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Mark Ayers, BCTD President, Part 1
Mark Ayers, the president of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO and vice president of the AFL-CIO passed away on Easter. He was a nearly 40-year veteran in the labor movement and was widely loved within the movement for fighting for the rights of working families. Reactions to the tragedy and major loss for the labor movement were widespread:
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.
We are saddened to report that Building and Construction Trades President, AFL-CIO President Mark Ayers died April 8 at the age of 63, a sudden blow to the labor community, where he was highly respected for his innovation, generosity and dedication to working families.
Says International President Edwin D. Hill: "I can’t think of anyone who worked harder to build our common movement. His steady hand and activist spirit steered the IBEW and the Building Trades through some of the toughest times we’ve ever faced. He has left us much too soon, but his legacy will continue to be felt by future generations of working families. But more than that: Mark was my friend, whose kindness was felt by all. I will always be thankful for having the opportunity to work with a brother like that."
Ayers, left, with IBEW President Ed Hill, frequently participated in group rides with other IBEW members.
A 38-year member of the IBEW, Brother Ayers previously served as director of the Construction and Maintenance Department, a position he held for nine years.
An Illinois native, he joined Peoria Local 34 in 1973. He worked his way up the ranks, serving as treasurer and business representative, before being elected business manager. A veteran, Ayers served as a U.S. Navy aviator for more than four years, including a tour of duty in the Vietnam War.
As business manager, Ayers co-founded the Central Illinois chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association – Local 34 Quality Connections, and served as trustee and chairman of the NECA-IBEW Welfare and Pension Trust Funds.
Says Local 34 Business Manager Mike Everett, who served as assistant business manager under Ayers for 10 years: "Mark was a leader in labor/management relations and earned great respect from electrical contractors and labor leaders alike. He also wanted labor to be recognized as a positive force in the community, helping to get our union involved in charity work, including Habitat for Humanity and other community activities."
Appointed Construction and Maintenance Department Director in 1998, Ayers brought many of President Edwin Hill’s policies to fruition, including the Code of Excellence, a renewed commitment to high quality work that has been adopted by nearly all of the other building trades unions.
Says Construction and Maintenance Director Jerry Westerholm, who worked closely with Ayers for seven years: "He pushed the value of the IBEW Code of Excellence, always encouraging members to be up on the latest technology and recognizing the value of professionalism."
Retired Special Assistant to the International President for Membership Development Buddy Satterfield says he remembers not only Ayers’ intense dedication to the labor movement, but his friendship, grace and warm personality.
He was probably the hardest working person I’ve ever met. At the same time he was always a lot of fun to be around. I know a lot of people said ‘I’ve just lost my best friend,’ when they heard the news of his passing.
Elected Building Trades president in 2007, Ayers’ commitment to excellence went to making sure the 2 million-member organization remained the No. 1 choice for quality, skilled labor in the construction industry.
As president, he pioneered new labor-management models in the energy industry, including nuclear, oil and natural gas, while serving as the voice for construction workers and their families on Capitol Hill.
Brother Ayers was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. He also served as the labor co-chair for the Helmets to Hardhats Program, on the Board of Trustees for the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust, Chairman of the National Coordinating Committee for Multi-Union Plans, Secretary-Treasurer of the Union Labor Life Insurance Company and the Chairman of the Center for Construction Education.
Deeply disturbed by the decline of the middle class and growing power of greedy special interests, Ayers became a passionate voice for restoring the American dream for working families. In rousing remarks to the 38th International Convention last September, he said to great applause: "I didn’t spend nearly six years of my life during the Vietnam era protecting a country that I loved, to hand it over to a bunch of greedy right-wing bastards. And I know many of you in this room didn’t either. I never imagined that my last battle could possibly be fought right here in my homeland, to protect the very values I fought for in faraway lands. But if it has to be that way, then I say let’s get it on."
The officers and staff send our deep condolences to his wife Deborah, children, grandchildren and many friends.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said: “I am deeply saddened by Mark Ayers’ passing. We join his family in commemorating this extraordinary leader and friend.”
Prior to his election in 2007, Ayers served as the director of the Construction and Maintenance Department of the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers (IBEW). A U.S. Navy veteran, Ayers also chaired the Union Veterans Council.
Bricklayers’ President James Boland (via press release):
The Executive Board of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers and the members and officers of BAC affiliates across the U.S. and Canada mourn the sudden death of our esteemed brother and a legendary crusader for working people everywhere, AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department President Mark Ayers.
President Ayers’ matchless leadership during one of the most challenging periods in the history of the organized construction industry has provided an indispensible path forward for the Department’s affiliate unions. His vision, guidance and a lifetime defending the rights of workers to fair wages, decent working conditions, good benefits and the chance to retire with dignity will live on to inspire not only those whose lives he touched but also future generations of trade unionists.
Our hearts and prayers go out to the Ayers family on their irreplaceable loss.
Iron Workers Union (via press release):
The Passing of Mark H. Ayers, President of the Building and Construction Trades Department.
It is with great sadness that I must inform you of the sudden death of Mark H. Ayers, President of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, on April 8, 2012.
From his days as a Navy aviator and throughout his career with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and his leadership of the Building and Construction Trades Department, he has stood as a true trade Unionist and a man of impeccable character and integrity.
We all join in extending our deepest sympathy and condolences to his wife Debbie and family.
Some key quotes from Ayers (via We Party Patriots):
“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.”
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Mark Ayers, BCTD President, Part 2