Longest serving rank-and-file E-Board member in union’s history honored at his final union meeting
The longest serving rank-and-file member on a local union’s executive board, who devoted his working career to serving fellow union members, has decided it’s time to take some time for himself and his wife.
Gene Kaiser, 83, who has spent the last 36 years as a vice president/member of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 655’s executive board, was honored at the union’s regular monthly meeting with a surprise presentation of a life-time UFCW membership card, one of only four ever presented to a Local 655 partner. He will officially retire this Monday, August 5 from Schnucks in Webster Groves where he was the chief shop steward.
After the first five years on the job, he was elected shop steward and has served in that position at the various stores ever since.
“Gene has done more for Local 655, leading by example,” said Local 655 President Dave Cook. “He took long hours from his own family to work for his Local 655 family; handbilling on days in extreme heat, picketing on days of extreme cold, helping in contract negotiations. No matter what the need, he was there more than anyone. We all owe Gene a great debt of gratitude for helping build Local 655 into the great union it is today.”
“It has been a great honor to work with our union,” Kaiser said to one of several standing ovations after being awarded the special honor. “I would urge every member to give an hour a day or at least an hour a week, come down to the Union hall and help. It’s you that builds the union.”
Kaiser has worked in the local food industry as a member of Local 655 for the past 54 years when he began working for then Bettendorf Rapp (which through several buyouts is now Schnucks). Since then, he has participated in almost every aspect of the union, helping on picket lines, volunteer organizing, going door-to-door for political candidates and representing Local 655 as a delegate at national UFCW conventions. And he’s been active in the St. Louis City Labor Club.
“Whenever there was a need at the union, I was there,” he told the Labor Tribune. “I probably spent more time after hours on union work than I did working full-time at the stores to make a wonderful living,” he said with a smile that demonstrated his pride in being an active, involved union member.
“We need more people involved in their union because it impacts their lives and their families more than they realize. Too often today of our members have come to take their union for granted and that’s a shame. When they get in trouble, suddenly they get it when the union comes to their rescue.”
TURNED DOWN THE JOB
To the surprise of everyone, Cook noted that he actually owes his union career to Kaiser. When he first applied for a job with Local 655, there were only so many openings and Kaiser was invited to take the job. He declined and Cook was selected, and the rest is history.
“I saw what it was like being a union rep, 24/7 with little, if any, time for yourself or your family. That was not for me,” Kaiser replied with a smile. With a hug, Cook thanked him for turning down the job!
RETIRED, BUT NOT GONE
What’s Kaiser going to do now?
Kaiser said he and his wife of 63 years, Loretta, plan on spending more time working for their church but he will continue working on projects for Local 655. Cook already made it clear that the union needs his experience and commitment to help members.