Labor Leader of the Year Award named for friend and ally Ed Sadlowski
BY CARL GREEN
Pontoon Beach, IL – Ed Sadlowski was a high-ranking leader in the United Steel Workers who came to be known as a friend to the rank-and-file and a foe to anyone getting too cozy with the company.
Though his bid for USW president in 1977-78 fell short, some of the causes he fought for have since become union policy.
Sadlowski, from Chicago, is now retired and dealing with health issues, but he is fondly remembered by many of the retired Metro East steelworkers he became friends with along the way.
So it was with great pride last month when the Granite City chapter of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) honored Sadlowski by naming its Labor Leader of the Year Award for him. His son and daughter were on hand to present the award.
LABOR LEADER OF THE YEAR: SCOTT MARSHALL
Scott Marshall, a longtime activist from Chicago, and the SOAR coordinator for USW District 7, which includes Illinois and Indiana, was the first recipient of the award.
Marshall returned the honor to the retirees attending the packed awards luncheon at the Neighborhood Social Club.
“It’s the people in this room who really lead the way to show what we have to do,” he said. “This chapter stands with the best that we have, through the leadership that you guys provide in all aspects of what SOAR does – the fight for our union, community support, building ties with the community and building a fraternity and sorority of our members, the ongoing fellowship. You guys are the epitome to me.”
Marshall credited Sadlowski with steering the steelworkers and himself onto the right path, even before Marshall was a steelworker.
“Ed has had a huge impact on my life,” he said. “When I was a fairly young guy, I moved up to Chicago from Birmingham, Alabama, to marry my dear wife. I sat down with Ed, and he gave me my marching orders, even though I wasn’t even a steelworker. He changed my life. I will always be grateful for what he did.
“If you look at the fighting trajectory of our union today, and of SOAR and of, really, much of the Labor Movement that is under such an attack, you see… we are doing the things that Ed fought for and fought for the Labor Movement to do. That’s a contribution that will never go away, that we will always have to recognize.”
ALWAYS ON THE LINE AND FIGHTING
Sadlowski’s daughter, Susan Sadlowski Garza, Chicago’s 10th Ward alderwoman who narrowly defeated an ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2015 to become the first woman from the Chicago Teachers Union to be elected alderman, presented the award to Marshall.
“My dad always stood up on the right side of the working class, and my dad always fought for what’s right for the Labor Movement,” she said. “Scott Marshall is the epitome of that. He never thinks of himself, ever, he’s always on picket lines, and fighting, making sure we get what we need and that we’re not getting the shaft from the powers that be.”
Toward that end, Sadlowski Garza called on union members and their allies to become candidates at all levels in the upcoming elections.
“I hope we’ll have more working-class people running for offices across the state,” she said. “We need to change what’s happening in our society. We need to become the policy makers – not the people who are making policy now.”
Ed Sadlowski, Jr., a staff member for AFSCME, recounted some of the characteristics he learned from his father: “Humility, humbleness and a keen sense of purpose and justice most particularly,” he said. “Growing up in a union household, particularly a United Steel Workers household; steelworkers come together when it’s time to do that, and they put aside differences, and we’re going to keep doing that.
“Any time we’re to report, we’re there, because that’s what steelworkers do,” he added. “We’re not only children of steelworkers, we’re grandchildren of steelworkers and great-grandchildren of steel workers.”
FRIEND OF SOAR: JIM CENTNER
Jim Centner, SOAR’s recently retired longtime national director, was honored with the Friend of SOAR Award.
Centner recounted how proud he has been to represent the USW through good times and bad, such as when National Steel went through bankruptcy, which ended with U.S. Steel taking over the Granite City plant.
“It was really trying times,” he said. “But this union was always there for the retirees. We fought with the future employers who bought the assets of the bankrupt companies. We put in a program to try to put back some health care benefits.
“I’m very proud that I was part of a union that stuck with their retirees. We’ve seen so many others just sort of walk away from that obligation.”
Centner recalled the efforts of Jack Greer, a former president of the Metro East SOAR chapter.
“During the bankruptcy, he spoke to me once a week for a year and a half – ’What are we doing? What’s going on? Is something going to happen? Are you out there fighting for us?’ He was sort of like my conscience.
“We have to keep this fight up,” Centner said. “We have to fulfill that promise. I am proud this union did that. I am honored to receive this recognition from you all. Thank you for all that you do, and please continue to be out there, fighting the good fight.”
ACTIVIST OF THE YEAR: JOHN ‘O.B.’ OBUCINA
The Activist of the Year award went to John “O.B.” Obucina, who Chapter President Jeff Rains said has become the group’s leading fundraiser, in part through the many connections Obucina has made between SOAR and other community groups.
Obucina’s contributions and organizing made last year’s trivia fundraiser a major success, Rains said.
VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR: DENNIS WARREN
The Volunteer of the Year award went to Dennis Warren, who recently stepped down as the group’s treasurer but remains on the executive board as a trustee. Warren stepped in when the group needed help with its finances, Rains said, and kept everything on track.
He is also known for his work with the Boy Scouts and the Masons.