By CARL GREEN
East Alton, IL – Service to fellow workers and the community were the key factors in the selection of this year’s winners of the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor’s 27th Annual Labor Awards.
This year’s winners were:
- Labor Leader of the Year is Jeremy Elliott, safety coordinator for United Steelworkers Local 50 at SunCoke Energy in Granite City.
- Friend of Labor is Barb Stamer, an Edwardsville alderman.
- Karen Brown Heart of the Community Award went to Norman Sanders for his many years of service in Granite City.
- Odell Fox Community Service Award went to Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 553, East Alton.
The awards were presented at the Federation’s annual dinner, held March 24 at Julia’s Banquet Center.
USW Local 50 President Jason Chism presented the award and described how Elliott has helped turn around the plant’s safety record.
“Among the greatest of our values is workplace safety,” Chism said. “We recognize a union brother who unselfishly helps drive that value of safety each and every day in the workplace.”
SunCoke has historically ranked highly in reportable injuries and incident, but that has changed, Chism said.
“As I stand here tonight, I’m proud to report our shop ranks number one in fewest recordable injuries and incidents today,” he said.
“I have spoken with his co-workers, and they are constantly impressed at his persistence and attention to their safety issues and concerns,” he said. “His drive and awareness suggest that he’s a true leader. He holds the company’s feet to the fire during multitudes of challenges, all the while being able to communicate with the company and fellow members to reach a common solution.
“He is quick to point out that safety is everyone’s responsibility.”
Under Elliott’s prodding, the company has sent 13 safety representatives incident investigation training.
“With his leadership, our safety record has turned into a positive result at SunCoke energy,” Chism said.
Elliott, who has two young children with his wife Danielle, thanked the Federation for the recognition.
“This gives me even more motivation to make sure our union brothers and sisters come home safe every night. That’s the most important thing to me,” he said.
FRIEND OF LABOR
Barb Stamer has been on the City Council since 1997 and has built a record as a supporter of working people as head of the public safety, public service and finance committees. She was a member for 13 years of the Edwardsville School Support Personnel Association, serving as president for a time.
Federation President B. Dean Webb told of how he received a phone call just two hours before a city meeting where Rauner supporters hoped to push through his “Turnaround Agenda” including local right-to-work and other anti-union measures.
Webb and other labor leaders worked the phones to bring a crowd to the meeting, and about 150 showed up. Only three council members were at the meeting, and it would take the votes of all three to approve Rauner’s plan – and Stamer was against it.
“When it came down to it, the mayor realized he didn’t have enough votes and wanted to table it,” Webb said. “She said, ‘Hell, no! I want to vote on this right now because I’m against this. This is against the working people of Edwardsville.’”
The measure failed on a 2-1 vote.
The large crowd at the dinner cheered and applauded at Webb’s telling of the tale, even though Stamer herself questioned whether she really said, “Hell, no!”
She added: “This validates what I do every single day as an alderman, and that’s to represent the residents of my city and to represent the working men and women who make up our community.
“I grew up in a family where we never crossed a picket line, not even an informational picket line. My father said, ‘Those people deserve your respect.’”
She said the family members also were strong Catholics.
“It amazes me when a Republican talks about being a good Christian,” she added. “I don’t understand it, because Democrats believe that everyone deserves something special, that we are all equal, that we all deserve respect.
“Republicans don’t believe that. They believe they’re special and that the rest of us should do what they want us to do because, we don’t deserve any better. We are good Democrats. I was raised to be a good Christian, and I was raised to be a good Democrat because of that belief.”
Maura Wuellner of the United Way’s East Alton-Granite City office presented the agency’s two awards.
The Odell Fox Award went to Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 553, East Alton.
Wuellner said local members donated parts and labor to Alton Day Care and Learning Center, a United Way agency. They collected and delivered items for the Community Christmas Program, had apprentices work with Habitat for Humanity in Edwardsville, helped build the Community Hope Center in Wood River, and joined in the Operation Blessings food drive in Wood River.
“This has been a very active union, and they’ve done so much good in our community,” Wuellner said.
The Karen Brown Heart of the Community Award went to Norman Sanders, a lifelong resident of Granite City who continues to serve his community in a variety of ways.
Sanders has worked for Illinois-American Water for 35 years and has compiled a long list of community service work, including:
- Helping revitalize declining properties for senior and low-income housing.
- Helping with the Chamber of Commerce Christmas party for 20 years. “He was most definitely the greatest elf, ensuring each child’s gift was wrapped and ready for presentation by Santa,” Wullner said.
- Campaigning for a new swimming pool.
- Joining in the Metro East Heart Walk.
- Designing parade floats and judging both floats and chili cook-offs.
“Norman has always been a person who placed community, work and those less fortunate before himself,” Wuellner said. “At an early age, he developed a work ethic that continues to this day. Seldom has there been a time in his life when he has not worked multiple jobs or projects on a daily basis.
“Norman is always there to lend a hand, make a referral or offer a smile.”