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Hugh McVey's perspective

November 07, 2001
By: Anna Nichols
Date: November 7, 2001

State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Everyone who talks about Hugh McVey wants to talk about collective bargaining.

As president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, McVey is its political arm and the voice for statewide issues regarding unions. Recently, McVey has been linked with the one issue -- the governor's executive order on collective bargaining which sets up binding federal arbitration and allows unions to seek service fees from nonunion members.

Friends and co-workers said McVey's focus and determination on collective bargaining are representative of his life and his personality.

McVey is a "plain-spoken, straightforward labor representative who's going to tell you upfront what's on his mind," said Herb Johnson, secretary-treasurer for the Missouri AFL-CIO.

The union rights executive order signed by Gov. Bob Holden in June has created a storm of questions from state legislators and lobbyists about the extent of union involvement in the governor's actions.

Johnson cited the union rights executive order as the AFL-CIO's top accomplishment to this point. He added that McVey was instrumental in bringing it about.

McVey said the union rights executive order is the first step to offering public sector employees the same rights private sector employees enjoy.

McVey said he strongly believes in the strength of the AFL-CIO to advocate workers' rights.

"We're 13 million members strong. We'll be there," McVey said. "Nobody but the AFL-CIO is there looking out for workers."

But Jim Kistler, director of industrial relations for Associated Industries of Missouri, said McVey's dedication is commendable, Kistler wants to see more discussion on state issues.

"I respect his committment to his cause, but I would like to see him be a little more open to dialogue on controversial issues," Kistler said.

On collective bargaining, for instance, Kistler said McVey's response was "we're not going to talk to anyone who criticizes us about this issue."

McVey's strong views are due in part to his family background. He comes from a working family of 11 children in north St. Louis.

The McVey family has a strong labor background. His father was a policeman and worked for the state Insurance Department for 20 years, and McVey's uncle Duke was president of the Missouri AFL-CIO for many years until he stepped down in 1999.

McVey called his father and uncle his confidantes and said he values their advice.

"They are my closest friends," McVey said.

McVey has worked for most of his life. His first job was on a paper route as a boy. He was also a caddy, and he worked summer maintenance at his parish, St. Pius X. After high school, McVey began a lifetime of union involvement.

While attending the University of Illinois, Edwardsville, McVey got involved with the Operating Engineers and was the group steward and later, chief steward for Local 148 out of Collinsville, Il. He then became the business agent and assistant business manager for the same local. McVey worked for Union Electric, now AmerenUE, for 23 years.

In 1997, McVey moved to Jefferson City from St. Louis when he was elected executive vice president of the Missouri AFL-CIO. In 1999, he was elected president to replace his uncle, Duke.

It's a job he openly describes as political.

"Everything is politics. Nothing just happens," McVey said.

Everyday work for McVey varies. He works the political side of the AFL-CIO which means he recruits candidates and talks to legislators about the AFL-CIO's position on legislation. He also listens to workers' testimonies of problems on the job.

While politics is the means, it is not, McVey says, the objective.

"Everything I do here is about working families in the end," McVey said.

A key element of McVey's job is keeping his perspective and remembering where he came from.

"It's easy to get boxed in and lose sight of the big picture," he said. A fair day's pay and benefits for union and nonunion workers is the big picture for McVey. To keep from losing perspective, he continues to talk with workers and attend local meetings so he can see the conditions they face.

McVey and his wife Peggy have been married for 26 years and have three daughters: Megan, Maureen, and Colleen.