Under new leadership, North County Labor Club looks to connect with a changing community

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Newly elected President Fred Searcy sees the future and wants to take club in a new direction

By MARY ANN O'TOOLE HOLLEY 
Correspondent

Fred Searcy, named president of North County Labor Club in May, says it’s time to take the state’s longest-running Labor legislative club in a new direction, bringing not only the Labor community together, but North County residents as well.

“Right now, I’m just feeling my way through,” said Searcy, who will lead his first official meeting in October after the club’s summer hiatus.

“North County is changing. We have changing cities and city councils, and we need to help bring people together to adequately represent our changing population of working men and women.”

Searcy says his goal is to unite the North County Labor Club again, like it was in the days when the club came together under like-minded Labor supporters including Dick Kellett, Dave “Fitz” Fitzgerald, Butch Hepburn, Mike Walsh and Dick Sullivan, who were all there at the start. It was in the early 1980s when they worked out the by-laws and started up in a storefront donated by Handyman Hardware. Hepburn is the last charter member still active in the club, serving as sergeant-at-arms.

Kellett’s drive and determination to get out the vote and bring positive change for working men and women in North County brought in more than $1.2 million from fundraisers, raffles and donations over his long tenure. Kellett retired from his position as president in 2015 after 29 years with the club. He remains an active member.

“We want to be Labor friendly to everyone, union and non-union residents alike. It’s a big task in the two months since I’ve headed the club. There have been big changes, and there has been dissention,” Searcy says. “Some people thought the dissention was racially charged. Hopefully, I can bring back unionism and Labor to North County. That’s the way we’re going to build North County back up.”

Hundreds of elected officials have owed their seats to the support of North County union members who beat the pavement going door-to-door campaigning, put signs on their lawns and talking to their friends and neighbors about the importance of voting for a worker-friendly candidates. But now, it’s getting tougher, Searcy said.

Changing demographics have the power to shape communities. The population trends affecting North St. Louis County are expected to impact its economy, housing market, transportation system and service delivery over the next several decades, and the Labor community of North County must adapt and work to hold the line.

STRUGGLING AS A UNION STRONGHOLD

Back in the early days of the club, North County was the new suburbia where blue collar, card-carrying neighbors were the rule.

North County was built for the blue-collar American industrial economy. The standard-of-living in North County was only made possible through the achievements of Organized Labor. Unions were historically powerful in North County as residents recognized who was to thank for their standard-of-living.

In the days when working hard, playing by the rules and being a member of a union were the ticket to the American middle class, communities in North County flourished. But Searcy says those times have changed.

'WE'RE GOING TO STAY STRONG'

“The North County Labor Club has long been known as the go-to organization for politicians hoping to be elected or re-elected in North St. Louis County voting districts,” Searcy said. “The club has been strong, but we had a hiccup in 2016 when the people we backed lost. Some people think the Labor Club is obsolete, but I’m here and the executive board is here, and we’re going to stay strong.”

According to one researcher, the decline of North County’s Labor base isn’t just about white flight; it’s also about de-industrialization and the weakening of Organized Labor. What happens to neighborhoods built for factory-workers when the factories close? What happens to those homes built for union members of the skilled trades when their livelihoods are being undercut by non-union and out-of-town labor?

“In the past, when other areas lost, North County was usually strongly democratic. It’s just demographics,” Searcy said.

“But now, different factions are moving into North County. Hopefully, that’s where I can be first to bring them together, to listen and tell them to understand we are here to bring North County together. When you have all these factions within the party, it’s difficult, but I think I can bring them all together when they present themselves.”

Searcy added, “Even though we’re a Labor club, we’re also about moving North County forward. I believe we are still strong with our members. We’re still drawing people who used to live in North County but moved, but still come back to our North County Labor Club – the ‘original labor club.”’

GET INVOLVED

Searcy, an officer with Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562, has been a member of the North County Labor Club for just two years, but his background in the political arena started as a child watching his father who worked for the Congressman William Clay, who served for 32 years and was a founding Member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“I watched the beatings persist; I came home from the Navy, and when I joined the political scene, I wish I had done this earlier. I see what I missed. I then worked with the Congressman Lacy Clay campaign when he ran for his job as State Rep.,” Searcy said.

“Younger people need to get involved with the Labor Club because you’re staying on top of whatever issues come up in your career. With the Club, we try to cultivate an interest in local government to make their lives better. I know it takes time away sometimes, but in the end, it will benefit you.”

There are 13 Labor Clubs in the St. Louis Metropolitan region, and Searcy said North County needs to continue as a leader among them. He is also a member of the St. Louis City Labor Club.

“Now we have to bring in the younger people. We have a webpage, but a lot of people who have moved to North County recently, probably don’t know there is a Labor Club,” Searcy said. “I believe that we have to do a better job of getting our message out. We can get it out to the people in Labor, but when you’re preaching to the choir...  You might have to get the younger people on their computers and their smart phones, but we’re going to find a way to get them involved.”

Searcy replaces former Club President Frank Schuette, a 40-year member of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562 and long-time member of the North County Labor Board.

MEMBERSHIP DRIVE

North County Labor Club is having a Membership Drive. If you would like to join, simply attend the next meeting to be held at 7 p.m., Monday, Oct. 2 at the Aerospace Lodge Hall, 212 Utz Lane, Hazelwood.

The club meets the first Monday of the month. Speakers are invited to address the membership at each meeting. The membership fee is $20 for the year, $10 for retirees.

For more information on the North County Labor Legislative Club visit northcountylabor.com.

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