Former Machinists president George Kourpias dies at 87

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Served as first president of Alliance for Retired Americans

GEORGE KOURPIAS, retired president of the Machinists and first president of the Alliance for Retired Americans, died Dec. 2 at 87. He led the union through massive times of transition, colleagues said. – IAM Photo via PAI Photo Service

Silver Spring, Md. (PAI) – Funeral services were held Dec. 7 for former Machinists President George Kourpias, who died five days before at age 87.

After eight years as IAM chief, from 1989-1997, Kourpias became the first president of the Labor-backed Alliance for Retired Americans, also for eight years.

“Countless retirees and union members are leading better lives today because of the life and work of George Kourpias,” said alliance Executive Director Richard Fiesta. “His dedication to retirees came straight from the heart. He was an inspirational leader driven by his warmth and passion to make America a place where everyone regardless of background had the opportunity to work and retire with dignity.”

Kourpias started with IAM Local 1637 in 1952, when he began work at Zenith Corp., in his native Sioux City, Iowa. He became an union activist a year later and went on from there, including 33 years on the IAM staff, featured by being top aide to legendary President William “Wimpy” Winpisinger.

‘UNION LEADERSHIP IS A GIFT GIVEN BY THE MEMBERSHIP’
“I have always said union leadership is a gift – a gift given to us by the membership. And for that gift, I will be forever grateful,” Kourpias wrote in his farewell to IAM in 1997.

“George was a lion for the Labor Movement and for our great union,” said current Machinists President Robert Martinez. “He was always there for our members and left a legacy that will live on forever.

“While we grieve the loss of a great champion for working people, we pledge to continue his lifelong fight for dignity, justice and respect on and off the job,” Martinez said.

REVITALIZED IAM’S POLITICAL ACTION PROGRAM
As president, Kourpias led the union’s collective bargaining and organizing efforts, and “activated members’ voices in the political process,” IAM said. “He revitalized IAM’s political action program and refocused attention on real issues for families, helping to derail an anti-worker legislative agenda,” of Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America.”

He also led the union during a key time of change in the Labor Movement, starting with the election of then-Service Employees President John Sweeney to the AFL-CIO presidency.

And Kourpias was a leader in Labor’s support of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the federation said.

‘A LABOR GIANT’
“George Kourpias was a Labor giant who guided IAM through some of the union’s most challenging times with dignity and grace,” current AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.

“He led his members through national strikes, fought back against relentless attacks on workers, and created more educational opportunities through the expansion of IAM’s world-renowned Winpisinger Education and Technology Center…I will miss George’s leadership and friendship. We are eternally grateful for his service.”

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