December 9, 2003
CHICAGO (Dec. 9)—U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes and U.S. Rep. Lane Evans (D-17th) will be among the dignitaries present December 13 when the Decatur Trades & Labor Assembly confers its James H. Ragan Award on UTU #453 Local Chairman and Local Legislative Representative Lloyd Holman.
Holman, 52, a Decatur native who hired out as a switchman with the Illinois Central Railroad in 1970, has served as Local Chairman continuously since 1975, as Legislative Representative since 1983, and as a member of the union’s CN/IC Safety Committee since its inception in 1988. He also chairs the Executive Committee of the UTU Illinois Legislative Board.
Holman will receive the award at the Assembly’s 39th Annual Community Services Awards Banquet and Holiday Celebration. One of six Decatur-area unionists to receive the Ragan Award this year, Holman is being cited primarily for his success in spearheading the design and construction of a Workers Memorial Monument which was installed in 2000 on the grounds of the Macon County Court House in Decatur.
“For seven years the project got nowhere,” Holman told ‘Hot Topics.’ “The three guys who started it got some donations, but not enough to pay for the monument. Finally they asked me to help. I told them I’d do what I could, but not if it was going to take another seven years. I told them I’d get involved only to get it done.”
Using contacts he developed in his legislative work for the UTU, Holman and his group approached then State Rep. Julie Currie (D-Decatur). Currie, now Chief of Staff for Gov. Rod Blagojevich, helped the group seek a $10,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Labor. When the grant was awarded, Holman was able to secure more than $13,000 worth of additional private donations, including materials, transportation, equipment and labor, to complete project.
Sweat equity in project
Some of the labor was his own. Holman and fellow labor activist Jimmy Taylor, a former employee at the local Caterpillar tractor plant, prepared the site for the monument by stripping sod and helping with the placement of the 10-ton block of Georgia granite. The stone, which was dedicated on Workers Memorial Day, April 28, 2000, commemorates Decatur workers who lost their lives in workplace accidents or as the result of diseases triggered by a poor work environment. The text, adapted from lines by 19th-century labor organizer Mother Jones, reads:
IN MEMORY OF AMERICAN WORKERS WHO HAVE FALLEN FROM OUR RANKS DUE TO OCCUPATIONAL INJURY, ILLNESS AND DEATH. LET US RENEW OUR VOW TO PROVIDE SAFETY AND HEALTH, DIGNITY AND JUSTICE IN THE WORKPLACE. LET US RENEW THE CHALLENGE TO THOSE WHO WOULD DENY AMERICAN WORKERS THOSE BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS.
Most fallen workers still go unsung
On the pedestal of the monument are the names of Macon County workers killed in workplace accidents dating back to the 1960s. Blank space has been left for additional names as volunteers continue to research old newspaper clippings and coroner’s records in an effort to establish a comprehensive inventory of all Macon County workers killed in the workplace or fatally sickened by their work environment.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Holman said. “Not every workplace death made it into the historical records. Getting killed on the job was so common in the old days, and workplace regulation was so poor, that many public officials just accepted the dangers. Victims often were buried without an autopsy or an investigation.”
A lifetime of volunteer effort
While Holman’s nomination for the Ragan Award primarily acknowledged his leadership on behalf of the Workers Memorial project, it also cited a multitude of other union and civic efforts dating back more than two decades.
He is well known in the community for his efforts on behalf of Laborfest, a family-fun day held each September to help raise campaign contributions for labor-friendly candidates for public office.
In the early 90s, he was one of the first activists to sound the alarm and help prepare workers for major union-busting efforts soon to be launched by major local employers such as A.E. Staley Co., Firestone Tire & Rubber, and Caterpillar, Inc. True to Holman’s prediction, lockouts and charges of worker sabotage followed. From 1993 to 1996 he served as Chairman of the Decatur Workers Solidarity and Educational Coalition, which conducted workshops in the high schools to explain the economic realities of working for wages in local industries.
Perhaps closest to his heart has been Holman’s work as the Trades & Labor Assembly’s representative on the District 61 School Board Partnership Council, a volunteer panel that involves labor unions, neighborhood organizations and community leaders with the management of the public school system.
“Part of my contribution is my contacts with state legislators,” he said. “That’s very useful to anybody trying to improve the schools.” Holman believes he’s been useful as well in warning the schools of the dangers they face when local government uses Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts and Enterprise Zones to attract or hold industries by granting them temporary tax reductions.
“TIFs and Enterprise Zones look nice on paper, and they’ve been pretty successful in keeping jobs in the community,” Holman said. “But the tax base takes a hit, and the schools are the first to feel it. A lot of our school infrastructure is crumbling and our school administrators are faced with a terrible dilemma: Do we pay the teachers or fix the building? Nobody should have to make that kind of decision.”
Trades & Labor Assembly President Michael Shampine saluted Holman’s achievements, saying, “Lloyd has proven time and time again his dedication to the labor movement in Decatur. We are proud to give him this award to show him how much we appreciate his ongoing efforts in making Decatur a great place to live, work and retire.”
Asked how he manages so much activity while still holding down his job as a CN switchman, Homan told “Hot Topics:”
“It used to be I didn’t sleep a lot. Now I’ve started taking naps.”
For photos of the Decatur Workers Memorial, with a list of all workers whose deaths are commemorated on its tablets, go to http://www.decaturlabor.org .