By TIM ROWDEN
The St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council recognized a legendary Labor and political leader, a trailblazer helping ensure everyone who wants a good job in the union trades can get one and a longtime fighting voice of the Labor Movement at its 2020 Leadership Awards dinner.
A virtual Who’s Who of the St. Louis area Labor Movement were joined by state and local political leaders including Missouri State Auditor and Democratic candidate for governor Nicole Galloway, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page honoring:
- State Senator Gina Walsh (D-Bellefontaine Neighbors), past president of the State Building Trades Council, deputy director of Insulators International LMCT and a retired member of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 1;
- Howard Hayes, executive director of the St. Louis Agency on Training & Employment (SLATE); and
- Ed Finkelstein, publisher of the St. Louis/Southern Illinois Labor Tribune.
MISSOURI WORKERS, UNDER SEIGE
Before getting into the awards ceremony, Stiffler noted that Missouri’s workers and citizens are once again under siege from corporate interests and anti-union forces in the Republican-majority Missouri Legislature.
“We defeated the phony ‘right-to-work’ at the ballot box, and yet the Republican-controlled Missouri Legislature has re-introduced it,” Stiffler said.
“We won efforts to clean up Missouri politics with Clean Missouri, and the Republican-controlled legislature has introduced a bill to put it on the ballot again under the lame guise that voters ‘didn’t understand what they were voting for,” he said.
“Talk about ignoring the will of the people! Over 100 anti-worker bills have been introduced in this session alone! Over 100! The disturbing part of it all is the fact that so many of our members, who fought to defeat Prop A (‘right-to-work’) and pass the Clean Missouri amendment, have voted time and time again to put the same legislators in office that are working to do them harm.
“Making change at every level of government is the challenge for all of us. Much is at stake this year but I’m confident that the leadership in this room is up to the task.”
Sen. Gina Walsh is a woman of many firsts,” Stiffler said. “She was the first woman to go through the Heat & Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Local 1 apprenticeship program, the first female president of the Missouri State Building Trades Council, the first woman in the International Association of Heat & Frost Insulators Union to lead its new Labor Management Cooperative Trust as its deputy director, and she is first tradeswoman to receive this leadership award.”
Walsh’s political career is legendary. Serving as a state representative for eight years, and eight as senator, Walsh has been one of Labor’s strongest voices for working people in the Missouri Legislature, also serving as president of the Missouri State Building Trades Council, as a member of the Missouri AFL-CIO Executive Board and as president of the National Labor Caucus of State Legislators.
“In the state legislature, she built a solid reputation as an independent voice, working with both Democrats and Republicans to find common sense solutions to the problems facing Missouri,” Stiffler said.
“Despite her being a committed, involved legislator, Sister Walsh finds the time to still be involved in her North County community on the Marygrove Governing Board, the North County Incorporated Board of Directors and on the Parish Pastoral Council of her church,” he said. “She is also an active member of the North County Labor Legislative Club, the St. Ferdinand and Spanish Lake Democratic clubs, the North County Chamber of Commerce, the Spanish Lake Community Association and the North County Incorporated Board of Directors.
“Sister Gina Walsh is a remarkable woman,” Stiffler said. “We in the building trades are very proud of her.”
‘A UNION CARD IN YOUR POCKET’
“This has been a partnership,” Walsh said. “Everyone in this room, in one way or another, has helped me when I’ve needed it. You’ve lifted me up, you’ve supported me in every endeavor that I’ve ever encountered.”
Calling on the other union tradeswomen in the room, Walsh noted how when she started as a union Insulator, she was the only women at Building Trades functions – the only one.
“You’re trailblazers,” she told her fellow tradeswomen, “you need to keep doing it. I’m grateful for the work I got to do on your behalf, now as I’m going on to better things for it’s time for you all to step up
“It was really scary walking onto that job site for the first time over 40 years ago,” Walsh said. “I’m not sure where the time went, but the men – yes, the men, there were no other women then – they welcomed me. They taught me a craft that I love; they shared their knowledge with me; they gave me trouble – lots of trouble comes with this job; they gave me the ability to earn a living and support my family.
“I have been known to be pretty independent,” Walsh said, “but it’s easy to be as independent as I am when you have a union card in your pocket. When you have the protection of a good contract, the protection of good health insurance for yourself and your family and a pension that allows you to retire in dignity, independence is easy.
“But independence comes with responsibility,” she said. “As leaders we have the responsibility to protect these benefits for our members. And I’m proud to say I come from a community of Labor leaders that does just that. The St. Louis Labor community is one of the strongest in the nation. Thank you for your support, your encouragement and your friendship over the years. These are gifts I will always treasure.”
BUILDING UNION DIVERSITY
Howard Hayes is currently the executive director of the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment —more popularly known as SLATE — but his experience in making St. Louis a resourceful and inclusive community goes back decades in providing leadership to organizations that support regional growth and ensuring that working men and women are participants in that growth,” said Frank Jacobs, business manager of IBEW Local 1 and president of the Building Trades Council.
“That leadership includes developments ranging from Ballpark Village, adjacent to Busch Stadium, to the ever-expanding Cortex District in Midtown. The depth of his incredible experience and the far-reaching impact his efforts and successes have helping our region grow,” Jacobs said. “But to us in the Building Trades, his efforts at SLATE to support our BUD (Building Union Diversity) program has been a crucial component of BUD’s success.”
BUD is an initiative started six years ago to bring more diversity to the area’s skilled trades, to get more women and people of color into the building trades by offering the opportunity to visit local building trade unions to get basic training and a feel for each of the trades with the goal of ultimately moving them into an apprenticeship program that will help them find good jobs.
“In the six years since its founding, 233 applicants have started and 214 have completed the program, Eighty-four percent of those graduates are now working in our building and construction trades,” Jacobs said. “Howard plays a key role in bringing recruits into the program, helping them to start a rewarding construction career focusing on a bright future for themselves and their families.”
‘GREAT TIMES FOR ST. LOUIS’
Hayes accepted the award “on behalf of the working men and women of SLATE” who help individuals looking for a job to find training, opportunity and fulfillment.
“These are great times for the St. Louis area,” said Hayes, who is also the former president of the Regional Union Construction Center, which helps minority contractors get started. “There is approximately $8 - 10 billion worth of construction going on right now. Working with the BUD program, working with John’s (Stiffler’s) leadership, we at the BUD program intend to not quit until every man and woman that wants a job receives a job,” he said.
Touching on the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the impact it is having on working people, Hayes said:
“We in this region and in this city, we have our factions from time to time, but we are all Americans under one flag, and we know the the reality of the American life right now is that we have brothers and sisters who are facing a tough time. I want to send out prayers and best wishes from the St. Louis region to our brothers and sisters all over the nation fighting this scourge. But I am not worried. Because if was World War II, if it’s the recessions that come and go, the working men and women of this nation will get us through, and that’s what matters.
“I am a proud member of the middle class,” Hayes said. “Yet I know without the sacrifices made almost 100 years ago by working men and women tied to wages and working conditions, there would be no middle class in America.
“The most educated productive workforce in the world belongs right here in this region,” he said. “If there are projects totaling $10 billion, it couldn’t happen to a better group of people. Congratulations, you’ve earned it.”
LABOR’S FIGHTING VOICE
For 83 years, the Labor Tribune has been the fighting arm and voice of working families in St. Louis and Southern Illinois and Publisher ED FINKELSTEIN has been there for more than half of them, Stiffler said.
“Through good times and bad . . . through our industry’s economic ups and downs . . . through the “Right-to-Work” fights of 1978 and 2018 . . . strikes and contract victories . . . the Labor Tribune has been the fighting voice of Labor here, educating our membership and the region about issues affecting working families and promoting the quality work, economic opportunity and charitable contributions our unions provide on a weekly basis.
“Along the way, Ed has provided sound counsel and trusted advice to countless Labor leaders and worker-friendly politicians… ensuring – always – that working men and women have a voice on the job, at the negotiating table and in the halls of the government.”
Today, in addition to its award-winning print edition, the Labor Tribune reaches hundreds of thousands of additional readers through its website and social media, and has won more than 60 national awards for journalistic excellence from the International Labor Communications Association.
FIGHTING FOR OUR UNIONS’ WORKING MEN AND WOMEN
The Labor Tribune was started by Finkelstein’s uncle, Maury Rubin, in 1937 and quickly became a voice for the area Labor Movement.
In 1942, during a strike by strike by waitresses at the Medart’s restaurant (today’s Cheshire Inn), the Labor Tribune published the license plate numbers of every car crossing that picket line and the names of their owners. After the names began appearing, Medart’s business quickly dropped off and a negotiating meeting was arranged with Rubin serving as the mediator.
As the meeting began Mrs. Medart, angry and frustrated, began screaming obscenities at Rubin, saying that the Labor Tribune printing the names of their picket line crossing customers had almost destroyed their business.
“She grabbed a whisky bottle and cracked Maury over the head,” Finkelstein said, adding that photo of Rubin coming out of Medart’s holding a towel to his bleeding head was published on the Labor Tribune’s front page.
“Shortly thereafter, the strike was settled, and the waitresses won,” Finkelstein said. “I have that photo in my office as a reminder of the legacy Maury Rubin created.
“This has never been just a job to me, but a way of life that lets me get up every day looking for how we can help you, help your members and their families, make sense of what’s happening at the local, state and national level on issues that affect them,” Finkelstein said. “I’m proud to say that for the past 48 years I’ve had the honor of building on Maury’s legacy to fight for you, to show your members how important the union is in their lives.
“In print and online we help everyone understand why Labor unions play a vital role in St. Louis, in Missouri, in our American Democracy.
“And let me make it clear, the Labor Tribune is a team effort,” he said. “Our people strive every week to produce the finest Labor paper in America. Those efforts have been recognized by the more than 60 national labor journalism awards we have received.
“Brothers and Sisters, the Labor Movement has been conked over the head and bloodied over the years,” Finkelstein said. “Bad guys opposing the betterment of our people have been relentless in trying to destroy us. But the Labor Movement and the Labor Tribune keep on keeping’ on. We’re still here and we’re going to be here!
“On behalf of our Labor Tribune family and myself, I pledge that we will never stop fighting for, celebrating with, and standing alongside you in good times and bad to ensure that your story is being told and understood. We are here for you – always.”