They lobbied politicians — locally, statewide and nationally. They held rallies. They researched industry trends. They talked financial strategies, wooed businesses and wrote thousands of letters.
Most important, they united to craft a persuasive message that resonated with people who may have otherwise had no interest in the fate of three nearly shuttered oil refineries along the Delaware River and the thousands of people who worked in them.
And, in the end, they may have helped save many of their own jobs, plus many other jobs in the Southwest Philadelphia and Delaware County.
That's why five labor union locals involved with the Sunoco and ConocoPhillips refineries were among the honorees at Thursday's annual awards banquet held by the Bread & Roses Community Fund, a Philadelphia foundation that bankrolls organizations advocating for workers and community groups.
"It's absolutely inspiring," said Casey Cook, executive director of the fund. "It's really an incredible story."
Last Friday, Delta Air Lines finalized its purchase of the ConocoPhillips refinery in Trainer, with plans to hire 400. There is a potential buyer for Sunoco's refinery in Southwest Philadelphia, employing 1,000. Refinery jobs generate other jobs among suppliers and local businesses.
It's unlikely that the Sunoco refinery in Marcus Hook will reopen as a refinery.
The Bread & Roses Foundation takes its name from the famous Bread and Roses textile strike in Lawrenceville, Mass., in 1912. The mostly female and immigrant workforce walked off the job and within a week, 22,000 textile workers were on strike.
Cook said the women wanted bread, meaning sustainable wages, and roses, meaning work days and weeks that were short enough to allow the enjoyment of life.
Cook said that because of the 100-year anniversary of the strike, the foundation wanted to specifically honor unions and other advocates for workers. It's important, she said, to emphasize the ties between the social justice movement and organized labor, especially now, she said, "with unions being under attack, being scapegoated and marginalized."
The organization's Paul Robeson Award for Lifetime Achievement was given to Kathy Black, an official with the city's white collar union, the American Federation of State Council and Municipal Employees District Council 47.
"She exemplifies the bridge between the larger social justice community and organized labor," Cook said. Black heads the Coalition for Labor Union Women, dedicated to advancing women in union leadership. She is also active in many feminist causes and in the peace movement.
Also honored was the Philadelphia Unemployment Project led by John Dodds. Last Friday, after many months of advocacy by this group, Gov. Corbett signed a law that reactivates the Homeowners Emergency Assistance Program, a program that helps people who have lost their jobs or have come on hard times to keep their homes.
"They are the organization that fights for the poorest among us in terms of economic rights," Cook said.
Bread and Roses also honored retired Philadelphia AFL-CIO official Janet Ryder for connecting organized labor and the United Way, and Pennsylvania Consumer Workforce Council chairman German L. Parodi for his efforts to include people with disabilities in labor negotiations involving homecare workers.
The Philadelphia law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing and Feinberg L.L.P. earned the "Robin Hood was Right Award" for its pro bono representation of many grassroots groups.
The five refinery unions honored were Locals 10-1, 10-234 and 10-901 of the United Steelworkers headed by Jim Savage, Dennis Stefano and David Miller, respectively, as well as Local 13 of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers led by John Clark and United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry Local 420, a steamfitters local, led by Tom Gallo.
To see a video about the award winners, go to http://youtu.be/cuvUfsEcFb4.
Contact Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JaneVonBergen on Twitter. Read her Jobbing blog at www.philly.com/jobbing.
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