Edward M. Smith was LIUNA. From the moment of his birth to Connell and Mary Jewel Smith, both members of the Laborers International Union of North America, Ed was instilled with the importance of service.
Born in Cairo, at the southern tip of Illinois, Ed joined the Laborers when he was just 13 and went to work on the I-57 bridge connecting Kentucky to his home state. Through his teen years, he worked as Secretary/Treasurer of Local 773 and succeeded his father as Business Manager at the age of 21.
Ed Smith was a transformative leader. At its helm, he expanded his tiny local union of 300 members into a powerhouse of more than 4000 informed and active Laborers. Ed’s innovations included organizing workers as diverse as railroad construction workers, school bus drivers, secretaries, nurses, road crews, and fire departments in Southern Illinois into one powerful voice – a program he carried with him as he became leader of the Southern Illinois Laborers’ District Council in 1985.
In 1994, Ed took his unbridled energy and flawless political acumen to the nation and beyond as Vice President and Regional Manager of LIUNA’s Midwest Region, a territory of less than three states that he grew into ten, becoming one of the most innovative organizations within the entire International Union. Here, Ed Smith brought together a team and programs that would change the lives of over 50,000 Laborers.
In the Midwest Region, Ed initiated State and Federal PACs that made the Laborers a political force throughout the entire Region. He placed a lobbyist in every state legislature from South Dakota to Kansas, and from Nebraska to Indiana, to protect the rights and interests of all Laborers.
To make LIUNA more accessible to members and contractors, he created Regional Tri-Fund committees that emphasized Health and Safety, Training, and Labor/Management cooperation, and also created a scholarship fund for the children of injured and fallen members.
Ed and LIUNA also became a major sponsor of the Therapy Center in Carterville, Ill., which helps kids with birth defects and learning disabilities.
Ed also served as Chair of the Illinois State Board of Investment and served as Chair of the Central Laborers Pension Fund. It was Ed’s expertise in pensions and financial services that led him to become CEO of Ullico in 2008, where he expanded his role of helping union men and women provide safety and financial services for their families.
What drove Ed to those accomplishments, and countless others, was not personal ambition. Ed did not seek to succeed and then pull the ladder up behind him; he was driven by a desire to help all people, by a belief that every working man and woman deserves respect and dignity. He was determined to leave the world a better place, and to leave his Union stronger. By doing both, he was successful in lifting the lives of thousands and giving them a pathway to the middle class where one may not have existed. Ed always did what leaders do; he showed the way.
Ed Smith was more than a trailblazer for human rights. His empathy and interest in the lives and aspirations of the people he met and knew shone through, and he was a devoted husband to his wife and greatest advisor Betty, and loving father to his daughter Jordan and son Matt.
Although we have lost a great man, he has left a legacy that will live for generations. Every time a worker gets their first LIUNA card and begins his or her path to prosperity, every time a politician remembers they better “check in with Labor,” and every time a person says “Who can I help today?,” Ed Smith’s legacy lives.
Ed Smith is LIUNA.