By CARL GREEN
Pontoon Beach, IL – Steelworkers retirees reached out to the son of a hero of the past in their annual awards, given out Aug. 12 along with five scholarships to students from steel worker families.
Ed Sadlowski Jr., son of the United Steelworkers leader in the ’70s, was chosen to receive the Labor Leader of the Year Award, which also is named for his father. The awards were given at a luncheon of Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) Chapter 7-34-2 at Neighborhood Social Club in Pontoon Beach.
Ed Sadlowski Sr. rose from being president of his local at U.S. Steel South Works in Chicago to director of District 31, in opposition to the established leadership, and he ran a strong but unsuccessful reform campaign for international president in 1977. He continued serving as a subdistrict director until retiring in 1993, when he began a long tenure on the Illinois Labor Relations Board.
Sadlowski Jr. noted that he is a fourth-generation Steelworker, having worked at Texas Electrical Steel Castings in Houston for a time before eventually becoming a Labor organizer for the Milwaukee Teachers Association, where he battled anti-union former Governor Scott Walker, who eventually was voted out of office.
A FAMILIAR FRENZY
Chapter President Jeff Rains said he once traveled to Wisconsin to rally with Sadlowski Jr. in a campaign to remove Walker from office, and he found the younger Ed at the center of the pandemonium.
“I thought I was with his father once again,” Rains said. “Everybody in the streets knew him.”
Sadlowski described the campaign against Walker that ended with Tony Evers, a Democrat, defeating him in the 2018 election and beginning to undo the damage of Walker’s eight years in office.
“That’s almost exclusively because of rank-and-file school teachers kicking Walker’s ass out of office after eight years of destructive policies,” he said. “Some of the largest cuts to public education in U.S. history were made in 2011. Some $3 billion was shifted to corporate tax breaks from school budgets. But now, Milwaukee teachers are one of the fastest-growing unions in the state of Wisconsin.
“We’re going back into the shops, old-school,” he added. “We’ve changed out the state school board, and we’re doing things through policy, restoring everything that’s been taken – by having friends in elected places.”
He brought his wife Emily and their son Ed.
“We made the journey here out of a deep sense of gratitude, to the great pals not only of my father, but my family’s real heroes,” he said. “I’m obligated to carry it on, so the circle’s unbroken.”
FRIEND OF SOAR JUDGE HYLLA
Madison County Circuit Judge Dave Hylla was honored with the Friend of SOAR Award. He earned his law degree at St. Louis University School of Law in 1985 and was first elected circuit judge in 2006.
Hylla recalled how his family, too, has benefitted from the union and industrial jobs going back to his immigrant great-grandfather.
“The Steelworkers Union means a lot to me. This will be an award I cherish,” he said. “Because of the Union, the wage he made and his pension, my grandfather was able to retire at an age younger than I am, in his ‘50s.
“I have the deepest respect for the union, and for everybody who works at the mill,” he added. “It is in my blood, through my father and my grandfather, so this award is very special to me. I would not have been given the opportunities that I was given without the Steelworkers Union.”
VOLUNTEERS OF THE YEAR
Chapter members Tom and Sandy Belusko were named Volunteers of the Year for their many efforts on behalf of the chapter.
“They’ve been here every time we’ve done a trivia night, they’ve been here for our barbecues, they took our barbecue grills and repaired them and repainted them,” Rains said. “They refurbished our parade trailer, and it’s beautifully repainted in SOAR colors, and that’s the kind of volunteers we have this year.”
Tom Belusko credited Sandy’s mom, Peg, for helping paint the trailer.
ACTIVIST OF THE YEAR
Stanley Gorka was named Activist of the Year. “Ever since Stanley’s been retired, he always lends a hand, and he’s always there,” Rains said. “He’s always there even when we don’t ask him.”
Gorka took the opportunity to thank the chapter members and the other volunteers.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” he said. “I haven’t really done a lot that I thought was worthy. But I appreciate it, and I appreciate the SOAR chapter and everyone in attendance.”
A GOOD TURN OF EVENTS
The event was held right after soaking rainstorms in the region, flooding much of the Granite City area and keeping some people from attending. The ones who did had to drive through a little water.
So some of the voluminous lunch that Rains had arranged was in danger of going to waste, including pasta, ravioli and potatoes.
It just so happened, however, that ARCH House, an alcoholic rehabilitation facility in Granite City, had a flooded basement, which ruined the food for the dinner. As soon as the word was heard, those leftovers were on their way to be put to a good use.
COPE ENDORSEMENTS; GIBBONS UNDECIDED
The event also helped Madison County Democrats continue to develop the slate of candidates that they hope will return the county government firmly into Democratic hands in the 2020 election.
B. Dean Webb, president of the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor, announced that the 12th Congressional COPE had made early endorsements for three announced county-level candidates. They include Bob Daiber for chairman, Amy Gabriel for circuit clerk and Joe Silkwood for auditor.
Also, State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said he is deciding between running for re-election or instead running for a circuit judge opening.
Daiber is the former regional school superintendent. Silkwood is the mayor of East Alton. Gabriel is an attorney who previously worked in the state’s attorney’s office.