Trailblazing former Illinois AFL-CIO President Margaret Blackshere, first woman president of a state federation, dies


Margaret Blackshere, former president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, died Saturday, July 6, 2019.

“Margaret was a strong leader and trailblazer as the first woman nationwide to be elected state federation president,” said Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan. “I was honored to serve with Margaret for seven years and we deeply mourn her loss.”

Sister Blackshere was raised in North Venice, IL, by her mother Frances and aunt Margie.  She began her career in education as a kindergarten teacher in Madison, IL, after obtaining her master’s degree in education at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville.

While attending SIUE she served as a student trustee and after completing her studies she served as a trustee after being appointed by the governor. She immediately saw the need for Madison teachers to have union representation during their contract negotiations and instigated an organizing drive that led to the Madison teachers joining the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT).

Sister Blackshere served at all levels of the Labor Movement, from president of IFT Local 763 to statewide vice president of the IFT.

In 1993 she was elected secretary-treasurer of the Illinois AFL-CIO – the million-member umbrella organization for Labor unions in the state – and was later elected president, serving two terms. Sister Blackshere was the first woman to hold that position and was named president emeritus following her retirement in February 2007.

Sister Blackshere’s work to elect worker-friendly legislators and state-wide officials gave Illinois Labor a strong voice in Springfield and Washington that continues to this day.

Her efforts on key state legislation like raising minimum wage, expanding health care, enacting card check for public employees, revamping unemployment insurance, and revising workers’ compensation laws, were invaluable.

Sister Blackshere’s greatest contribution to Illinois’ Labor Movement may have been her capacity to unify diverse groups and build coalitions, both within the Labor Movement and between Labor, small business and community and faith-based groups. She forged critical alliances with the Illinois Manufacturers Association to create and save manufacturing jobs in Illinois and with the Transportation for Illinois Coalition – a group of Labor and business groups working to secure state and federal funds for Illinois’ infrastructure.

Within the Labor Movement, she worked tirelessly to keep Illinois affiliates united and working together in political and legislative efforts when several international unions left the AFL-CIO.

Away from her duties at the State Federation, Sister Blackshere was involved in many organizations fighting for equality and social justice. She served on Illinois Women In Leadership (IWIL) and a variety of boards, councils and coalitions including United Way of Illinois, American Red Cross in Illinois, Chicago Council of Foreign Relations, Unemployment Insurance Advisory Board, the Alliance of Retired Americans Executive Board, the Industrial Commission’s Self Insurer’s Advisory Board, the Chicago Metropolis 2020 Board, the Illinois Women’s Institute for Leadership, the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Advisory Council and the Board of Trustees of the Global Solidarity Center in Washington, D.C.


MARGARET BLACKSHERE (front row, center) was inducted into the SIUE Alumni Hall of Fame in 2013 along with (from left) Webster University President Beth Stroble, (Blackshere), David Brammeier, Helen Gruber Damon, Dr. William Schmidt and Mike Wenzel.

Sister Blackshere received awards such as the Labor Leader Award in 2000 from the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the Israel Peace Medal in 2000 from the State of Israel, and the Protector of Working People Award in 2002 from the Illinois State Crime Commission. She was the Guest of Honor in 2003 for Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and in 1998 was inducted into the Illinois Labor History Society’s Union Hall of Honor.

She was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, served as director of the Illinois Democratic Coordinated Campaign in 1990 and 1992, and was a member of the Democratic National Committee.

A loving mother and devoted grandmother, Sister Blackshere is survived by her sons Michael (Catherine) and Thomas (Zoe); grandchildren Michael, Alex, Quinn and Raquel Blackshere; and sister Patricia (and the late Leroy) Smith.

A memorial visitation was held Wednesday, July 10, at Cooney Funeral Home in Park Ridge, IL Wednesday, and funeral Thursday, July 11, at St. Juliana Church.

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