By MARY ANN HOLLEY
Robert A. Soutier, recently retired president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, AFL-CIO, has preached the word of organized labor from loading docks, busy roadsides, auditoriums and everywhere in-between.
Now, after 44 hard-working years in the labor movement, he hopes he left a mark.
Soutier retired Jan. 1 after serving nine years as president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council.
The Council has been there fighting for working men and women through good times and bad – from its beginning in 1887, when the Council fought strikebreakers and anti-union sentiments, to the present day, as it fights union busting corporations and a seemingly never-ending barrage of new anti-union legislation, Soutier said.
“It’s like it’s gone full-circle,” Soutier said. “Now, Labor is fighting to retain the things we’ve gained over these years.”
‘KEEP UP THE FIGHT’
During his tenure, Soutier and the 27-member Labor Council Executive Board honed the Council to become one of the most progressive and respected central labor organizations in the country.
Pat White, business representative and 26-year member of Gas Workers Local 11-6, has filled his seat on the Council.
“I leave the Council in good hands,” Soutier said. “We’ve all just got to keep up the fight.”
Soutier started his career with the International Association of Machinists, District 9, and has been a member of the there for 44 years, 35 of which he spent as an organizer and business representative.
“I plan to stay involved in labor causes, but enjoy my retirement. You know, 46 years of working is a long time,” Soutier said. “I think some of the things we’ve done, as far as protecting workers and raising their standard of living, is what makes me most proud. We fought very hard to accomplish these things and have been pretty successful.”
Seeing the ascendance of anti-worker forces in the Missouri Legislature and the barrage of anti-worker legislation proposed in the state and nationally has been frustrating, Soutier said, and has made protecting workers all the more difficult.
“I don’t want to say the future is bleak, but it’s not bright either,” Soutier said. “It will take a team of people committed to protecting workers.
“In St. Louis we do a very good job of that. We have very capable leadership in St. Louis and people are wise enough to join a union. That’s their best insurance policy for the future.”
WORKING UP THE RANKS
Soutier began his career in 1971 working for Ramsey Corporation. He joined Machinists District 9 and, in 1979, was appointed as an organizer.
“The Machinists made us do it all,” he said. “We did our own negotiations, arbitration and Labor Board work. We were a one-stop shop when it came to representing workers. I received very good training.”
In 1982, Soutier was elected as a business representative for District 9 and served in that post until 2002, when he was elected secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Labor Council.
Soutier was elected Council president in 2005, following the retirement of Robert J. Kelley.
‘FAIR AND HONEST’
“I don’t know if I can say I’m most proud of any one thing, but my time with the Machinists’ Union has been wonderful,” Soutier said. “I negotiated a lot of contracts, grievances and arbitrations. I’ve always tried to see both sides of all the issues and to be fair and honest with people.”
Soutier said he felt privileged to have spent his career representing workers.
“I think I’ve done a good job,” he said. “I go out with no regrets and nothing but good feelings knowing I’ve done my job to the best of my ability.”
Save the date: Dinner to honor Bob Soutier March 27
The Greater St. Louis Labor Council, AFL-CIO will honor retired Council President Robert A. Soutier with a tribute dinner on Friday, March 27, at Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 Union Hall at 2319 Chouteau Ave. in St. Louis.
Cocktails will be served at 6:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 7 p.m.
Soutier is retiring after nine years as council president and 44 years as a Machinist, 35 of them as an organizer and business representative for Machinists District 9.
For reservations or more information, call the Labor Council at 314-291-8666. [/box]