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After 39 Years, Steelworker Hands Off Local’s Ledger

Photo by Berry Craig

Jim “Runt” Gregory served as the financial secretary of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 727 in Calvert City, Ky., during the tenure of eight presidents.

“Presidents of the United States,” he says with a grin.

Gregory, 68, plans to retire this year, so he chose not to seek another term. His union brothers and sisters elected him in 1974 and re-elected him every two years through 2012.

Gregory started keeping his local’s books when Richard Nixon was in the White House. Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama followed.

Says Gregory:

Being in the union means I can go to work on two legs and not have to come home on four. I don’t have to get down and beg my employer. Because I'm in the union, I can sit down with him face to face and negotiate for better wages, hours and working conditions.

Gregory works at the Sekisui chemical plant in Calvert City, home to a cluster of chemical factories and a steel mill—all unionized—in deep western Kentucky.

He has held every office in his local except president. “He definitely would have made a great president,” says Brandon Duncan, Local 727 president. “There is always something you can learn from him.”

Gregory is tutoring Billy Evans, his successor. He’s not keeping the books the way Gregory did.

“I’m old school,” Gregory says. “I did it by hand. That’s the only way I know how.”

Evans is number crunching with a computer. “That’s progress and he’s doing a good job,” says Gregory.

Even so, auditors were impressed with Gregory’s neatly numbered ledgers, Duncan says. “They were amazed at the detail and the accuracy."

Gregory has been packing a union card since 1963, when he graduated from high school and joined the Laborers (LIUNA). Afterward, he was in the United Rubber Workers (since merged with the USW) at a tire factory in Mayfield, near Calvert City.

Gregory picked up his nickname when he was hired on at his plant in 1966. The Kentuckian is 6 feet 6 inches.

Over the years, when somebody would say ‘Jim Gregory,’ a great majority of my fellow workers wouldn’t know who he meant until somebody else would say, ‘You know, “Runt” Gregory.’

When “Runt” joined Local 727, it was part of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers. “Then we became PACE [Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers], then a Steelworkers local.”

Before becoming financial secretary, Gregory was a steward, trustee, recording secretary and vice president of Local 727. In addition, he was a trustee and vice president of OCAW District 3 Council and vice president of PACE Region 8 Council.

“We’ll all miss ‘Runt’ when he retires,” Duncan says. “He truly was a mentor to me and still is.”

Berry Craig, recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360.
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