yellow Freight System and joined the District 9 Local Lodge 777 in May of 1977.
During his 19 ½ years with Yellow Freight, Conner got involved and was elected to Assistant, then later to Chief Shop Steward by his colleges. His involvement during that period included serving in variety of Lodge 777 officer positions.
In February 1996, then International President R. Thomas Buffenbarger assigned Conner to a special Organizing Task Force in the St Louis area, where he remained until he was selected in 1998 by then DBR James Brown to join the District No. 9 staff as a full-time organizer.
Conner served as Organizer, Business Representative, Assistant Directing Business Representative, and finally Directing Business Representative.
“I could not have done my job without the support of the dedicated District 9 staff and department managers,” Conner said, extending special praise for his executive secretary Caroline Kemper, who he called “amazing.”
“Believe me, she has been a godsend,” he said.
In addition to his responsibilities as Directing Business Representative, Conner proudly representing the IAM and the members of District 9 as a Grand Lodge Law Committee member, president of the Midwest State Council of Machinists, president of the Missouri State Conference of Machinists, Greater St Louis United Way Executive Board member, Madison County United Way Executive Board member and, Guide Dogs of America Executive Board member.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
“District 9 has had 13 directors over the years because members and delegates are wise and have done good by elections,” Gruber said.
“Dave Weaver, and new Assistant Directing Business Representative Jason Tetidrick are wise choices to lead District 9 into the future,” Gruber said to applause.