By CARL GREEN
Belleville, IL – The Metro-East Labor community took another step toward getting back to business when the Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council met June 15 for the first time since being shut down by the COVID-19 virus.
“Welcome back. Sorry it took so long,” Council President Scot Luchtefeld said. “I wish you guys could have been back a lot sooner.”
About 22 delegates – sitting at safely spaced intervals but not wearing face masks – filled the Laborers Hall on N. 17th Street. Luchtefeld said he hoped to encourage more affiliated locals to name delegates to the council.
“Hopefully, we’ll get a lot more of you involved and get more delegates here,” he said. “There are a lot of locals that could have delegates at these meetings.”
Luchtefeld swore in one new delegate, Richard Orchard, a Belleville fire fighter and 13-year member of Belleville Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 53.
PRAIRIE STATE ENERGY PLANT
The Council had a full agenda to discuss, starting with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s effort in the Illinois Legislature to plan for a closure by 2035 of the Prairie State Energy plant near Marissa in St. Clair County, which was presented in the session that ended last week but did not get a final vote.
Luchtefeld said the still viable plant, one of the newest and most modern coal-burning plants, could be sacrificed to help the Chicago area keep its nuclear power plants running.
“That’s going to hurt us,” Luchtefeld said. “That’s thousands of good jobs for southern Illinois,” he said.
Pritzker is determined to end coal-burning electrical generation in Illinois while keeping the three nuclear plants running. Opponents of the plan note suburban cities such as Naperville and Winnetka have borrowed long-term to have a stake in the plant and guarantee a steady supply of power for their residents, and closing the plant could leave Illinois buying coal-generated power from other states at high costs.
“That’s going to hurt southern Illinois,” Luchtefeld said. “That’s the cleanest coal plant in the United States.”
“They need to come up with a better plan,” he added. “I know there’s global warming, but there’s a lot dirtier coal plants in this country, rather than the one right down here that’s employing thousands of people.”
RETURN OF LABOR EVENTS
The Council is planning the post-COVID return of two of its biggest annual events – the Labor Day parade and picnic, and the Council’s annual Labor Awards Banquet, and is seeking food vendors and volunteer workers for Labor Day, Sept. 6.
Sheet Metal Workers Local 268 already has stepped up with plans for members to serve their gourmet hot dogs again. Talks are ongoing with the Boy Scouts to help with cleanup, and more help may be needed.
The Belleville Board of Aldermen has approved plans for the parade through the downtown area and the subsequent picnic at Hough Park.
United Way Labor Liaison Terry Knoth reported the Annual Labor/United Way Trap Shoot and BBQ May 14 raised about $20,000, a significant achievement after last year’s event had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s down from previous years, but after the COVID stuff, we think that’s a pretty good number and we’re happy with that,” Knoth said.
The annual trap shoot – sponsored by the St. Louis Labor Council, St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council, Greater Madison County Federation of Labor, Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council and Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council – is the major fundraising event for the annual Labor/United Way Campaign.
“We’ll work on building that up again for next year –– 2019 was our best year and it was a $30,000 profit that year,” Knoth said. “We want to say thanks to Organized Labor for its tremendous support.”
LABOR & INDUSTRY MUSEUM REOPENS TO VISITORS
Former Council President Bill Thurstone announced the Belleville Labor and Industry Museum is once again open at its regular hours, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday, for anyone who would like to see its extensive collection of artifacts on how people have earned their livings over the years.
Staff volunteers are on hand during those hours to give tours, answer questions and maybe tell some stories about their own experiences. The museum is at 123 N. Church St. in downtown Belleville.
“The museum is wide open, and no appointments are necessary,” Thurston said. “Everything’s moving along great, with no problems.”
Former recording secretary Joe Eble on the mend
The return of in-person meetings to for the Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council last week was notable for the absence of one of the Council’s stalwart leaders – longtime recording secretary Joe Eble, of Belleville, known for his vast knowledge of the Labor Movement and his attention to detail.
Eble, 75, retired from the Council early this year after injuring his ankle and two toes in a hard fall. Former Council president Bill Thurston reported Eble has been recovering at home after surgery.
“He’s a tough old bird. He’s not going to give up,” said Thurston.
Eble was made an emeritus council member after announcing his retirement. Council member Marcia Campbell, treasurer of the Southwestern Illinois Federation of Teachers, stepped in as executive recording secretary in January.
“I’m trying to fill his shoes,” Campbell said, “but his shoes are like the size of the Alton giant.”