After graduation from Granite City High School, Bob Gibson served in the Coast Guard in World War II. He then took a job at Granite City Steel. He moved into a staff position in the CIO and was leading a community services program when the AFL and the CIO merged in 1958. Gibson remained a vocal leader in providing union supported community services throughout his tenure at the AFL-CIO, and today an annual banquet bestows the Robert G. Gibson Community Service Award to union members who uphold this legacy of community service
Bob Gibson was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the Illinois AFLCIO in 1963 and served for 15 years. He then served as President for a decade until 1989.
Bob Gibson was instrumental in winning the long battle for public sector union rights which culminated in the 1983 collective bargaining laws for public employees. In 1978 the AFL-CIO resolved to make public sector unionism their top priority. Under Bob Gibson’s leadership Illinois labor union members mobilized an effort to talk to every legislator in Springfield. Then, in June 2, 1981, 20,000 angry union workers poured into Springfield on buses and trains, and held the largest ever rally at the Illinois State Capitol. Gibson worked with Republican Governor James Thompson and Democratic Mayor of Chicago Harold Washington to overcome three decades of opposition to public sector unionism. Governor Thompson signed the Illinois Public Employee collective bargaining bill on September 23, 1983 with Gibson at his side.
This growth of public sector unionism became even more important as attacks on private sector unions mounted during the 1980s and beyond. Today the public sector accounts for half of all union membership in the United States, and public sector unionism is a bedrock of the labor movement, especially in Illinois, and this is in part Bob Gibson’s legacy.
Public sector unionism was not the only cause that Gibson championed. Starting in 1975 the Illinois AFL-CIO actively supported the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, holding rallies in support of equal rights for women as a labor issue. In 1980 Bob Gibson testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on behalf of the ERA.
In 1982, Bob Gibson helped organize 40,000 union members to march along Michigan Avenue in the city of Chicago's first Labor Day parade in 41 years. The march demonstrated the unity and power of organized labor—a power that grew with Bob Gibson’s leadership.
Regina V. Polk
Regina Polk was born on a farm in Casa Grande, Arizona in 1950. She attended Mills College in San Francisco on scholarship, and did graduate work in Industrial Relations at the University of Chicago. From 1974, until her untimely death in 1983, she was with Local 743 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. She was very proud to be a Teamster. Regina Polk’s entry into the labor movement was anything but auspicious. While studying Industrial Relations at the University of Chicago, she worked part-time as a waitress. Like many non-union establishments, the restaurant’s pay and working conditions were deplorable. Gina soon concluded that what she and her fellow workers needed was a union. She personally contacted Local 743 because of its reputation as a progressive union, one that emphasizes “organizing the unorganized”. When she began signing up her co-workers at the restaurant as members, Gina was promptly fired.
While the union was appealing her firing as illegal, they employed Gina part-time as a labor organizer. By the time the case was decided in her favor, she had found her career with the labor movement. She began as a labor organizer and later was promoted to serve as a Business Representative.
When Gina returned to the University of Chicago in 1978, it was not to finish her masters’ degree, but to help organize its 1,800 clerical workers, and serve as their Business Representative. Gina also played a key role in organizing Blue Cross/Blue Shield Illinois, and Governor’s State University. In 1982, Alden’s, a large mail order company, closed its doors. Two thousand, six hundred union workers from local 743 were let go. Gina was assigned the job of organizing retraining programs for the laid off workers.
In recognition of her activities in the labor movement, she was appointed by Governor Thompson as a member of the Illinois Employment and Training Council. On a trip to attend a meeting of the Council, Gina was killed in a plane crash on October 11, 1983.
Regina Polk was interviewed and quoted by various publications including The New York Times and Time Magazine on the subjects of white collar organizing, and the role of women in the labor movement.
The Regina Polk Scholarship Fund for Labor Leadership was established in 1983 in Gina’s memory. The fund sponsors an annual conference for women in the labor movement, and funds a program that teaches high school students about the labor movement.
Connell F. Smith
Connell F. Smith served as Business Manager/Secretary Treasurer of Laborers’ Local 773 from 1942 to 1976. It was his vision that guides Local 773 to this day in organizing, political action and service to the membership. He provided a strong foundation for one of the most respected Local Unions in the entire International Union. His philosophy of “Who can I help today” guided him as the longest serving business manager in Local 773 history.
Mary Jewel graduated Diehlstadt High School at the age of 16, and was the only one of her mother’s children to graduate from high school. She later worked at Brown Shoe Company in Charleston, Missouri, and then at the munitions plant in Cairo, Illinois during World War II. It was at this job, working on the assembly line, that she met her husband, Connell F. Smith, a union representative for workers at the plant. While they were dating, she often told him she would rather dance than eat. Mary Jewel and Connell were married on December 8, 1945. Connell shared his passion for hunting and fishing with Mary Jewel, and she was soon out-shooting and out-fishing him. They were married until he passed away in 1988. “
Local 773 Local 773 was chartered on March 11, 1940 in Cairo, Illinois. Local 773, since its original charter, has grown into the largest Local Union in the Midwest Region covering a geographic area of the thirteen southernmost counties in Southern Illinois and representing over 4,000 members. The membership of Laborers’ Local 773, one of most diverse in the United States, is comprised of members employed in the construction, health care, industrial, manufacturing, public sector and environmental industries. Also unique to Local 773 is its representation of over 800 railroad maintenance workers, covering 41 states in the United States.