Illinois Labor Council recognizes contributions to labor and community

LABOR MAN OF THE YEAR: Kevin Oelrich (right), of Machinists Metro East Automotive Lodge 313, received the George R. Badgley Labor Man of the Year Award from Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan (left). – Labor Tribune photo


Illinois Correspondent

Belleville – The Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council recognized union members and labor leaders for their contributions to labor and their communities at the Council’s 48th annual awards banquet Aug. 28 at Bel-Air Bowl.

Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan congratulated the winners, while urging those in attendance to get out and vote for labor-friendly candidates, including Gov. Pat Quinn, on Election Day Nov. 4.

The biggest awards, for Labor Woman of the Year and George R. Badgley Labor Man of the Year, went to Laura Aerne of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and Kevin Oelrich of the Machinists Metro East Automotive Lodge 313.

Distinguished Service awards were given to Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Dale Stewart and Painters & Allied Trades Local 90 retired Business Manager Craig Votrian.

Community Service awards were presented to Laborers Local 100’s Dustin Ramage and UFCW Local 881.

Ted Helfrich of Painters District Council 58 received the Labor Volunteer Award, while the George Meany AFL-CIO Scouting Award went to Kevin Arentsen of the BASSC Employees Union IFT/AFT 6143.


Oelrich joined Machinists Lodge 353 in 1993 and served as recording secretary before its merger with Lodge 313, where he has been a shop steward and conductor sentinel. He’s also an active volunteer with the union, the United Way and the Red Cross.

Council President Bill Thurston said Oelrich understands the labor movement and what it means to be union.

“If you need someone to help, Kevin is the man to ask,” Thurston said.


Aerne worked her way up from teaching in the classroom to serving on the staff of the Illinois Federation of Teachers.


As president of the Granit City Federation of Teachers Local 743 in 2001, Aerne led the local through a one-month strike that was authorized on the day after the 9/11 attacks, drawing criticism but also galvanizing the membership.

She joined the IFT staff in 2004 and in that role has continued to work with IFT locals.

Aerne said it all started when she was still teaching and decided to run for building rep.

“For the great, great privilege of working full-time for the union and serving in the union movement, I thank you very much,” she said.


• STEWART has led the Building Trades since 2005, but spent 33 years as an elected officer of Teamsters Local 525 before accepting the post.


Stewart joined Local 525 out of high school. He was elected to the executive board and served as an organizer and assistant business agent.

In 1987, Stewart was elected Local 525’s secretary-treasurer/business representative, a position he held concurrently with numerous state and conference posts, until retiring and taking on the Building Trade post in 2005.

Thurston credited Stewart with bringing the Trades Council, Central Labor Council and the Madison County Federation of Labor into a close working relationship, and advocating for project labor agreements (PLAs), which benefit contractors while helping to provide jobs for union trades workers.

“This is something that an old truck driver never dreamed of,” Stewart said. “It is my job, but it is all I know.

“Over the years, with contract negotiations, grievances, strikes, organizing and now PLAs, it’s my job. I believe in organized labor and its strength and unity. For this award, I am deeply honored and humbled.”


• VOTRIAN served for 27 years as business manager and financial secretary-treasurer of Cement Masons Local 90 before retiring on May 31.

He started with Cement Masons Local 90, on permit, at age 15, before going off to college and trying his hand at teaching in the mid-1970s.

He returned to Local 90 as a cement finisher in 1977 and went on to become the business manager and financial secretary-treasurer.

In accepting the award, Votrian thanked the Council, Local 90 and – most important of all – his wife, Denise.

“Everybody in this room knows the life of a business agent, and I married a saint,” he said. “She put up with me and what I did for all the years I represented our local. That’s many hours you’re not around the house, not there to do the things that you want to do and you need to do, but you’re representing people. That calling came, and I did my best.”



Ramage, a member of Laborers Local 100 and director of the Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust (LECET) for the Southwestern Illinois Laborers’ District Council, Ramage has compiled a long list of union and community service activities including donating work for the Village Theater in Centreville, Southwestern Illinois College, Lewis and Clark Community College, Scottish Rite and Cahokia city park.

He also participates in the annual Salvation Army Ringing of the Bells, hosted a charitable fundraiser for a family who lost their home to a fire and has worked at various events for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

In accepting the award, Ramage thanked his family and his fellow union members for their generosity.

“I am deeply touched and honored to be receiving this award,” he said. “I am humbled to think of the countless hours that you spend freely of your time. I am grateful to be among such amazing and selfless leaders. Each one of you deserves this award.”



UFCW 881
COMMUNITY SERVICE: UFCW Local 881 was recognized with the Community Service for an Organization Award, presented by Terry Knoth of the United Way (back row, left) to Local 881 member Mike Pierce (back row, right) and (front row, from left) Local 881 member Bill Zink and Business Representative Jeff Collier. – Labor Tribune photo

Terry Knoth, senior labor representative for the United Way, presented the Organization Community Service Award to UFCW Local 881.

“Local 881 has fought tirelessly to maintain better wages, health care, pensions and working conditions for its many (35,000) members in the Illinois and Northwest Indiana region,” Knoth said.

The local’s community service includes a charitable foundation that has been a major contributor to the Leukemia Lymphoma Foundation. Other services have included food drives, Coats for Kids, Special Olympics, Susan Komen Race for the Cure, Lion’s Club charities and support for the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Mother Jones Foundation and United Way.

The local also awards more than $150,000 a year in scholarships to members and their children, giving many the chance to achieve a higher education.

Collier said the union’s charitable efforts have been as important to its member as to the recipients.

“If you’ve ever met a family that has a child suffering from leukemia, it’s a life-changing event,” Local 881 Business Representative Jeff Collier said. “But when you’re able to offer assistance to that family, that’s another life-changing event.”



Ted Helfrich, business representative and director of Servicing for Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) District Council 58, received the American Income Life Volunteer Award.

Helfrich joined Painters Local 85 in 1989, completed a three-year apprenticeship and served as vice president, president and apprentice instructor of the Belleville local.

Somehow, Helfrich has found time for a variety of volunteer projects over the years including, most recently, the new annex to the Belleville Labor and Industry Museum. He also worked on the Belleville downtown fountain, the Franklin Neighborhood House, Belleville West End home reconstructions and the original Labor and Industry Museum project and the Painters’ efforts for Habitat for Humanity.



A longtime Scouting volunteer, Kevin M. Arentsen, a member of Belleville Area Special Services Cooperative (BASSC) Employers Union, AFT/IFT Local 6143, received the George Meany AFL-CIO Scouting Award.

Arensten has served as a volunteer Scout leader for many years. He is a member of The Order of the Arrow (OA), the Boy Scouts of America’s national honor society, also known as “the Brotherhood of Cheerful Service,” and has received its highest award, The Vigil.

Arentsen has been an area director for summer camp for years, has helped train new leaders, and has led Scouts on high adventure and backpacking activities.

He also spends a week each year at the Scout Reach Summer Camp, working with underprivileged youth.

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