Thurston, Monetti also are top honorees
By CARL GREEN
Belleville – East St. Louis School District teachers were presented with the first-ever Solidarity Award by the Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council at its annual awards banquet Sept. 1.
Labor Council President Bill Thurston was named George R. Badgley Labor Man of the Year and Pam Monetti of American Income Life was the Labor Woman of the Year.
East St. Louis Federation of Teachers AFT/IFT Local 1220 was honored for its efforts including a successful month-long strike in October, 2015, that ended with an improved contract.
AFSCME Council 31 Regional Director Eddie Caumiant, who is also a member of the Labor Council, presented the award to Local 1220 President Terry Turley, while a table-full of local members celebrated nearby.
“The Labor Council has decided this year to give a new award, the Solidarity Award, for a local whose members have had to frequently stand together on the picket line for their rights – a very worthy award,” Caumiant said.
He noted that the local was formed in 1954 and has had to fight through several strikes.
“Many of us have not had to face the uncertainties involved in a month-long strike like this year’s awardees have had to, yet these union members have been strong in the face of adversity.”
Turley passed along credit to Sharon Crockett, who was president at the time of the strike last year.
MAN OF THE YEAR
Thurston, after hosting the evening’s program and presenting several awards, had to turn around and be handed his own award by Scot Luchtefeld, executive vice president of the Labor Council, who recounted a long list of Thurston’s memberships and leadership roles. Thurston has been a member of Laborers Local 100 for 46 years and a Labor Council delegate for 40 years, much of that time as president. He is board chairman of the Belleville Labor and Industry Museum, president of the 12th Congressional COPE District and has helped with United Way, Salvation Army, the Democratic Party and St. Philips Parish in East St. Louis, among others.
“I could go on and on speaking about what he’s done over the years to further the welfare of working men and women,” Luchtefeld said.
In accepting, Thurston described growing up poor in Centreville, delivering newspapers with his brothers and finding his way into construction work.
“It was amazing how many people who lived in my neighborhood that I was on job sites with,” he said. “That taught me that you appreciate what you do, and you work for what you get. We’re union people – we believe in our families, and we believe in our neighbors.”
WOMAN OF THE YEAR
Monetti is a member of the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 277 as a public relations and membership specialist for American Income Life. She is from a union family, holds a master’s degree in political science and lives in Bunker Hill, IL, where she has served on the school board for 12 years.
“It’s been a privilege to have her become part of our Labor Council,” Thurston said. “She is extremely active everywhere.”
Monetti said at least one important story about unions has not been told often enough.
“I’m a long-time feminist, and one of the things I have learned is that unions are the great equalizer when it comes to women,” she said. “I think we need to tell that story a lot more – about how things have changed for women who have been in unions.”
Dan Korte of IBEW Local 309 was honored with the American Income Life Labor Volunteer Award, presented by Monetti.
Korte has been a Local 309 member for 25 years, an apprentice adviser, shop steward, crew leader for Ameren Illinois and a judge in the International Linemen’s Rodeo, among other accomplishments. Outside the union he has been a volunteer with the East Side Volunteer Fire Department and bus driver for a soup kitchen.
“As you can see, he’s a well-rounded union member, but he’s been active both inside and outside of his union,” Thurston noted.
James Hills, a member of Iron Workers Local 392, was presented the George Meany AFL-CIO Scouting Award, accompanied by Craig Brethauer of the Lewis & Clark Boy Scout Council.
Hills has a son and two daughters who have been involved in scouting, the girls through the Venture program for older youth that includes boys and girls. The family participates with the Venturing troop sponsored by Willoughby Heritage Farm in Collinsville.
He has been a member of the Iron Workers since 2002.
He didn’t know until he arrived at the banquet that he would be getting the award.
“I went into scouting because I wanted my son and my daughters to have the best experience they possibly could, and I was going to be there for them,” he said. “Everyone tries to do their best with scouting. It’s all volunteer, and I’m just happy I could be part of it. It’s really an honor.”
*Content continues below advertisement.
Leo Welch, a biology teacher at Southwestern Illinois College and a member of AFT/IFT Local 4183, was presented the Distinguished Service Award. He has been a member of the faculty union since 1970, was its president from 1984 through 2002 and has served since then on the executive committee. He has also been president of the Illinois Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), president of the Illinois Community College Faculty Association and vice chairman of the Illinois State Museum board, among many other positions.
He recounted that his first awareness of unions was to see a relative wearing a numbered button on his hat, asking what it meant and being told it was for the relative’s union. So Welch then asked his dad what a union was.
“He said, ‘Well, they protect the working men of this country.’ I still think that still holds true for me and the people in this room,” Welch noted.
He also recalled growing up on a farm near Mattoon in east-central Illinois.
“Mattoon at that time had union jobs – Young Radiator, Brown Shoe, Blaw-Knox heavy equipment, Garwood Industries boat building and General Electric – those are just a few,” he said. “They’re all gone, except General Electric, which has announced they’re closing down this year.
“This is what is happening to the working men and women of this country, and that town has suffered because of it.”
Welch also noted that he helped form the first bargaining unit at the former Belleville Area College – a first for the AAUP and apparently for the nation, making it the oldest collective bargaining unit in American higher education.
“It started right here,” he said.