“Dick Mantia is to the building trades what Stan Musial was to the Cardinals.”
That statement by his successor at the St. Louis Building Trades Council, Jerry Feldhaus, encapsulated the outpouring of love, respect and admiration the St. Louis community has for Dick Mantia, 82, who died quietly on June 4 at Missouri Baptist Hospital as his family was preparing him to come home for hospice care.
Ironically, he passed only minutes after the Council had ended its monthly meeting; it was as if he was saying “goodbye” to his fellow unionists.
A funeral mass was held Monday, June 9, at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis.
A WORKING MAN’S CHAMPION
Following his passing, friends’ and colleagues’ descriptions were heartwarmingly similar: “My best friend;” “Always a gentleman;” “Treated everyone he met with respect;” “He never was heard saying a bad word about anyone;” “No matter how stressful the situation, he always concentrated on getting the job done;” “ A fun guy to be around;” “One heck of a great guy;” “No matter what your station in life, he treated everyone the same;” “A classy man, always, in his dress, his demeanor, his approach to everyone.” And so it went.
To say that Dick Mantia was loved, admired and respected would be a vast understatement.
To many, he was a friend, a mentor, a straight shooter, a great golfer.
To the Labor Movement, this retired business manager of Insulators and Allied Workers (formerly Asbestos Workers) Local 1 and former executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building & Construction Trades Council, was a champion of union men and women.
WHERE NO MAN HAD GONE BEFORE
Television’s classic Star Trek series intoned: “…To boldly go where no man has gone before.” Dick Mantia did just that.
When he became co-chairman of PRIDE in 1972, just as he was assuming leadership of the Building Trades Council, the St. Louis construction industry was in the throes of a deep depression, made worse by a stubborn unwillingness to change.
Dick knew change had to happen if the unions were to survive in the industry. With his co-chairman, contractor Al Fleischer, he set about to make that change happen.
Rather than dictating to the unions what they had to do, Dick Mantia used his skills as a communicator, a negotiator and a mediator to help the building trade unions and their leadership realize what was at stake and how they, rather than he, could make it better for their members.
Dick Mantia led by reason, not by force.
Unproductive work rules were eliminated; strikes and jurisdictional disputes between the unions all but vanished; cost overruns disappeared; huge jobs came in on time and on or even under budget.
Dick and Al stressed productivity and quality as the only way to save the union construction industry in St. Louis.
It didn’t happen overnight. It took time. But it worked.
More than once, one labor leader noted, Dick’s life was threatened, but he refused to quit because he knew people’s livelihoods were at stake, then and in the future.
‘EVERTHING THAT IS GOOD ABOUT LABOR’
• Dick Mantia’s legacy has set a high water mark for the building trades across America for decades into the future,” said Jim Grogan Jr., general president of the International Association of Heat & Frost Insulators & Allied Trades, AFL-CIO. “Dick is everything that is good about Labor.”
• “He changed the entire outlook of the Labor Movement,” said retired electrician Jim Callahan, a member of IBEW Local 1 and a friend of Mantia’s for 55 years. “The guys in the field thought he was getting in bed with the contractors. ‘Give it time’ he would tell us. He was right. It (PRIDE) turned out to be a good thing for all of us.”
• “We lost a great ambassador for the Labor Movement,” noted Bob Soutier, president, St. Louis Labor Council.
• “The St. Louis Labor Movement has suffered a loss of a friend, mentor, and most importantly a leader of our industry,” said Jeff Aboussie, executive secretary/treasurer of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council said on his Facebook page. “Dick Mantia has left our Labor Movement in a better place for his many contributions both here locally and also throughout the National Building Trades. Dick taught many of us to lead by example and not by our words, and most importantly to show respect to both labor and management in our deliberations. I am proud to follow him and learn from his teachings.”
SPECIAL SECTION JUNE 19
The Labor Tribune will publish a tribute to Dick Mantia, a great friend, great trade union leader and great human being in the June 19 print edition.
The Labor Tribune joins the entire Labor Movement in expressing our deep sorrow and condolences to Dick’s wonderful wife and life-long companion, Toni, son Rocky (a veteran Heat and Frost Insulators Local 1 member), daughter Michelle Scarfino, seven grandchildren, two great grandchildren and sister, Joyce Manning.
May his soul rest in peace. No one deserves it more.
– Ed Finkelstein