Remembering Kip Phillips: A Leader, Mentor and Friend

The USW Atomic Energy Workers Council (AEWC) lost a great leader, mentor and friend when James Kermit “Kip” Phillips Jr. passed away Sept. 12 at Marshall County Hospital in Benton, Ky. He was just 12 days short of his 78th birthday.

“Phillips created the USW Atomic Energy Workers Council (AEWC) under the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW),” said AEWC President Jim Key. “He realized the value of establishing a council and network of workers performing the same or similar work within a sector. He trained the council how to lobby for federal funding, and worked with the Department of Energy (DOE) to transition workers to new contractors once the DOE’s mission changed.

“He led the AEWC through two union mergers to ensure the council remained vibrant and continued to operate,” Key said.

Phillips worked with retired International Vice President Carol Landry for two years so she could learn about the complex issues in the nuclear sector and continue his work once he retired in 2014.

“Kip was an amazing mentor and friend,” Landry said.

Phillips helped the USW’s atomic locals negotiate their contracts and resolve thorny labor issues between the site contractors, subcontractors and the Department of Energy (DOE).

At AEWC meetings, he always said that the DOE and its contractors — who left government service to work for a contractor or vice-versa — were like riders on carousel; they just changed horses.

Health and safety issues were important to him, and he would invite DOE officials to AEWC meetings so council members could discuss their difficult health and safety problems.

Rank-and-file activist

Phillips worked his way up through the union ranks after beginning his career in 1969 at Airco Chemical (Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.).

A member of OCAW Local 3-727, he served as recording secretary, operating vice president and president. He was a member of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO executive board, a vice president and president of the OCAW District 3 council, and a participant on the OCAW International Member Committee.

In 1989, the OCAW membership elected him to the union’s rank-and-file International Executive Board. He decided to run for a full-time OCAW International Vice President position in 1994 and won.

Five years later, after the OCAW-United Paperworkers International Union merger to form the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Union (PACE) in January 1999, Phillips became a PACE International Vice President/Director of Governmental Affairs. When PACE merged with the United Steelworkers of America in April 2005, he continued to be an International Vice President and head of the union’s nuclear sector.

Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand the test of adversity, but if you really want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Power did not change how Phillips interacted with others. He was kind, friendly, respectful and helpful to everyone he encountered.

“Kip and my father were the greatest influences in what it meant to be a union member and representative,” Key said, “and they exhibited the leadership qualities and hours (sometimes late into the night) that it takes to represent those who have selected you. 

“Kip was my mentor, advisor and my friend. Thank you, Kip, for all that you exhibited and taught me.”

Community leader

Phillips was active in his community and his state. He was a Kentucky Honorary Ambassador of Labor and a director of the Center for Labor Education and Research at the University of Kentucky. He also was involved with the Kentucky Economic Development Partnership Board, the Marshall County School Board and the Kentucky Labor-Management Advisory Board.

The Kentucky House of Representatives honored him as an “Outstanding Kentuckian,” and he received the W.C. Young award from the Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council.

In his obituary, Kip’s family wrote that he “helped thousands and thousands of men and women achieve a better quality of life and a much safer place to work. He lived his life in service to others, always looking for opportunities to help anyone and everyone he could.”

Kip is survived by his wife Carolyn June Phillips; sons, Scott (wife Lori) and Kyle (wife Angela); sister, Elizabeth Mercer, and five grandchildren, Sydney, Dylan, Isaiah, Grace and Killian. He was preceded in death by his parents; sisters Janice Smith and Karen Balez, and one grandchild, Joshua.

Condolences can be sent to Phillips’ family at this address: 615 Bent Creek Dr., Benton, KY 42025.

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