Madison County Federation of Labor Awards honor union members, friends of Labor

DEAN WEBB, president of the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor, opens the Federation’s annual Labor Awards program on March 28. – Labor Tribune photo

Illinois Correspondent

East Alton, IL – Union activists and friends of Labor were honored at the annual Labor Awards banquet hosted by the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor on March 28.

The program, now in its 35th year, honored dignitaries and leaders who have stood by unions and their concerns throughout the past year.

Federation President Dean Webb introduced the evening’s honorary speaker, U.S. Rep. Nikki Budzinski (D-Ill.), as “probably the most union-friendly congressman we’ve had since Jerry Costello.”

Budzinski shared some of the work she has done over the past year to bring in government funding for projects that put people to work.

U.S. REP. NIKKI BUDZINSKI (D-IL) addresses the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor. – Labor Tribune photo

“I vowed to fight for working people, fight for our communities and make sure we are getting our fair share of our tax dollars,” Budzinski said. She said she ranks No. 1 among Democrats for bringing money back to her district, with $136 million in federal funding coming to projects in the 13th Congressional District. That includes assistance with the $500 million expansion of the Wieland plant in Wood River.

“Some of these priorities would be easier if Democrats were in charge of the House,” Budzinski said.

The biggest current challenge, Budzinski said, is the future of the Granite City steel mill. The mill is currently idled by owner U.S. Steel, and Nippon Steel’s impending purchase of the steel company has many concerned – in Labor and in government.

Budzinski said she was proud to stand with the steelworkers.

“Every day I fight to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect Granite City Steel,” Budzinski said, adding that when she meets with Nippon executives, her “first and only” question is, “What are your plans for Granite City? And if you don’t have a plan, then there’s the door.”

The Odell Fox Award went to Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 553, which raised more than $55,000 for families in need this year. Their representatives could not be present. Webb said he would present the award at the union’s next meeting.

The Karen Brown “Heart of the Community” award was presented to Verncell Rodgers of USW Local 1063. She said that we serve by example. “When people see you doing for others, they are inspired to do more themselves,” she said.

Special recognition was presented to Antonio Wellmaker, director of United Steelworkers District 7 and president of USW Local 1063. Wellmaker has worked 21 years as a union officer and testified to the International Trade Commission in 2022 about the impact of steel dumping by China and Mexico. That testimony was key in the ITC’s final determination on freight rail steel dumping, according to a statement by United Steelworkers.

Wellmaker had testified that employment at the Amsted Rail plant in Granite City had dropped to less than 300, whereas it employed nearly 1,400 when he first was hired.

“Someone has to fight and stand up,” he said.

RHONDA KREKOVICH of USW Local 1899 thanked the federation for the honor of Labor Leader of the Year. – Labor Tribune photo

The Outstanding Service Award went to Paul and Wanda East, a volunteer couple that has shown up for everything imaginable for 30 years, Webb said. Paul retired from Laclede Steel in 1996 and Wanda is a retired schoolteacher from New Douglas. Paul also served as a volunteer fire fighter for more than 25 years.

“Both have volunteered at both the Alton picnic and Granite City picnic for at least three decades. From start to finish, you will find them working over the heat of the grills or busy serving hot dogs at the food booth,” Webb said.

The Labor Leader of the Year award was presented to Rhonda Krekovich, financial secretary for USW Local 1899. She thanked the Federation for the honor.

The Federation members also held a moment of silence for members and friends who have died in the past year: David Hayes, Barb Hayes, Everett Loy and Jerry Vonderhyt.

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