Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

At 76, Labor Leader Still Fighting

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

At 76, Labor Leader Still Fighting

Article excerpt

John Bowden has always been a fighter.

Bowden, who turns 76 tomorrow, is a former prizefighter and

long-time labor leader who wants to continue his fight for

better working conditions for union employees.

Earlier this month, Bowden won an uncontested race to take back

the helm of the Northeast Florida Building and Construction

Trades Council.

From 1958 to 1988, Bowden served as the president of the

council, an association of 16 area unions representing more than

18,000 union members. Bowden was re-elected to a two-year term,

replacing Paul Lyle of Sheet Metal Workers Local 435 as the

president.

"I ran to try to give the building trade a new image and to move

the building trade forward," said Bowden, a World War II Army

veteran.

"Normally, people my age are put out to pasture. I'm trying to

help people have a better life. I always want to be remembered

as someone who tried to help the little man."

Bowden is the business agent -- or leader -- of the 350-member

Iron Workers Union Local 597, a job he's held since 1958. Bowden

joined the union in 1940, when the membership fee cost $5.

"I'm probably the oldest business agent in the United States

that's still working," said Bowden, who was born in Mandarin and

helped construct the Fuller Warren and Mathews bridges.

Bowden's passion for labor issues drove him to return to the

Northeast Florida Building and Construction Trades Council.

"For some reason, this town doesn't give organized labor its

due," Bowden said.

During his new term, Bowden wants to convince the city to use

local contractors for jobs, insist on a drug-free policy for

contract laborers, establish prevailing wages for contract jobs

and offer pension and health-care benefits to workers in city

contracts.

Bowden also recently helped form the Jacksonville United Labor

Alliance to bring area labor unions under one umbrella. The

alliance received its charter in November.

"From a labor perspective, it's the first collation of organized

labor into one working body that's taken place in 30 or 40

years. …

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