HIGHLAND | The Northwest Indiana Federation of Labor 39th annual Labor and Community Awards reception Thursday at Wicker Memorial Park recognized outstanding achievements in labor while providing political education and awareness to the community.
Dan Murchek, NWI Federation president, said the event is a good way to recognize what labor unions and friends of labor do.
“It’s more than a job, it’s about giving back to our community,” he said. “People in unions are your neighbors, your friends. We go to church with you, we coach soccer with you and we’re big supporters of United Way and the programs they do. We make sure we give back to the community that way. It’s about trying to keep a good, strong middle class. The middle class helps make the world go around, and we want to bring everybody up who’s below that to have an opportunity to be middle-class citizens.”
Indiana State AFL-CIO President Brett Voorhies said the reception is a great way to highlight the accomplishments of unions and people from the community.
Among those honored were Jim Stemmler, retired ironworker from Local 395, who received the Joseph A. Beirne Community Service Award, which is presented annually and recognizes labor leaders who have rendered outstanding volunteer service to the United Way movement.
The award has been given annually since 1977 and Stemmler is the second winner from Indiana.
“It’s pretty humbling,” Stemmler said. “When I realized what the award was about — that being only second person in state of Indiana to get it is very powerful.”
Stemmler, of Michigan City, is a former ironworker who helped create the United Way Dodgeball Challenge, a fundraising event that engages community businesses and organizations in spirited competition.
“Since I’ve retired I’ve done a lot of things,” he said. “I just do a lot of different things that are good. The recognition of a handshake, a hug and a thank you is really powerful.”
Debra Dudek, director of Title and Special Student programs for Portage Township Schools, received the Community Services Award, which is given for exemplary service to the community and for enhancing the quality of life for all mankind throughout Northwest Indiana.
“The award only comes about by interacting with people in the community,” she said. “It’s really a reciprocal thing. It’s not really so much my award. It’s the award for our community. It’s humbling.”
This year’s keynote speakers were U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, and U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.
• The President’s Award: Dave Fagan, OEIU Local 150, for enhancing the well-being of workers throughout Northwest Indiana by countless contributions that further the philosophy of the labor movement.
• Union Label Award: Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, for recognition of unselfish devotion to the labor movement through its promotion in all areas of endeavor: social, civic, education and political.
• Lifetime Achievement Award: Larry Regan, Teamsters 142, for many years of labor activism and commitment to community.
• Industrial Sector Award: Dave McCall, USW District 1.
• Building Trades Sector Award: David Tharp, Carpenters Local 1005.
• George Meany Awards: Mike Larson, IBEW Local 697; Tim Murray, Ceramic Tile & Terrazzo Local 21.
• Partners in Caring: Dave Sikes, retired UFCW Local 881.