A section of Spalding Avenue that runs just past the Peoria, Ill., Labor Temple now bears the name of one of the city’s most prominent union leaders.
Honorary Mark H. Ayers Way was dedicated on Oct. 9 in a ceremony that also renamed the labor temple’s meeting room in his honor.
Brother Ayers, a 38-year member of the IBEW who rose through the ranks to ultimately serve as president of the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department, died suddenly in April 2012 at the age of 63.
“Mark’s death was a huge loss for all of us in the labor movement, and for our union in particular,” IBEW International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. “As an Illinois native myself, it makes me proud to see the City of Peoria and the local labor community step up and honor him this way.”
Peoria Local 34 Business Manager Paul Flynn presided over the ceremony, which drew labor officials, elected leaders, friends, family and colleagues.
Ayers, a Vietnam veteran, joined Local 34 in 1973, serving as treasurer and business representative before spending nine years as business manager. In that job, he co-founded the Central Illinois chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association-Local 34 Quality Connection and served as a trustee and chairman of the NECA-IBEW Welfare and Pension Trust Funds.
Mike Everett, now retired, who succeeded Ayers as business manager at Local 34, described his friend as “the most intense, meticulous and hard-working human being I have ever met. His dedication to the union movement was beyond question, and so was his integrity.”
In 1998, Brother Ayers left Peoria for Washington, D.C., appointed by then-International President Edwin D. Hill as director of the IBEW’s Construction and Maintenance Department. He served nine years in that job, most notably promoting the Code of Excellence program that has since been adopted by nearly all of the other building trades unions.
In 2007, Ayers was elected president of the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department, where he led more than 2 million tradesmen and women until his 2012 death.
At the time, then-Labor Secretary Hilda Solis inducted Brother Ayers into the U.S. Department of Labor Hall of Honor, saying, “We shared the same values. Whether it was fighting for investments in infrastructure and good construction jobs, securing decent wages and safe workplaces, or protecting health benefits and pension plans, Mark stood proudly on the side of working people. … The American trade movement lost a great leader.”
On the occasion of his most recent honor in his native Illinois, Local 34 press secretary Marc Burnap summed up the sentiments of the countless working men and women who will drive down Mark H. Ayers Way or gather in the Mark H. Ayers Unity Hall. “Many of us never had the pleasure of meeting Brother Ayers,” he wrote, “but we reap the rewards of his distinguished career and his lifetime of service, and can only hope to live up to the example he set.”