Who Will Be New Leaders of Our Unions?

Article excerpt

Len Terbrock, whose trademark crewcut reflected a no-nonsense, blunt approach, retired recently after seven years atop the Carpenters District Council. The council's 11,000 members makes it the largest construction union here. Terbrock had joined the carpenters union in 1952.

His resignation was followed on Aug. 27 by that of Bill Swift, an official with Local 655 of the United Food and Commercial Workers for 32 years and a member for 42. With 16,000 members, Local 655 is the largest union in Missouri.

Swift retired a few months after Bill Campey, president of the local. The two men put in a combined 75 years at the union.

Bob Sansone, Missouri's top Teamster, stepped down last year after the government ruled he hadn't aggressively investigated an aide's alleged misdeeds. He took a lower-profile job with the building trades council.

Those are just a few of the highly visible, talented leaders the local labor movement - dominated by veterans - has lost recently.

Who'll replace them?

The question arises because, bluntly put, the local labor movement has not produced a host of new, potential leaders who have captured the public imagination. (There are exceptions, including Local 655's able Nick Torpea.)

That despite the fact that St. Louis is one of the nation's leading centers of labor activity. Historically, several unions began here, among them the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, with IBEW Local 1 still here. The local construction industry is a national model of union-management cooperation, symbolized by the group known as PRIDE.

St. Louis has one of the highest concentrations of auto workers in the country, and nearly one of every six members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is from Missouri or Illinois.

The question of local union leadership is important in more than an institutional sense, because labor leaders perform a variety of roles:

They head the organizations that fight for improved benefits, wages and working conditions for their 300,000 members in the region - from teachers and bakers to steelworkers and musicians.

Their efforts have a spin-off effect on compensation for non-union workers, white- and blue-collar. …