Board & Staff
Board & Staff
Larry Spivack, Larry Spivack is a Regional Director for AFSCME Council 31. He has dedicated his entire adult life to the labor movement. He is currently regional director of AFSCME Council 31 in Illinois, and has worked for AFSCME since 1984, as an organizer, staff representative, and collective bargaining supervisor. Previously, he was a teacher in the public school system and the state of Illinois. He loves labor history so much, that the most fun he has is being part of the Illinois Labor History Society.
Tom Suhrbur, Retired Organizer, Illinois Education Association Tom Suhrbur grew up in a union family in Cicero, Illinois. He received a BA and MA in U.S. history at the UIC and a Certificate of Advanced Studies in labor history from NIU. He co-authored a book "Union Brotherhood, Union Town: The History of the Chicago Carpenters' Union, 1863-1987." He taught social studies for 17 years, and his last teaching job was at Geneva HS (Illinois). He retired recently in 2011 after 26 years as a union organizer for the Illinois Education Association.
Mike Matejka Mike Matejka is the Governmental Affairs Director, Great Plains Laborers District Council representing LiUNA locals in central Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. For the past 35 years he has edited the Grand Prairie Union News for the Bloomington & Normal Trades & Labor Assembly. In 2000 the ILHS published his book, "Fiery Struggle: Illinois Fire Fighters Build a Union." He speaks frequently on labor topics, does regular local radio commentaries and is always digging up Illinois labor history nuggets. He serves on numerous local agency and other boards in central Illinois, including as past President of the McLean County Historical Society.
Debby Pope Debby Pope has been a social justice activist since high school and a union fighter since the 1980’s when she helped organize a union and negotiate a first contract in her federal government agency (USDA/FNS). She became a teacher and served as a school delegate from both Schurz and Gage Park High Schools and more recently as a retiree delegate. She has been active in CTU for many years, serving over the years, as member, chair and liaison for the women’s rights committee, high school functional vice president and as CUT Editor and Director of Education and Labor Outreach. Debby joined the ILHS in 2002 and has served as Secretary to the Board for many years. She believes that ILHS’ mission is a vital and integral part of the labor movement today. Debby says, “I’m a retiree who is not ‘really’ retired. My happiest moments are on a picket line, bullhorn in hand. I believe it’s vital to have a strong CTU to help members in the fight for better working conditions and educational justice for all.”
Illinois Federation of Teachers
Julia Berkowitz Julia Berkowitz, was born and raised in Chicago. She's been an Electrician for 20 years, currently working as a maintenance electrician at the CTA. She received her undergrad in American History from UIC in 2009 and also took post-graduate courses on labor history at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Her interests include 1930s inter-war history of labor and gender and women in the steel industry in the Calumet region in the 1970s.
Tim Drea, currently Secretary Treasurer of the Illinois AFL-CIO, was elected to office on April 12, 2007. Before his election to the office of Secretary Treasurer he was the Legislative and Political Director for Local 881 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). The son of a coal miner in Central Illinois, Tim followed his father and worked as a coal miner for eleven years as a member of UMWA Local 9819. After being laid off in 1990, he finished his education and earned a BA in Political Studies at Sangamon State University joining the Senate Democratic Staff as the Executive Committee staff person for Senator Emil Jones, Jr. Mr. Drea is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and currently serves the state of Illinois on the Employment Security Advisory Board.
Mike Siviwe Elliott Originally from Detroit, Michigan, he is a third generation member (retired) of the United Auto Workers and is a longtime labor, political, community and international activist. Currently serving as Labor Committee Chair for the Chicago Alliance against Racist & Political Repression and is a leader in the campaign to establish an all elected civilian police accountability council (CPAC). Mike works closely with the young activists of the Black Lives Matter movement and various progressive labor unions in Chicago. Mike was recently arrested and is currently facing false charges, after video recording a Metra police officer mishandling a young Black women.
Bucky Halker is a songwriter, performer, and historian with 15 albums to his credit, including Anywhere But Utah: Songs of Joe Hill (2015) and The Ghost of Woody Guthrie (2012), an original music tribute to Guthrie. Halker, a Ph.D. in labor history, is the author of For Democracy, Workers, and God: Labor Song-Poems and Labor Protest, 1865-1895 and the producer-scholar for the Folksongs of Illinois CD series, vols. 1-5 (2007-2014). He serves on the board of the Woody Guthrie Foundation.
Peter A. Fosco Peter A. Fosco is the Regional Director of the Great Lakes Region Organizing Committee (GROC) and Secretary-Treasurer of Laborers’ Local Union 1. Peter also has served in various positions with LiUNA from International Representative to Training Director/Instructor over the past twenty-seven years. He is extremely involved in community activities, various youth sports programs and religious education.
Erik S. Gellman
Erik Gellman is an Associate Professor of History and Associate Director of the St. Clair Drake Center for African and African American Studies at Roosevelt University in Chicago. His research focuses on the convergence of labor history and African American history in a variety of 20th century contexts. He helped to produce the Encyclopedia of Chicago, the Labor Trail Map of Chicago, and has curated two major photography exhibits on working-class identities and protest movements. He lives in the Uptown neighborhood and enjoys collecting old junk (cameras, records, books, etc) in his spare time.
Lisa Oppenheim is Director of the Chicago Metro History Fair and holds a M.A. in Public History. Lisa was Editor-in-Chief of the Labor Research Review and a former union member of the GCIU. She serves on the boards of the Chicago Area Women’s History Council and the Illinois State Historical Society.
Liesl Miller Orenic is a professor of American history at Dominican University. Before teaching at Dominican she worked in the airline industry and as a higher education union organizer. She's the author of On the Ground: Labor Struggle in the American Airline Industry (2009) and is currently writing about Chicago's Teamsters Local 743.
William Pelz Growing up in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood, William A. Pelz hoped to become a CTA bus driver. Failing in that, he became a History Professor and author instead.
Robert Reiter Bob Reiter is a third-generation member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150. Throughout his career, he has worked as a labor attorney, an organizer, a negotiator and a lobbyist. He came to the Chicago Federation of Labor as the Secretary-Treasurer in 2010. He saw this as an opportunity to bring the values his parents taught him as a child to a bigger stage, allowing him to affect people’s lives in a way he could not do at his local. As Secretary-Treasurer, Bob represents the interests of labor throughout Chicago and Cook County. As a Board member for the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, Bob is helping to strengthen the economy of Chicago by bringing tradeshows, conventions and other public events to Chicago. His involvement with various community groups, including Chicago Jobs with Justice’s Executive Committee and Arise Chicago’s Executive Board, allows him to fight for the rights of workers through education, organizing and shaping public discourse. As a member of the Citizen Action/Illinois Policy Council, Bob has the opportunity to influence the organization’s public policy positions, the legislative agenda and any candidate endorsements for public office. On the Metropolitan Planning Council Resource Board, Bob is helping to build a strong economy and reinvigorate Chicago’s neighborhoods. Bob holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in political science from Eastern Illinois University, and a Juris Doctor degree from IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. He and his wife, Diana, have two beautiful children.
Judy Simpson Judy Simpson is a Field Representative for LiUNA Local 733 in Marion, Illinois. Prior to this, she spent 27 years at Southern Illinois University’s Morris Library where she worked in Special Collections. Judy is active in the research, education, and preservation of labor history in the southern portion of the state. Her interests include the labor history of faith groups, women, southern Illinois and the coal industry.
Alma Washington A longtime union member of SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists). Presently serves on the Chicago Local Board, and has been a delegate to the past four National Conventions. Demonstrating her strong advocacy for Women's Rights, she is a member of CLUW, (Coalition of Labor Union Women) Working Women's History Project, and is a conductee in the Illinois Labor History Societys Union Hall of Honor. She is a recipient of the Nelson Algren Award given, in part, for her activism and her one-woman show which features the life of Lucy Parsons who fought for the 8-Hour work day, and freedom of speech. Her latest honor was the Olga Madar Award presented by the Chicago Chapter of CLUW.
Ex Officio Members
Michael T. Carrigan Michael T. Carrigan, currently president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, was first elected on February 28, 2007. Carrigan served as secretary-treasurer of the Illinois AFL-CIO for seven years prior to becoming president. Before that he served as business manager/financial secretary for IBEW Local 146 in Decatur from 1992 to 2000. He was a journeyman wireman in Decatur from 1978 to 1990 before becoming assistant business manager of the local. Carrigan graduated from MacMurray College (Jacksonville) in 1976 with a Bachelor of Science degree. At the national level, Carrigan serves on the national AFL-CIO State Federation and Central Labor Council Advisory Committee, at the behest of the AFL-CIO President. At the regional level, Mr. Carrigan is the chairman of the 12-state AFL-CIO Midwest Labor Federation Council. At the state level, he is a member of the Illinois Prevailing Wage Council Executive Board and in 2005 was appointed to serve on the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Board.
Jorge Ramirez Jorge Ramirez is president of the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL) and a vice president of the national American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). The CFL is the third largest central labor council of the national AFL-CIO, representing half a million working people across Chicago and Cook County. Jorge has served as an officer of the CFL since July 2006 and was elected the CFL’s first Latino president in July 2010. In February 2015, he was elected to the AFL-CIO Executive Council as a vice president, helping to guide the daily work of the national federation. In his role as CFL president, Jorge serves on executive and advisory boards for labor, civic, and community organizations across the city and around the country. His involvement with these organizations allows him to represent the interests of labor and protect the fundamental rights of all workers. He serves on boards for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Choose Chicago, Chicago Infrastructure Trust, Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, Illinois Special Olympics, and other civic and community groups. Jorge graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso with a double major in marketing and computer information systems. He later went on to receive his Juris Doctor from the Chicago-Kent College of Law. He and his wife, Catrina, have four sons.
Stephanie Seawell Fortado- Executive Director Stephanie Seawell Fortado received her doctoral degree in history from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. She is a former Treasurer and President of the Graduate Employees Organization, a local of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. She spends a lot of her time thinking, researching and writing about working people and parks and public space.