By TIM ROWDEN
The political forces that have massed against working families have thrown up new hurdles and made it harder just to maintain what union members have, retiring Machinists District 9 Directing Business Representative Tony Rippeto says.
Rippeto, who is retiring on Dec. 31, will be succeeded by Assistant Directing Business Representative Mark Conner.
It’s not so much that the Labor Movement has changed, Rippeto said in a recent interview with the Labor Tribune, but the challenges have become harder to surmount.
Rippeto first initiated into IAM Local 777 in St. Louis in 1980 when he helped organize the then non-union truck shop, Lend Lease Truck Rental, where he worked as a mechanic. Things were different then.
“I think the changes in the policies of government have been detrimental to the working people and made it harder to achieve a middle class income,” Rippeto said. “Just look at the 1970s and today. They’ve made it harder to organize, harder for unions to maintain the one voice for working people and harder for the Labor Movement to achieve what it’s done in the past.
“When we organized Lend Lease Truck, there was no doubt we were going to get a first contract,” Rippeto said. “Now, you’ve got to fight to win an organizing drive. You’ve got to fight to achieve a first contract. You’re usually not comfortable until you get a third contract because of how hard they’ve made it.”
Rippeto has been there through some of the bigger fights, from recent right-to-work battles to the Affordable Care Act to struggles to keep pension plans intact.
“It’s been interesting,” he said, adding that while it may be more difficult today, “Labor remains the one consistent voice for working people.”
After serving as a shop steward and officer – holding the positions of sentinel, conductor, vice-president and president of Local 777 – Rippeto joined the staff of District 9 on May 1, 1990 as an Organizer and was elected as a Business Representative on January 1, 2001.
On January 1, 2004, he was elected to the position of Assistant Directing Business Representative and was appointed as Trustee to the District 9 Welfare and Pension Trust.
On April 1, 2009, Rippeto became the Directing Business Representative of District 9 and also became the Managing Trustee of the District 9 Welfare and Pension Trust.
He has also served on the IAM Law Committee and as an officer with the Missouri State Council of Machinists, a delegate to the District 9 Board.
In addition, he has served as a delegate to the St. Louis Labor Council, St. Louis Labor Council Executive Board, Missouri State Council of Machinists, Midwest States Council of Machinists, Missouri AFL-CIO Executive Board, United Way Executive Board and Guide Dogs of America Executive Board.
Rippeto was elected to the office of secretary-treasurer of the Missouri State Council of Machinists in 2002 and currently holds the office of president. He was elected to the office of secretary-treasurer of the Midwest States Conference of Machinists in 2003 and in 2010 was elected president of the Midwest States Conference of Machinists.
A WORTHY SUCCESSOR
Mark Conner, who will succeed Rippeto on Jan. 1, is a 38-year member of Automotive Lodge 777 and was initiated into the Machinists Union in April of 1977 when he began his career as a diesel truck technician at Yellow Freight System.
During his 20 years of employment at Yellow, Conner was elected to assistant shop steward, and a short time later to chief shop steward.
He was also active within his local lodge serving in several positions on the executive board as conductor, sentinel and trustee.
In February of 1997, the International President appointed Conner to Grand Lodge Organizer where he served until May of 1998, when he joined District 9’s staff as district organizer.