A warrior, grassroots organizer and legendary Labor leader Daniel “Duke” McVey – a giant of the Missouri Labor Movement – died on March 23. He was 85.
“If there was a Mount Rushmore for Labor leaders in Missouri, then Duke would be on it,” said St. Louis Labor Council President Pat White. “Guys like him only come around once. He built our movement. The way he fought ‘right-to-work’ in the ’70s was something special. He grew up in an era where you had to be a tough guy to ascend in the Union Movement and he rose to the top spot in the state. He will be sorely missed, and I can only hope to make men like him proud of our Labor community. May the road rise to meet you Mr. McVey and the wind always be at your back.”
McVey, who led the 1978 drive to defeat “right-to-work” in Missouri, was president of the Missouri AFL-CIO for 17 years, and a 67-year member of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562.
As word spread of his passing, words of condolence and accolades filled the social media news feeds of local Labor leaders:
• Jake Hummel, president, Missouri AFL-CIO: “Duke was a warrior for the Labor Movement. His grassroots activism was a driving force behind the defeat of ‘right-to-work’ in 1978. Duke never backed down from a fight. He was a man with deep integrity and grit in his fight for working families. Missouri’s working families are forever in debt for the work he put forward for our brothers and sisters. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
• Mike Louis, Missouri AFL-CIO president emeritus: “Duke was a legend, not only in Missouri, but throughout the nation. He just had a way of calming things down and making things make sense as to how you should solve a problem. He had a lot of foresight. Duke, along with Bob Kelley (former St. Louis Labor Council president, himself a legend) and Labor leadership throughout the state won our first ‘right-to-work’ battle. They took it head-on. I was very fortunate that he was one of my mentors.”
• John O’Mara, business manager, Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 562: “Duke was an icon in our Labor Movement. He was a proud member of our union, and we were proud of him and the role he played in leading our Missouri unions. He cared about, and worked for, workers every day of his life. He was a good, good man, lived the life he wanted to live. May his soul rest in peace.”
• John Stiffler, executive secretary-treasurer, St. Louis Building Trades Council: “Duke was a special man. He came up through the ranks as a committed rank-and-file member who saw the importance of his union to himself as a skilled tradesman, to his family, to his fellow brothers and sisters, to his community. As a result, he threw himself into whatever the challenge was, and he made a difference. His hard work, his determination, his commitment to doing what was right was in the forefront of everything he did. His legacy will live on in the history of our Labor Movement.”
• Roz Sherman Voellinger, retired vice president of Labor Engagement, United Way of Greater St. Louis: “So very sad to hear. Duke was an exemplary leader in all respects and will be sorely missed. Condolences to family and extended family of Labor.”
FOR LABOR AND COMMUNITY
The late Ike Skelton, former U.S. Representative for Missouri’s 4th Congressional District, paid tribute to McVey upon his retirement from the AFL-CIO in 1999 with the following statement read into the Official Record of the U.S. House: “Duke McVey has been a truly outstanding civic leader for the AFL-CIO and for the State of Missouri. He has been an extraordinary leader for Labor, for his community and for his State.”
Coming up through the ranks as a union pipefitter, McVey’s leadership skills were recognized early on with his selection as a shop steward. Although he never ran for union office in Local 562, he was a frequent volunteer and always involved in the union’s activities.
It was in the 1978 “right-to-work” fight that McVey, as a committed rank-and-file union member, was asked to take a leadership role in the campaign to defeat “right-to-work,” and received high praise for his skills helping to guide, and win, that fight.
That same year, McVey was chosen for another leadership role with his election as secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO, a position he held until 1982 when he was elected president. He served as Missouri’s top Labor leader for 17 years, retiring in 1999.
Honored in 2017 with the Robert O. Kortkamp Humanitarian Award for his years of dedicated service to the working men and women of Missouri, presenter Bob Kelley, late president of the St. Louis Labor Council, noted that without McVey’s grassroots leadership in the 1978 “right-to-work” fight, “…there wouldn’t be a Labor Movement in the state of Missouri to continually…. fight for workers’ rights.
“He was very dedicated,” Kelley said, “and very proud of his union.”
‘PRIDE AND GRATITUDE’
Responding to the condolences on social media, McVey’s daughter Mary Shackleford wrote: “Thank you all for your thoughts and kind words about my dad. Knowing what an impact he had on so many fills me with pride, gratitude and love for him. The Labor Movement and the hard-working men and women of Missouri were so important to him.”
His daughter Cheryl Thurston said: “We are today what we are because of my dad. He instilled in us the values of love, of kindness, of charity and of concern for people. He always said that the education he got from the Jesuits at St. Louis High and St. Louis University provided the foundation for the man he became and the work that he did in the Labor Movement.”
‘DUKE OF DOGTOWN’
Duke’s “never-give-up” spirit began in his youth as a standout soccer, football and baseball player. He played for the St. Louis Raiders in the CYC League in 1952 when they won the U.S. Amateur Cup soccer championship. He also played on the St. Louis CYC All-Stars when they played Manchester (England) during that team’s visit to St. Louis in 1958. He was inducted into the St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame in 1995.
He earned the moniker “Duke” from the commitment he had to his Dogtown neighborhood in St. Louis where he grew up. He was always involved in and running around Dogtown, earning him the nickname of the “Duke of Dogtown.” Although his mother didn’t like the moniker, it stuck.
Duke and his wife Arlene lived in Florida for a number of years after his retirement. An avid Cardinals fan, he attended spring training religiously. The McVeys moved back to Jefferson City about five years ago.
Duke is survived by his wife of 47 years, Arlene; sons Daniel McVey (Tammy), David McVey (Sherri), John McVey (Ashley), Patrick McVey (Angie) and David Asel (Kaye); daughters Lynn Flaim (Mike), Karen Hutcheson (Hal), Beth Thurman (Rex), Mary Shackelford (Tiger) and Cheryl Thruston (Jim); 13 grandsons, 13 granddaughters, 24 great-grandchildren and many other family and friends.
He was preceded in death by his parents, sister Mary Ellen Daniels and brothers Hugh “Bob” McVey and John “Jack” McVey.
Visitation was held March 26 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City, followed by Mass of Christian Burial, with entombment at Resurrection Catholic Cemetery Mausoleum.
The family requested memorials to Duke be made to $5 For the Fight Fund, 3301 Hollenberg Dr., Bridgeton, MO, 63044; or the Helias Foundation,1312 Southwest Blvd, Jefferson City, MO, 65109; or a charity of donor’s choice.