Solidarity was evident as the St. Louis Port Council honored a labor representative, a business representative and an elected official – all of them carrying union cards – at its 33rd annual awards dinner April 27.
State Senator Gina Walsh (D-North St. Louis County) received the Able Helmsmen Award, presented annually to a public official with a distinguished record of supporting organized labor.
Walsh, a member of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 1, was recently elected president of the Missouri State Building and Construction Trades Council
“She is not just friendly to the Labor Movement,” Mike Sacco, president of the Maritime Trades Department of the AFL-CIO and the Seafarers International Union said in presenting the award. “She is part of it.”
Walsh was the first woman to go through Insulators Local 1’s apprenticeship program and worked for more than 30 years in the trade.
Elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in 2002, Walsh built a reputation as an independent voice, working with both Democrats and Republicans to find common-sense solutions to the problems facing Missouri. She served four terms in the House of Representatives prior to being elected to the State Senate last year.
“In my Capitol office hangs a copy of the St. Louis Labor Tribune from 1979 saying, ‘We Won!’” Walsh said, noting the defeat of a proposed right-to-work (for less) bill. “It will remain there as a reminder of what we can do when we pull together for a common cause. Right-to-work (for less) is always on the hearts and lips of lawmakers in Jefferson City.”
Walsh has led battles in the state capitol against legislation aimed at cutting prevailing wage, creating right-to-work (for less), and instituting paycheck deception..
“I merely represent those who fight the fight for working families,” Walsh told the nearly 400 people in attendance at the dinner. “We have to show courage and common sense while steering Missouri forward.”
LABOR MAN OF THE YEAR
Iron Workers Local 396 Business Manager Tom McNeil Jr. was honored as the Port Council’s Labor Man of the Year.
McNeil joined Local 396 in 1973. He moved up through ranks to lead a local that has built the landmarks of the St. Louis area.
Cited for his dedication as a “true man of labor,” McNeil said the last five years, during the economic downturn, have been tough on all working people, particularly those in the building trades. He said labor-management cooperation was key to getting through such times.
“We’ve all seen our members out of work, losing their houses and getting divorces,” McNeil said. “It takes strong leadership to get members through these tough times, and there is not a stronger voice than when labor and management work together.”
McNeil also paid tribute to his father, a 40-year Iron Worker, who served nine years as business manager. He died two years ago of Alzheimer’s.
MANAGEMENT MAN OF THE YEAR
Clayton Bragg, another member of Iron Workers Local 396, received the Management Man of the Year award.
A third generation Iron Worker, Bragg attributed his success to his 21-year association with the Ironworkers Union. He was accepted into Local 396’s apprenticeship program in 1982, and 17 years later started Fastrack Erectors, a business recognized as one the area’s fastest growing private companies. Bragg is also president of Mid America Crane Rental.
Bragg acknowledged his labor roots and his union-contracted employees saying, “It takes strong people to keep a business strong and prosperous. I believe it takes strong leaders on both sides,” Bragg said. “We need to stay strong together.”