Illinois AFL-CIO salutes legislators for their support of Organized Labor


Springfield, IL. — Margaret Blackshere, a Metro East legislative and Labor leader, fought during most of her adult life for women’s rights and better working conditions for women.

Blackshere, who died almost four years ago at age 78, would have been proud of an Illinois state representative who recently was awarded an Illinois AFL-CIO Labor Salutes award that was named after Blackshere, speakers at the ceremony in Springfield said.

They agreed that it was fitting that this year’s annual Blackshere Award for Women in Leadership was presented to state Rep. Lakesia Collins (D-Chicago).

Blackshere “was powerful, and she was historic,” said Tim Drea, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO. And he added that Collins is “an upcoming pioneer” in promoting women’s rights and actively supporting labor-approved legislation in the Illinois General Assembly.

He noted that Collins was among a group of legislators who led the successful drive to raise the Illinois minimum wage this year to $15 an hour from just $8.25 six years ago. The minimum has increased annually because of legislative action since 2017.
Collins said her support from Labor leaders made her job in the General Assembly easier. She also praised Blackshere for helping pave the way for women’s rights in Illinois.

“I have had the shoulders of giants like Margaret to stand on, who taught me you have to fight,” Collins said.

At the same state awards ceremony, state Rep. Theresa Mah (D-Chicago) was honored with the annual Zeke Giorgi Award for her support of Labor, and the Illinois AFL-CIO also presented the annual Reuben Soderstrom Award for Labor activism to state Sen. Linda Holmes (D-Aurora).

The state Labor Salutes awards began in 1994 when the-then Illinois AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Margaret Blackshere presented the inaugural Zeke Giorgi Award to then-state Jim McPike (D-Alton). Today, the Illinois AFL-CIO represents over 1500 affiliated unions and nearly 900,000 workers in Illinois.

Rep. Mah said she was the first Asian American elected to the state’s General Assembly in 2016. Now she is the senior member of what has become the state’s nine-member Asian American legislative caucus.

Mah is a former college professor with a Ph.D. in modern American history and teaching experience in history, ethnic studies, and Asian American studies. Born in San Francisco and a graduate of the University of California Berkeley,. Mah first came to Illinois for graduate studies at the University of Chicago more than 25 years ago.

“I am a history professor by trade, and I know how unions have positively impacted the lives of their members over the years,”  Mah said.

She said she welcomed her strong union support in her election campaigns.

“We should know that diversity in the General Assembly gives strength,” Mah said. “Together, we’re all better. Together we are more powerful.”

Sen. Holmes said she also has been happy to have the support of Organized Labor in her campaigns.

“I owe where I am now largely because of Labor — because of Labor’s help,” Holmes said. “Organized Labor is really what has built our entire middle class.”

Blackshere had served late in her career as president of the Illinois AFL-CIO. She began her long career in education and politics as a kindergarten teacher in the city of Madison in Madison County, after obtaining her master’s degree in education at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

While attending SIUE, she served as a student trustee and after completing her studies she served as a full trustee of SIU after being appointed by the governor. She soon saw the need for Madison teachers to have union representation during their contract negotiations and instigated an organizing drive that led to the Madison teachers joining the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

Blackshere also was involved in several organizations fighting for equality and social justice. She served on Illinois Women In Leadership and a variety of boards, councils and coalitions, including United Way of Illinois, American Red Cross in Illinois, Chicago Council of Foreign Relations, Unemployment Insurance Advisory Board, the Alliance of Retired Americans Executive Board, the Industrial Commission’s Self Insurer’s Advisory Board, the Chicago Metropolis 2020 Board, the Illinois Women’s Institute for Leadership, the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Advisory Council and the Board of Trustees of the Global Solidarity Center in Washington, D.C.


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