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September 2019

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Benny Hunnicutt

Tenth District International Representative Benny Hunnicutt, whose South Carolina-based career earned him respect as a labor leader in some of the most notoriously anti-union parts of the country, retired effective Sept. 1.

Brother Hunnicutt was born in Anderson, S.C., and moved around the state during his formative years while his father, a minister in the Assemblies of God denomination, worked at various churches. He graduated from high school in Wagener, S.C., and was hired by South Carolina Electric & Gas in 1974 to work in its natural gas department.

He became a member of Charleston, S.C., Local 398 upon his hiring, but the young Hunnicutt had little appreciation for what that meant. The Palmetto State has the lowest union membership rate among workers in the country.

"Growing up in South Carolina, unions were not something I was accustomed to," Hunnicutt said. "No one talked about them. If it was mentioned, it was kind of on the negative side."

His appreciation grew after a few years on the job. Hunnicutt was transferred to work in Lexington, S.C., where he was the company's first gas service man in the area. By that time, gas employees for SCE&G had their membership transferred to Columbia, S.C., Local 772.

Hunnicutt wasn't pleased with some of the company's actions, and he learned that other employees — who worked in everything from billing to electrical distribution — felt the same way. He decided to become a steward and his career as a union activist was on its way.

"I saw what unions did as far as standing up for the rights of working people," he said. "That made me want to get involved and help the people I was working with."

He served on Local 772's executive board and also as president and financial secretary before being elected business manager in 1995 while also continuing to work for full time for SCE&G.

"The big reason I ran for business manager was helping people, and that's why I stay involved," he said. "A lot of people have issues we may not think about much, but if they came and talked to me, I knew it was important to them and it was something I needed to check out."

Hunnicutt took on further responsibilities when he was appointed to the Committee on Electric Power Industry Restructuring after the 1996 International Convention in Philadelphia. The committee, which was composed of utility business managers in each of the IBEW's districts, made recommendations on how to deal with deregulation in the utility industry.

Three years later, he was appointed an international representative in the Tenth District, where his work included servicing local unions in all branches. He stayed in that role until his retirement, traveling across the Carolinas, Arkansas and Tennessee.

"Benny's got what I have to call a 'good ol' boy' presentation of himself," said retired Tenth District International Representative Gene Ruff, who Hunnicutt considers a professional mentor. "He's quiet. He generally doesn't say anything until he's thought it out pretty well.

"During negotiations, I saw he had the intestinal fortitude to step up for our members, but at the same time, he was very thoughtful. I love teaching, and one of the things I try to teach anyone representing members is they have to listen. Benny is a darn good listener."

Hunnicutt said he took particular pride in understanding contract language and how it might have an impact on members in unforeseen ways. That skill is helpful no matter if you're negotiating for a utility or construction local or any other branch, he said.

"I always told our people that I'll lean on you to discuss something particular about your work," he said. "Hopefully, you can lean on me when it comes to contract language."

In retirement, Hunnicutt and his wife, Gale, plan to keep their home in Gilbert, S.C. — population 500 — west of the state capital of Columbia and spend more time with their two grown children and four grandchildren. He and Gale are avid horseback riders and transport their four horses for trail rides across the country.

"The opportunities that came from working for the IBEW, I could not ask for anything more," he said.

The officers and staff thank Brother Hunnicutt for his service and wish him a long and happy retirement.


Benny Hunnicutt

James A. McAteer

James A. McAteer, a retired international representative and longtime advocate for members of the union's railroad branch, died on June 7. He was 91.

"Jim was a kind and loving person who truly cared about the members he represented and the local reps he was responsible for overseeing," said Railroad Department Director William Bohné, who was one of many brothers and sisters mentored by McAteer over the last 40-plus years. "He never had a bad word to say about anyone."

McAteer was born on Jan. 2, 1928, in Glasgow, Scotland. He and his family eventually moved to the U.S., settling in suburban Philadelphia's Delaware County. After graduating from St. Thomas More High School, he served in the U.S. Army from 1946 to 1947.

In 1950, McAteer took a job with the Pennsylvania Railroad, whose members were represented at the time by the Transportation Workers Union. In 1968, the railroad merged with the IBEW-represented New York Central Railroad. That same year, the newly formed Penn Central Railroad's combined workforce voted for IBEW representation, bringing McAteer and nearly 1,700 of his Pennsylvania Railroad brothers and sisters into Philadelphia Local 2271.

He served briefly as Local 2271's business manager before assuming the role of assistant general chairman of Railroad System Council 7. In 1973, McAteer became the council's general chairman, a position he held through 1978.

The following year, then-International President Charles Pillard appointed McAteer as an international representative for the Tenth District, which was the union's railroad district at the time.

"As an international rep, Jim did a very good job representing railroad employees," said Arthur Davidson, System Council 7's current general chairman, who was president of Harmon, N.Y., Local 1631 at the time of McAteer's appointment. "He was a stellar union advocate, very much a gentleman and very professional. He had a nice way about him."

McAteer also was a member of the National Railroad Adjustment Board's second division from 1981 to 1982. In 1984, he joined Amtrak's Joint Labor-Management Productivity Council and later became its chairman. He also served terms as secretary-treasurer, and later president, of the AFL-CIO Railway Employees Department's System Federation No. 1 and was an active member of the American Legion.

Despite his busy schedule, McAteer always managed to make time for mentoring. "He was always there for me and for the other young reps just breaking in," Bohné said. "Jim taught us all so much."

McAteer retired from the IBEW in 1993, which freed him to spend more time with his family and to pursue his lifelong fishing and gardening hobbies. But throughout his retirement, McAteer remained in regular contact with the staff at System Council 7, and he continued for several years to provide "articulate and knowledgeable" training to members when he was needed, Davidson said.

"He related very well to the local union representatives," Davidson said. "He was empathetic with their issues and problems; an exceptional person."

"He was a master at what he did as a rep — negotiating, arbitration, etc. — and he loved passing on his knowledge to the generation following in his footsteps," Bohné added.

Over the last few years, McAteer's health began to decline. He struggled with Alzheimer's disease, but he always valued his union brothers and sisters.

Bohné recalled calling him on Jan. 2 to sing "Happy Birthday to You," as he did every year.

"Following the singing, and after about 10 minutes of talking, I said, 'Well Jim, the main reason I called was to sing you 'Happy Birthday,'' and he says, 'OK, well, let me hear it!' So, I sang it again," Bohné said. "As always, he thanked me and said what a great job I did.

"He never forgot who I was or what the IBEW meant to him," Bohné said. "He was a great friend, and I'll miss him dearly."

McAteer's wife of more than 40 years, Jeannette, died last year. He also was preceded in death by his brother Tom, a member of Local 2271 as well who held leadership positions within Railroad System Council No. 7 in the 1980s and 1990s.

On behalf of the entire brotherhood, the IBEW extends its condolences to Brother McAteer's family and friends.


James A. McAteer