Terrible sadness struck the labor movement late yesterday with the news of the passing of Mark Ayers, the President of the Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD) of the AFL-CIO.
In a statement, the BCTD praised the man, a 39-year International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) mainstay and Navy veteran born in Peoria, Illinois, who was known by all around him as a joyful, kind soul:
It is with deep sadness that the Building and Construction Trades Department announces the sudden and untimely passing of its President, Mark H. Ayers, on April 8, 2012.
President Ayers was a labor leader of vision, innovation, passion and integrity, and it was through his leadership that North America’s Building Trades Unions were on the path to success and increased market share for the union construction industry.
Although our hearts are heavy today, our spirits are lifted by virtue of the unsullied legacy of a working man who was grounded and guided to his core through the values that were instilled in him during his upbringing in Peoria, Illinois. Mark Ayers was a true trade unionist in every sense of the word, and it was through that commitment to bettering the lives of working families that he was able to offer so much to his country, his family, and to the labor movement.
Affiliates of the BCTD issued statements of their own this morning. Bricklayers President James Boland called Ayers “a legendary crusader for working people everywhere” who provided “matchless leadership during one of the most challenging periods in the history of the organized construction industry.” The California State Building Trades highlighted a few of Ayers’ policy initiatives:
With Ayers at the helm, BCTD pushed aggressively for increased infrastructure spending by the federal government. The union has been a big supporter of a multi-year highway bill.
Below is an interview with President Ayers from a 2010 edition of the Journal of Labor and Society in which he discusses the election of Barack Obama and his efforts as Building Trades President to brand the Building Trades once and for all as a progressive, all-inclusive organization. Some of our favorite quotes have been highlighted as well.
Rest in peace, Brother Ayers.
“A smart union will make sure that it diversifies to the point where it has members from and in every part of the community.”
“We need to unite around a common program for job creation, job quality and job access. Job creation is necessary to grow the pie. Job quality means we’re creating good middle class jobs. And, job access ensures that everyone has fair access to those high road jobs.”
“Those leaders who understand and appreciate how profoundly the ground has shifted, how dramatically the political landscape is changing, will be well positioned to shape our future. But those leaders who continue to say and do what we have been saying and doing for too long without much success, run the risk of becoming irrelevant. The American people are hoping for a new con- versation among progressive forces about how we can all work together to change this country. The Building and Construction Trades must be ready to engage in that strategic conversation.”