As your general president, it has been my privilege to meet so many of you at union meetings, on the job, and at conferences and events sponsored by our union, our industry partners and the affiliates of the IUPAT. At those events, when I have the opportunity to have a personal conversation with individuals, I more often than not find myself in a “mentoring” discussion.
I am not saying that I’m a person who has seen and done it all in the Trades, and trying to impart my unique wisdom in those discussions. Rather, I do my best to convince experienced members of the IUPAT the importance of mentoring, and explain to those who may have just joined us how important having a mentor is to their career and life. My own work is grounded in the mentoring I received as a young member of our proud union. I draw on the lessons I learned during those years nearly every day.
Many have heard me speak at union meetings and conferences about the importance of providing the opportunity to pursue a career pathway in our industries to young men and women. Mentoring is an important part of that pathway.
Although I am the beneficiary of mentoring starting with my parents and the values that they instilled in me. When it comes to my career in the finishing trades, I had plenty of others; Ray Santiago, Al Gonzalez, Tom Cuddie and many more.
However, one man stands out in particular when it came to my pathway, my local union business manager in Northern California, Ray Spallone. Ray was a no-nonsense leader, a WWII veteran who, upon his discharge from the service, pursued a career in the finishing trades as a carpet, linoleum and soft tile installer.
I met him when I was interviewed for entry into our apprenticeship program in my 20s. I remember my first conversation with him, something like, “Here’s my business card. See me at the hall tomorrow; we gotta get you signed up.” Anyone who knew Ray knew that he really didn’t take no for an answer. So, I signed up.
My conversations with him thereafter revolved around, “Learn your trade and you won’t be out of work. Keeping busy, Kenny? You know, we can’t do this alone, we need members to grow.” These comments and the conversations that they started, whether it was just me as an individual or as part of a group, have resonated with me throughout my career.
They are words of encouragement, opportunity and leadership. Yet, Ray did more than just speak about responsibilities. He led by example, as well. If there was a union meeting, Ray was there setting up the chairs. If there was a union outing, Ray was there at the grill. Leading by example and the, “I wouldn’t ask you to do anything that I wouldn’t do” attitude is what I learned from Ray.
For me, mentorship means always encouraging someone to not only find their pathway, but encourage them along the way, check in on their well-being, and never let them forget that we need them if we are going to grow as an organization.
Ray Spallone, the man who taught me so much about being a union tradesman, passed away last month. I attended his funeral in California and I wasn’t surprised so many others were there to pay their respects to him and his wife, Frances. There were retirees and active members alike. Clearly, he made an impact on our union and its members. As a member of the IUPAT and the community in which he lived and worked, he had the values that we need to advance as an International Union.
Hopefully, he has inspired others to be the same kind of mentor he was to me, and to my fellow members.
Rest in peace, Ray, and God Bless.