By SHERI GASSAWAY
Whether it’s planning a meat shoot fundraiser for a co-worker battling cancer or speaking to working women in front of the AFL-CIO Building in Washington as part of a union women’s leadership rally, Aurora Bihler has always stood out in the crowd.
So, it’s no wonder that the Missouri AFL-CIO selected the Iron Workers Local 396 journeywoman as the new program coordinator for its Missouri Works Initiative Building Union Diversity (BUD) program in St. Louis.
Bihler, who also serves as an officer on the Examining Committee of Local 396, began her new position last week. She’ll be taking over for BUD Program Director Russ Signorino, who will be retiring later this year.
COMMITTED, TALENTED TRADESWOMAN
“Aurora is a committed and talented tradeswoman with a passion for increasing participation in the construction trades from traditionally underrepresented groups,” said Greta Bax, the initiative’s director. “She has already hit the ground running, and we know she will provide the tremendous and innovative leadership necessary to make the BUD STL program a continued success.”
The BUD program, created by the St. Louis Building Trades Council, began in 2014 as a recruitment tool to encourage more minorities and women to get into the union building trades. The five-week program offers pre-apprentices the opportunity to visit local building trade unions to give them basic training and a feel for each of the trades.
In April, the Missouri AFL-CIO created an affiliated non-profit organization called the Missouri Works Initiative, which took over the BUD program in St. Louis and will use the existing expertise to replicate and expand the program to other areas of the state, including Springfield and Kansas City. The St. Louis BUD program boasts a 91 percent graduation rate.
‘TAKE THIS GREAT PROGRAM EVEN FURTHER’
“The St. Louis Building Trades Council is very excited to welcome Aurora to our Building Union Diversity family,” said John Stiffler, the council’s executive secretary-treasurer. “We can’t wait to see her take this great program even further.”
Bihler is no stranger in the St. Louis Labor Movement. She is the first female officer of the St. Louis City Labor Legislative Club, serving as recording secretary, treasurer of the Missouri Democratic Party Labor Caucus and a member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women.
She also served on the executive board of Missouri Women in Trades, a non-profit organization that helps women enter and succeed in careers in the building trades by providing mentoring, support-group meetings, job information and referrals.
‘GRATEFUL FOR ALL THE PEOPLE INVOLVED’
“I’m grateful for all the people involved in the BUD program and plan to lean on them for their experience and knowledge to continue the program’s mission,” Bihler said. “I would especially like to thank Russ for showing me the ropes with the BUD program so far. He has truly helped a lot of people throughout his years with BUD.”
Prior to joining Local 396 in 2014, Bihler worked as a field crew excavator for the Illinois State Archaeological Survey and as a ceramic analyst of Late Terminal Woodland and Early Mississippian period features in East St. Louis. She earned her Bachelor’s in Fine Arts degree in sculpture from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.
MEET AND GREET
The BUD program will celebrate the graduation of its 23rd class and hold a meet and greet for Bihler on Oct. 22 at 10 a.m. at the IBEW Local 1 hall, 5850 Elizabeth Ave. in St. Louis. Labor officials and allies are invited to attend. Guests are asked to RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org by Oct. 18.
The tentative start date for the next BUD class is Feb. 14, 2022.