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Margaret Blackshere

Monday, Jul 8, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Set the Wayback Machine to January 9, 2000

Margaret Blackshere, a former kindergarten teacher from Downstate Illinois, was named president Saturday of the Illinois state AFL-CIO in the labor’s group first-ever contested election.

Her victory in a hotly contested election marks a small but significant change in the leadership of state labor groups across the U.S. Only one other state labor group, Florida’s, is led by a woman.

Blackshere, of Springfield, who has been secretary-treasurer of the state labor federation, won about 60 percent of the more than 400,000 votes cast by union members across the state. Balloting took place last month; results were announced Saturday afternoon.

Michael Carrigan, business manager for Decatur Local 146 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and a Decatur City Council member, was elected secretary-treasurer.

Their opponents were George Machino, president of the Madison County Central Labor Council, and Joe Costigan, Chicago-based political director for UNITE, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.

Usually, the secretary-treasurer would move up the ladder uncontested. That time was different and it was one bitter battle. Blackshere, the first ever woman president of the IL AFL-CIO, went on to serve two terms and reinvigorated the organization in the process.

* Ms. Blackshere passed away over the weekend. She started out as a school teacher and this is the notice the Illinois Federation of Teachers sent to its members…

The IFT is saddened to inform you of the passing of Margaret Blackshere.

A former president of the Madison Federation of Teachers Local 743 and IFT Vice-President, Margaret also served as IL AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer and was elected (the first female) president in 2000 serving two terms. Margaret was inducted into the Illinois Labor History Society’s Union Hall of Honor and in 2013 SIUE honored Margaret by inducting her into the Alumni Hall of Fame.

A Special Order of Business was presented to the 2007 IFT Convention recognizing Margaret Blackshere as the first recipient of the IFT Lifetime Labor Achievement award for her contributions to labor and the human rights movement.

* From her obituary

Margaret was raised in North Venice, IL by her Mother Frances and Aunt Margie. She began her career in education as a kindergarten teacher in Madison, IL after obtaining her master’s degree in education at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. While attending SIUE she served as a student trustee and after completing her studies she served as a trustee after being appointed by the governor. She immediately saw the need for Madison teachers to have union representation during their contract negotiations and instigated an organizing drive that led to the Madison teachers joining the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT).

Margaret has served at all levels of the labor movement from president of her local union(763) to statewide vice president of the IFT. In 1993 she was elected secretary-treasurer of the Illinois AFL-CIO- the million-member umbrella organization for all labor unions in the state. She was later elected as president, serving two terms. She was the first woman to hold that position. Margaret retired as president in February of 2007 and was given president emeritus .

Margaret’s work to elect worker-friendly legislators and state-wide officials has given Labor a strong voice in Springfield and Washington. Her efforts on key state legislation like raising minimum wage, expanding health care, enacting card check for public employees, revamping unemployment insurance, and revising workers’ compensation laws, have been invaluable.

But Margaret’s greatest contribution to Illinois’ Labor movement may be her capacity to unify diverse groups and build coalitions, both with the Labor movement and between Labor, small business and community and faith-based groups. Margaret has forged critical alliances with the Illinois Manufacturers Association to create and save manufacturing jobs in our state and with The Transportation for Illinois Coalition- a group of labor and business groups working to secure state and federal funds for Illinois’ infrastructure. Within the Labor movement, Margaret worked tirelessly to keep Illinois affiliates united and working together in political and legislative efforts when several international unions left the AFL-CIO.

Away from her duties at the State Federation, Margaret has been involved in many organizations fighting for equality and social justice. She served on IWIL and a variety of boards, councils and coalitions including United Way of Illinois, American Red Cross in Illinois, Chicago Council of Foreign Relations, Unemployment Insurance Advisory Board, the Alliance of Retired Americans Executive Board, the Industrial Commission’s Self Insurer’s Advisory Board, the Chicago Metropolis 2020 Board, the Illinois Women’s Institute for Leadership, the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Advisory Council and the Board of Trustees of the Global Solidarity Center in Washington, D.C.

She has received awards such as the Labor Leader Award in 2000 from the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the Israel Peace Medal in 2000 from the State of Israel, and the Protector of Working People Award in 2002 from the Illinois State Crime Commission: She was the Guest of Honor in 2003 for Chicago’s St Patrick’s Day Parade and in 1998 she was inducted into the Illinois Labor History Society’s Union Hall of Honor.

My condolences to her family and her many, many friends and allies.

…Adding… Tributes are coming in…

The following statement is from Chairman and Mrs. Madigan. Thank you.

Margaret Blackshere’s impact on the hard-working men and women of Illinois will be felt for generations to come. As the first woman to serve as president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, Margaret created a seat at the table for female workers and always fought for their best interests. She had a passion for building bridges and uniting people around common goals with a spark and an energy that was unmatched. We will miss Margaret and her fierce spirit. Her family and loved ones are in our thoughts and prayers.

* And…

IFT President Dan Montgomery issued a statement of condolences following the passing of Margaret Blackshere, union leader:

“I was saddened and humbled to learn of the passing of Margaret Blackshere and, on behalf of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, offer my deepest condolences to her family and friends. She got her start in the labor movement at IFT and made a difference at every level, growing from member to leader to vice president before she went on to make history as the first woman president of the Illinois AFL-CIO.

“From her start organizing teachers in Madison, Ill., to her leadership at the state and national levels, Margaret’s efforts to make our state and country better and fairer for everyone were inspirational and quite necessary. She was a tireless advocate for working people and a shining example of what a union leader can be. We at the IFT are proud to have known her and to continue the work she believed in.”

* State Fed…

The Illinois AFL-CIO mourns the passing of former President Margaret Blackshere. Margaret was a fearless leader for economic and social justice from the halls of the State Capitol to the picket lines and shop floors up and down our state. She will be deeply missed by our organization, the labor movement and working families throughout Illinois.

* IMA…

“Margaret was a strong and effective advocate for the Illinois labor movement. While our organizations battled on many occasions, she also had the ability to collaborate on key manufacturing and education issues important to our state. On behalf of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, I would like to offer my sincere condolences to her family, friends, and colleagues in labor on her passing,” said Mark Denzler, president and CEO, Illinois Manufacturers’ Association

* Governor Pritzker…

* Sun-Times

Visitation will be held from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Cooney Funeral Home, 625 Busse Hwy in Park Ridge. The funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Juliana Roman Catholic Church, 7200 N Osceola Ave.


  1. - Gail Purkey - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 2:40 pm:

    When I came to Springfield to work on the House Dems Issues staff in 1981, Margaret (then the IFT lobbyist) was the first person to come to my office, introduce herself, and talk about public education. I never forgot that, and I saw that commitment to getting to know and collaborate with people displayed by Margaret over and over again as I worked with her over the years. She was one of a kind, and she will be sorely missed.

  2. - Commonsense in Illinois - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 3:10 pm:

    Sad day in Illinois. Margaret Blackshere was one of a kind, and did a terrific job leading the Illinois AFL-CIO.

  3. - Threat level midnight - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 3:11 pm:

    I worked closely with Margaret during the Blago years. She was simply amazing. She was always warm, but she was also tough. She gave good advice, and told rod to shut his mouth when it was needed, but never in a mean way. for what its worth, he also adored her, and really respected her opinion. Im so sad to hear of her passing. My sincerest condolences to her family, and to her brothers and sisters in labor.

  4. - DC - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 3:13 pm:

    Margaret could hold her own in a room with the big boys back in the day when not many women held leadership roles.
    She could crack a joke one minute and be tough as nails in the next. She did help bridge the divide between public sector unions and the trades after that bitter election. She genuinely cared about people and you couldn’t help but like her. It seemed to me that she always knew more than she let on and waited for the right moment to make her point.
    She loved Ireland and went on a regular basis. If you had dinner with her in Springfield, she’d aways ask to see the deserts but never order one. I’ll always remember her smile and her laugh. She will be missed.

  5. - Carol Ronen - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 3:22 pm:

    I lost a dear dear friend and Illinois has lost one of its greatest champions. Margaret was amazing; she was not only strong and steady voice for unions but also for women’s rights , human rights and fair wages. She spearheaded two successful increases in the Illinois minimum wage. She put the eight and power of the union movement behind passion human rights. She was tireless, principalled and did everything with great integrity. And she was a wonderful friend whose memory will be with me always.

  6. - Audrey Dunn - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 3:31 pm:

    I worked for Margaret for two years and she was one of the strongest people I’ve ever met: fierce, confident, quick-minded and fair. Illinois has lost an icon.

  7. - Judy - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 3:35 pm:

    I was honored to have counted Margaret as a friend. Organized Labor never had a stronger advocate. Her smile and good humor made every day in Springfield a brighter day. rIP beautiful Margaret.

  8. - Shannon Garrett - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 3:39 pm:

    I was lucky enough to meet Margaret Blackshere in 1994. She and I became dear friends. We are fellow Cardinals fans and some of my best memories are sitting next to her in the stands at Busch Stadium. My heart is heavy with her passing. She taught me how to fight for what is right. She taught me how to stand up for justice. She taught me how to work for the common good. She taught. We lost a teacher, a friend, a fighter and the matriarch of one of the finest families I have had the pleasure to call my friends. I miss you already, Mags.

  9. - Democrat Grrrl - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 3:49 pm:

    I worked on many campaigns (state rep/senate, statewide, congressional, presidential) with Margaret over the years. She was willing to do any task–phone calls, door knocks, voter registration, rallies, data entry–to help Democratic candidates. Every job on a campaign was important to her, and she never felt she was too important to do any task that a campaign needed. Boy, I’m gonna miss her.

  10. - Steve Brown - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 3:57 pm:

    Always thought she was one of a kind. A school teacher who could push and shove with anyone. She came at a unique time when the trades and public employee groups were learning to co-exist. Prayers for strength and comfort for family and friends in these sad times.

  11. - Rocco Claps - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 4:11 pm:

    I first met Margaret when I was a junior staffer on the House Democratic Staff and worked with her on numerous public and party policy issues, the 1996 Democratic Convention and throughout my time as the Director of the Illinois Department of Human Rights. There was nobody smarter, more welcoming or more of a joy to work with than Margaret Blackshere. I will miss her solid advice, wicked sense of humor and great laugh. Have fun with Lucille, dear friend!

  12. - Mike Matejka - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 4:34 pm:

    Margaret was a friend; if you were honest and sincere, she quickly brought you into her confidence. She was a strong union sister, but wise enough to know the movement’s strengths and its weaknesses. She then went to work to bolster those weaknesses. Many a night we sat together at union dinners, where having the IL AFL-CIO President in the room was important to the local union. She always had supportive words for the local union and we’d have a great conversation together. She always pushed the rank and file to leadership and most especially loved it when she could see women shine. At the same time, she knew she’d win the men’s hearts with example, not rhetoric, and proved she could outwork anyone in the room. A true Irish classic, with her red hair, her fighting spirit and her genial smile.

  13. - Amalia - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 4:36 pm:

    Felt lucky to have Margaret respond yes to campaign requests. She did that lots, for many of us. What a gal (exclamation, exclamation, exclamation.)

  14. - Sharon Teefey - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 5:06 pm:

    I was saddened by the news of Margarets passing. She was always a teacher. She inspired me as a member of the IFT and was proof that no matter how humbling a beginning you can make a difference. She inspired many and she fought for the rights of all. Her legacy will live on through the many lives that improved as a result of her leadership and spunk.

  15. - Peter Coffey - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 5:21 pm:

    She was a great leader and a tremendous ally and I am glad I knew her. I was fortunate to work with her on a few occasions and knew intuitively that she must have been a terrific teacher because she taught me so much. Farewell Margaret, you spent your time here very well and you’ll be greatly missed.

  16. - Pamelyn - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 6:41 pm:

    Igrew up with Margaret in the union movement. We were young, committed, energetic and thoroughly committed to the cause of improving salariews and conditions for working people in Illinois. Together with my husband and her mentor, David Peterson, teachers’ and educational workers’s lives greatly improved. David and Margaret were an unbeatable team in Springfield, respected by both political parties for their honesty and work ethic. Rest in peace, my friend, knowing you made a difference in the lives of thousands of workers.

  17. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 6:44 pm:

    I never met Margaret Blackshere.

    Her name is one I had heard often. I was told I would’ve liked her very much.

    My sincere condolences to her family and friends.

  18. - Barbara Flynn Currie - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 8:46 pm:

    Margaret was an inspiration to us all. Her work for women and families, in or outside a union, was transformational. As head of the state AFL-CIO, Margaret built bridges and worked to unify the constituent parts of the state’s labor movement. She believed in women’s rights, in pay equity, in fair working conditions–she was a woman for all seasons. And she was a treat to know–her ready wit and her gimlet-eyed observations were more than worth the price of admission. She was a giant in the Illinois labor movement–a one-of-a-kind leader for all. We will miss her, but we won’t miss the mark she made on the labor movement–and on all of us. Rest well, Margaret.

  19. - Lanita Koster - Monday, Jul 8, 19 @ 10:42 pm:

    I met Margaret through her friend Dianne Jones who was anIFT organizer assigned to organizing East Aurora. Boy was I impressed with both of them. Margaret found out that I was also interested in politics. I agreed to help get teachers to a rally and in a week,I received an inspiring note from her. She knew how to get you to work as hard as she did. I was so impressed and learned so much from those strong women. I miss both of them greatly, but what memories I have of Margaret’s ability to get thing done.

  20. - Catherine Shannon - Tuesday, Jul 9, 19 @ 8:12 am:

    Margaret was a strong and confident leader, a loyal friend, and a teacher/mentor to many. At times, she was passionate and fierce, but always compassionate and charismatic, and she never took herself too seriously. She was extremely generous with her time and talents and was always trying to help others, whether it was low-wage workers in Illinois, children in underdeveloped countries or young women just getting started in politics. She inspired me and many others to believe in ourselves and pushed us to go beyond our comfort zone. She also taught us how to laugh and be hopeful, even in the midst of a heated battle or bitter defeat. I am so grateful for the time I got to spend with Margaret and will miss her greatly. I know Illinois is a better place because of her.

  21. - Give Me A Break - Tuesday, Jul 9, 19 @ 8:32 am:

    Tough as nails but two mins later could make you love her.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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