By CARL GREEN
Belleville – The ebb and flow of good times and bad in the labor movement was much in evidence Aug. 29 as labor supporters gathered for the Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council’s 47th annual Labor Awards presentation.
Charles “Totsie” Bailey, business manager of United Association of Steamfitters Local 439, was named Labor Man of the Year, but said it wasn’t the greatest time to be honored because too many of the local’s members are out of work.
“My members are the greatest members on the planet,” he told about 300 people at Bel-Air Bowl in Belleville. “They don’t know the word ‘no,’ never have, never will.”
Bailey joined Local 439 in 1978 and has been a strong advocate for its members, leading them in a long list of volunteer and fund-raising efforts such as the annual Night at the Grizzlies, which has raised more than $300,000 over 10 years for the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance Burn Camp for Kids.
Bailey is also president of the Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council.
In his remarks, Labor Council President Bill Thurston said the biggest problem with the U.S. economy is that wage increases have remained flat while productivity has steadily improved.
“Wages can’t be postponed until the economy gets better, because they are the only way to improve the economy,” Thurston said.
Labor unions, he said, are all about providing workers with a living wage, a representative voice on the job, and a safe working environment.
“We believe in extending workers a ladder to the middle class,” he said. “Working families need more economic security, not less.”
Tim Drea, secretary treasurer of the Illinois AFL-CIO, said the fast-food workers campaigning for a $15-an-hour minimum wage deserve support from the rest of the labor movement.
“I know it sounds like, ‘What are they doing?’ but it’s the spark that starts the fire,” he said. “We need to help those people today.
They want to provide for their futures, and we should help them.”
U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, was present for the dinner, but had to bow out early to join a conference call on the crisis in Syria.
In his remarks, he recalled joining the United Mine Workers at a recent rally in St. Louis in their campaign to protect wages, pension and health benefits.
“That was an absolutely awe-inspiring place to be,” he said, noting that participants were there from throughout the country, some as old as their mid-80s and on oxygen.
“A lot of folks were carrying signs that said ‘Are you next?’ That’s the fight we’re in,” Enyart said.
He noted that his likely Republican opponent, State Rep. Mike Bost of Murphysboro, has already been promised a $5 million campaign fund by the GOP. Bost is best known for his foul-mouthed rant against House Speaker Michael Madigan – from the House floor, and opposing a rule Bost himself had voted for.
“We don’t have $5 million, but what we have is you,” Enyart told the labor audience.
The other award winners included:
• Labor Woman of the Year: Rosalind Wells, a longtime teacher in the East St. Louis School District and a member of East St. Federation of Teachers Local 1220 was honored with the Labor Woman of the Year Award.
“Unions are strong,” she told the audience. “We must continue the struggle, we must continue the fight. Together we stand, divided we fall!”
Wells joined the East St. Louis Federation of Teachers in 1980. She was a building representative for almost 30 years, grievance chair for 10 years and now is first vice president. Her work for the school district has included implementing a computer education program for grades K-3, developing a Cadet Girl Scout troop for the junior highs and even coaching basketball for six years. She also wrote a history of the landmark Hughes-Quinn Junior High School.
• Distinguished Service Award: Terry Turley, retired field service director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers and former East St. Louis Federation of Teachers president and was recognized with the Distinguished Service Award.
Turley taught science at East St. Louis Senior High for 26 years, during which time he was active with the East St. Louis Federation Teachers, serving as president for nine years. In 1994, he was named field service director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers and worked in that role until retiring in 2005. In 2010, he returned to the local to serve as its grievance chair.
• Community Service Award for an Individual: Mary Laurent, a member of AFSCME Retirees Subchapter 59, received the Community Service Award for an Individual.
Laurent served many years as treasurer of AFSCME Local 1805. Over the years, Laurent has helped with union events such as Labor Day parades, meat shoots and collections for American Cancer Society. She has even donated more than 60 pints of blood.
Laurent is an active community volunteer and a member of the Southwestern Illinois Democratic Women. She worked at the Illinois State Police crime lab until 2001.
• Community Service Award to an Organization: American Income Life, the only 100 percent union insurance company in North America, was recognized with the Community Service Award for an Organization.
American Income Life’s employees are union members, and it provides no-cost benefits to union locals including a medical discount program and Child Safe kits. Local agent Paul Winslow accepted the award for the company.
• Labor Volunteer Award: Gary Meyer, a former shop steward who eventually became secretary-treasurer and international organizer for the Stove, Furnace and Allied Appliance Workers International Union of North America, which later merged into the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, was honored with the Labor Volunteer Award.
Meyer worked as an international representative until his retirement, and since then has volunteered with a succession of community groups. He currently serves on the board of the Belleville Labor and Industry Museum.
The award is sponsored by American Income Life insurance company.
• George Meany AFL-CIO Scouting Award: Jerry Haas, a 25-year member of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 101 and committee chair of Boy Scout Troop 24 since 2010, was recognized with the George Meaney AFL-CIO Scouting Award.
Haas, along with his scoutmaster and assistant scoutmasters takes his scouts on adventure trips including hiking, canoeing the Boundary Waters, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, spelunking and skiing.