This Labor Day, I am especially grateful for the life of my friend, the terrific labor lawyer Gilbert Feldman. Gil died last week at age 90. He achieved great things for labor, for IFT members in particular, and for his own wonderful family. You can read his obituary here, but I want to say a few words about how meaningful he was to our cause. Whether you knew him or not, he impacted us all.
Gil started his career advocating for steelworkers and airline stewardesses. In fact, his advocacy helped to bring about changes to the airline industry so that female flight attendants would not lose their jobs if they married or gained weight or had a child – all things that would have cost them a career before Gil secured contractual protections.
He and his law partner, Gil Cornfield, started one of the most significant labor law firms in Illinois. Early on, Gil Feldman represented Martin Luther King, Jr. in his advocacy for tenant rights in Chicago in the 60s. And Gil had a major hand in writing and passing Illinois’s public labor act.
I got to know him because he was the lawyer my local always used when we needed help in arbitration or in court. Gil was a kind and generous man, brilliant and funny. An intellectual who loved classical music, the Bears and the Cubs. A humanist in every sense of the word.
Gil taught me (and many of us in the IFT and labor) quite a lot over the years. His work with MLK reminds us that labor has to work in communion with social justice for the oppressed. His legal advocacy reinforces the fact that legislation is a field we cannot ignore when it comes to protecting our rights, and that our contracts mean nothing if we don’t defend them vigorously.
2021 has been a tough year for the movement in our state — we lost Karen Lewis, Richard Manley, and now Gil Feldman. But their lives stand as shining examples of the path we must follow and continue to create for those who follow us.
Today on Labor Day, let’s celebrate our elders, dead and alive, and heed their wisdom. And let’s not only recommit ourselves to maintaining the gains they helped achieve, but also to advancing our cause to greater heights in the service of our fellow man. There could be no better tribute.
I wish you a Happy Labor Day.