SOAR Story: Gary Gaines, Chapter 7-34-2

In the 1970's, Gary Gaines was working full-time at then-Granite City Steel and part-time as a police officer; but, when a friend recommended he put in for a USW-represented security officer job at the mill with better pay and benefits, Gary didn’t hesitate. 

He got the job, and through three changes in ownership of the mill, he found security in a union job in one of the first mills in the country to have a computerized hot strip.  At the time, and still today, the USW represents the workers who operate the mill along with those in security. 

After a few years on the job, Gary decided he wanted to run to be President of his local, USW 4063 in Granite City.  He lost his first election by just one vote, but was successful on his second attempt.  Additionally, he was involved in his Central Labor Council, and served as a Peer Safety Trainer and Political Action Coordinator for his local union.

When he retired in 2008, Gary got involved in his SOAR chapter (7-34-2 in Granite City, Illinois), and in 2011, then-District 7 Director Jim Robinson asked if he’d be willing to help establish a SOAR chapter for USW retirees from Honeywell in Metropolis, Illinois (Chapter 7-PC-4).

Steve Lech, who was the President of USW Local 7-669 at the time, was very supportive of the effort, and within a year it was accomplished.  “The enthusiasm of the core group was a pleasure. I just had to give them the "tools" and they took off,” says Gaines looking back with pride. 

“Our SOAR chapters are a great resource for our members and communities,” Gaines asserts.  “Jeff Rains (7-34-2 SOAR Chapter President) does a great job getting topics of interest at our monthly meetings.  Our meeting this coming month is about pensions.  He’s brought in local elected officials and experts on Social Security and state-level issues.  We’ve built a successful scholarship program that awarded five (5) $2,000 scholarships to children or grandchildren of USW members, and we donate money to local food pantries and organizations that provide support to women who have left abusive relationships.”

Following the decision by the USW International Executive Board to open up SOAR membership to “like-minded” retirees of the general public, Scott Marshall (District 7 SOAR Executive Board Member) has been encouraging SOAR members throughout the District to bring friends and family to their meetings. 

“If we’ve learned anything over the last 30 years it should be that it is up to us to grow our union; and, that work can’t end when we retire.” 

Photo Caption: In 2011, then-District 7 SOAR Coordinator Gary Gaines presented the official charter to SOAR Chapter 7-PC-4.  (Local 7-669 Retirees)

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