By CARL GREEN
Belleville, IL – The Labor community was in a celebratory mood when the Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council awards were presented on Aug. 29, but the newest George R. Badgley Labor Man of the Year issued a stern warning – we need to be ready for tough times ahead.
Glyn Ramage, business manager of the 12-county Southwestern Illinois Laborers’ District Council, has been fighting for Labor since he joined the union back in 1977, quickly becoming a local and regional officer. He was named business manager of the District Council in 2000.
Ramage called on all union members to take a bigger role in making change happen.
“People ask me all the time, ‘What can I do to make a difference?’” Ramage said. “My answer never changes – get involved. Don’t wait for an invitation. Get engaged. This is not a spectator sideline sport. We need your involvement to make things better for working families throughout this state.”
Anti-union, corporate interests have convinced too many Americans they don’t deserve a fair shake in the workplace – a belief that Labor must roll back, Ramage said.
“We don’t need to accept people’s versions of what’s good for us,” he said. “They have convinced us that it’s OK to have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet, that’s it’s OK to suppress our capacity to earn. We live from month to month, praying and hoping that nothing happens to us. So it’s time to stop the status quo. We are better than that. Our families deserve more than that.
“The time to ignite this fire is now, to carry it into 2020 and beyond,” Ramage said. “So I challenge, you my brothers and sisters, to engage people – to give a little more, to push back a little harder, to not go down that path of least resistance. And I know if we do these things together, and we stand together, and we fight together and we rise together, we will win together.”
The Council had a full slate of award-winners in addition to Ramage, including:
LABOR WOMAN OF THE YEAR
Rhonda Gathing-Jones of the East St. Louis Federation of Teachers Local 1220, was named the Council’s Labor Woman of the Year.
Gathing-Jones holds an MBA from National Lewis University, a master’s in school counseling from Lindenwood University.
Gathing-Jones has worked for 20 years in the East St. Louis schools and has been in Federation of Teachers Local 1220 since 1998, holding offices of treasurer, recording secretary and building representative and serving on Local 1220’s executive board and negotiating committee and as a delegate to union conventions and workshops.
Gathing-Jones’ ninth-grade teacher, Peggy Lewis LeCompte, attended the banquet in her honor, as did local presidents Sharon Robinson Crockett and Terry Turley.
FRIEND OF LABOR
Council President Scot Luchtefeld presented the Friend of Labor Award to Illinois State Rep. LaToya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis), who has maintained a 100 percent pro-Labor voting record since winning election in 2016.
“When we need her the most, she is there for us,” Luchtefeld said.
Greenwood thanked state Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) a special guest at the dinner, for his leadership and mentoring and other legislators including Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) and Senators Christ Belt (D-Cahokia) and Rachelle Crowe (D-Glen Carbon).
“Thank you for allowing me to work with me all of you to help us move the state forward toward prosperity, equity and to reaffirm the power of Labor and its role in building not only our state but our great nation,” she said.
AMERICAN INCOME LIFE LABOR VOLUNTEER
Bill Hagene, an IBEW Local 309 retiree, received the American Income Life Labor Volunteer Award.
Hagene retired a few years ago, but he never quit working, especially for people in need, Luchtefeld said. When Local 309 formed its Electric Pros initiative in 2015, Hagene was ready with a crew including fellow retirees including Dan Soddam, Brad Maes, Dave Rakers, Mike Hayes, Scott Nicholson and Don Herbeck.
“One big part of the project is community work,” Luchtefeld said. “That’s where Hagene took the lead. And in the years since then, he and his crews of retirees have given back throughout the Metro-East on projects that wouldn’t have been done otherwise.”
The lengthy list of projects supported by Hagene and his crew include, in part:
- Helping East Side Heart and Home build 20 new houses in East St. Louis along north 8th Street.
- Helping restore the St. Vincent DePaul Community Center.
- Helping complete Habitat for Humanity houses in Roxana, Collinsville, East Alton and Edwardsville.
Ed Finkelstein, longtime publisher of the St. Louis-Southern Illinois Labor Tribune, received the Council’s Distinguished Service Award.
Finkelstein has been a vital presence in the St. Louis and Southern Illinois Labor Movement for some 50 years, founding the first all-union public relations firm, Union Communications in 1970, and helming the Labor Tribune since the early ’70s when he took it over from founder Maury Rubin, who started the paper in 1937.
“The Labor Tribune has provided the regional Labor Movement with an invaluable means of communication between the unions, between the states, and between Labor leaders and members,” Luchtefeld said in presenting the award.
Noting how Finkelstein helped organize and was a key leader in the successful fight against so-called “right-to-work” in Missouri in 1978 and how he and his staff played the same role to help defeat Prop A last year, Luchtefeld said, “The Labor Tribune has remained an influential and aggressive defender of Labor causes. Ed Finkelstein has helped Organized Labor find the voice to tell its story to the public and its own members, and he continues to be a strong, guiding factor as we contend with today’s issues.”
In accepting the award on behalf of the entire staff, Finkelstein noted how the Labor Tribune, now in its 83rd year, has never stopped fighting for working people, from its early days when Rubin was cracked over the head with a whiskey bottle by the wife of a restaurant owner angry with the paper’s coverage of an ongoing strike at the business to last year’s fight against “right-to-work” to exposing dark money’s influence on politics and policies rigged against working people.
“The rich are trying to destroy the working class,” Finkelstein said. “The current administration is trying to destroy our members’ protections, wages and benefits.
“Know that the Labor Tribune will be in the thick of it with you as you take on these issues, to support your efforts at every stage of fighting for your members and growing your unions, to keep our members and families informed so we can support one another and fight any and all efforts to destroy our Labor Movement.”