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Q&A with Charles “Totsie” Bailey, Executive Secretary/Treasurer, Southwestern Illinois Building & Construction Trades Council

    IBJ: Are you settling in?
    Bailey: Not really. I started June 1 for a four-year term. I’m still business manager of the Steamfitters’ union, too, and was president of the Illinois Pipe Trades Association for the state, but I stepped down from there (Nov. 2). That’s one less job I’ve got.
    IBJ: You’re filling some big shoes with Dale Stewart departing the scene (for retirement). He was around an awfully long time.
p04 Bailey    Bailey: Dale didn’t give me a choice. He told me I was going to do it and that was it. I do what Dale tells me (laughs).
    IBJ: He drafted you, huh?
    Bailey: Yeah, once he found out I was getting close to retiring from the Steamfitters, he figured it was time.
    IBJ: What’s your history coming in?
    Bailey: I’m a third-generation Steamfitter and my sons are a fourth.  I got elected 26 years ago as business manager, and I’m going to retire from there Dec. 28. I’m 64. It’s been a great career as a Steamfitter. I wouldn’t have done anything different.
    IBJ: So, your dad and grandpa were Steamfitters, too?
    Bailey: Yes, and my grandpa was the reason I got the name Totsie; it was his nickname.  He died about when I was born.
    IBJ: Some people don’t know you’ve got a real name.
    Bailey: The only thing that says Charles on it is my driver’s license. Even my high school diploma says “Totsie” on it. Johnny O’Brien (one of the principals at Assumption High School) told me to come back Monday and we’d get it changed. I told him I wasn’t coming back.
    IBJ: What exactly is a Steamfitter qualified to do?
    Bailey: Process heavy wall piping, aluminum and others — there are a hundred different alloys. Pumps, air compressors, anything that has to do with process piping.
    IBJ: What big projects did you work on?
    Bailey: All the U.S. Steel jobs. Monsanto (now Eastman Chemical). I built most of the departments there. Afton Chemical, which was Ethyl plant at the time (in Sauget). The Clinton nuclear power house.
    IBJ: You’re still trying to get younger people into the trades, right?
    Bailey: Yes, just in my home local, we’ve taken in 20 percent apprentices because of retirement of baby boomers. We’ve lowered our actual working age a lot. Ten years ago, all the guys were in their fifties and above. Pensions didn’t start until the 1960s, so we had a lot of guys on the job until they were 75 years old.
    IBJ: So many of the trades anymore are not so much about getting your hands dirty. But a lot of young people and their parents don’t have a full understanding of that.
    Bailey: What I try to do in my home local, a young kid 18 or 19 applies, I’ll tell them to try school first, we’ll work you in the summer. When you get out of college you decide to do this, that’s fine. They all do. They finish college, and they all come back to us.
    IBJ: Union membership has taken it on the chin in recent years.
    Bailey: I think unity with the union members themselves is not as tight as it was back in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Back then, they’d all help each other on the weekends, if somebody had a project. I kind of wish that would come back. Back then, we road to work together — four crafts in one car. We’d argue all day long, but get back in the car and ride home together. Every Friday or Saturday night there was a stag (benefit). A guy got hurt or needed money. Crap games, card games, beer. If nobody needed anything, sometimes they’d have one just to have one.
    IBJ: How many members doe the council have now?
    Bailey: Eighty-four-hundred in 15 trades.
    IBJ: Has that held pretty steady?
    Bailey: It’s gone down a little bit but starting to come back up. All the internationals are really pushing organizing right now. My international, the UA, they’re bringing in two or three organizers just for this area.
    IBJ: Really? What do they hope to achieve?
    Bailey: Service-type work. Air condition and heating, the gas stations. They’re trying to get them all on board, and they are having some success.
    IBJ: What did you think of the election? Do you think labor will have an upper hand now? A lot of Democrats were elected.
    Bailey: I think infrastructure will be the biggest thing for us. Highways and bridges. Manufacturing is going to come back to places like East St. Louis, but they have to have the roads and bridges fixed.
    IBJ: How about workmen’s comp legislation? Is that a priority?
    Bailey: You don’t see guys get hurt like they did back in the ’70s. My local, we haven’t had a work comp case in two years.
    IBJ: Is that because of the emphasis on safety?
    Bailey: The unions are always pushing safety. It’s ongoing training. We keep telling the members it’s more important to get the job done safely. If it takes longer, it takes longer. Unions have changed 1,000 percent since I started. Safety is the main thing. When I started, you’d ride the headache ball. It was just the way to get on top the tank.
    IBJ: Literally, you’d get on the ball and ride up?
    Bailey: Oh, yeah. Safety and quality of craft are both better. We used to write our measurements on the side of the tank, look at it and take off running, hoping you’d remember it.
    IBJ: What actions take place at the council meetings?
    Bailey: Mainly jurisdictional topics, jobs, planning. If we see a job that might be going bad, we talk about what we can do to make it go right. We don’t want issues. We want them to make money, we want contractors to make money, we want our people to make money. We like to push project labor agreements — PLAs. That way they hire local people who pay all the taxes, shop in the stores. Dale was great at this. He presented over 1,400 of these over the years. The owner signs it, and it’s basically an agreement to hire from the local trade unions. All the contractors have to be signatories to the craft that they’re hiring. We’ve got so many of them established, we just have to renew them when they expire.

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