By CARL GREEN
Belleville, IL – Some faces in the Labor Movement are very familiar. Their contributions are enormous and noticeable.
But some of the most valuable players, those local leaders who fight for their members and the Labor Movement every day, are less well known, unless you go to a lot of meetings.
These were the people who were honored at the Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council’s 51st annual Labor Awards Dinner Aug. 31 at Bel-Air Bowl, a favorite union gathering place for Illinois union members.
Council President Bill Thurston, presided over the awards dinner, his last as council president, serving as master of ceremonies and awards presenter.
LABOR MAN OF THE YEAR: CHARLES KAEMMERER
Charles Kaemmerer, Jr., was named George R. Badgley Labor Man of the Year for his long history of service to the community and to his union, Glass Molders Plastics (GMP) Local 182B.
Kaemmerer is financial secretary-treasurer for the local, president of the GMP Midwest Conference Board, financial secretary-treasurer of the Labor Council and shop steward at Kettler Casting in Belleville. He also serves as a Boy Scout leader and volunteer, raises money for food drives and fundraisers and helps organize blood drives, then gives his own donation.
“I’ve known this guy for quite a few years,” Thurston said. “He is and has been and will be one of the best financial secretaries I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. He’s hard-headed, and he watches every nickel we spend.”
“I really appreciate the honor bestowed upon me. I don’t take it lightly,” Kaemmerer said. “I thank my wife and kids for putting up with me not being at home at times and for helping me. Most everything I’ve done, they were right there with me.”
Among family members in attendance were his father, Charles Sr., a veteran of four unions who retired as a Machinist, and his son Richard, who was inspired to become an electrician at IBEW Local 309 in part by volunteering with the Labor and Industry Museum in Belleville.
Pointing out his father in the crowd, Kaemmerer said:
“He told me, ‘You’ll never go wrong if you surround yourself with good labor union activists.’ I couldn’t ask for a better group of brothers and sisters to work with than the ones I have in the Southwestern Central Labor Council.”
LABOR WOMAN OF THE YEAR: LESLIE HARDER
Leslie Harder, president of Cahokia Federation of Teachers Local 1272 (IFT-AFT), received the Labor Woman of the Year award.
Thurston said she and the local have had a major impact on the school district over the years, helping it cope with required improvements to staff training and evaluations, school restructuring, staffing and budgets.
As the local’s president, Harder has helped the district achieve acceptable solutions while constantly protecting the interests of her members.
Harder started as a building representative in the 1990s and has served as vice president, executive vice president, grievance chair and negotiator for the local.
Earlier this month, she could be seen on television news reports from a school board meeting where she questioned the district’s filling of seven new positions without adding much-needed teachers.
COMMUNITY SERVICE AWARD: JANIE BAILEY
The Council’s Community Service Award for an Individual was presented to Janie Bailey of Steamfitters Local 439. She is best known for leading the local’s efforts to raise some $400,000 in recent years for the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance’s Burn Camp for Kids through Local 439’s annual Gateway Grizzlies baseball fundraiser.
But the awards presenter, Labor Council member Eddie Caumiant, regional director for AFSCME Council 31, said Bailey does a lot more than that.
“Building trades members know that Janie can get things done and will help them in any way she can,” he said. “She’s a lady who doesn’t toot her own horn very much, and we love that in this Labor Council and in this movement.”
Bailey said she owes the honor to the many people who have helped with and participated in the fundraising work over the years.
“This is a group effort,” she said. “It has been every year. All the people in this local have gone over and above.”
COMMUNITY SERVICE FOR AN ORGANIZATION: BIG BROTHERS BIG SISTERS
Caumiant also presented the Community Service Award for an Organization to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwestern Illinois, which was represented by its Board Chairperson Patricia Wharton and President and CEO Natalie Jablonski.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwestern Illinois is the region’s oldest and largest youth mentoring organization, operating in St. Clair, Madison, Clinton and Monroe counties. It provides its services free of charge, helping kids to do better in school and stay out of trouble.
“If you live in the metro area, you have run into somebody who has been impacted by Big Brothers Big Sisters,” Caumiant said. “You see them every day. They are members of our community who are producing and providing great services. This truly is a fundamental, foundational organization in our community.”
He noted that the group always needs more volunteers and contributions.
Jablonski said she appreciated the honor, especially since her father was a union member.
“When things got rough, we reached out to the community for help,” she said. “So I feel like I’ve come full circle, and now I’m giving that help that we needed so many times. So often, kids just need someone to believe in them, someone to rely on, someone to look up to and something to look forward to. That’s what Big Brothers Big Sisters will continue to do.”
LABOR VOLUNTEER: NICK DODSON
The American Income Life Labor Volunteer Award was presented to Nick Dodson, a longtime member of the Labor Council and the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor who now works for the United Way of Greater St. Louis as a labor liaison in the Alton area.
Dodson was helping launch the annual United Way Campaign fund drive and couldn’t make it to the awards ceremony.
So Thurston told a few stories, including how Dodson helped with the recent expansion of the Belleville Labor and Industry Museum.
“When we added on our annex, Nick took it upon himself to do all the plumbing, and I mean all, underground to finish,” Thurston said. “He put in more hours than the good Lord allowed. He’s been there and he’s done it for us, and it never cost us a nickel.”
Dodson is past president of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 360 and served on its negotiating, training and safety committees. He helps organize Labor Day festivities in Belleville and serves on the museum board. He has been a member of the Labor Council since 2003.
“Nick strives to advance the Labor Movement strongly every chance he gets,” Thurston said. “As long as I have known him, he has definitely been a strong union member – and he volunteers for everything.”