January 09, 2024

Duckworth, Durbin Honor Labor Leader Ed Smith in Speech on Senate Floor

Ed Smith, former leader of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, passed away on January 3


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) today paid tribute to Cairo, Illinois, native Ed Smith, former leader of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, on the Senate floor after his passing on January 3.  In their remarks, Durbin and Duckworth shared personal stories about their relationship with Smith, who dedicated his life to advancing labor rights.

“He was a man who embodied the word ‘solidarity’… [He] knew that no company, no community, no country would ever be as strong as it could be if any of its workers were treated without the dignity and decency that they deserved,” Duckworth said.

“No matter how busy he was, no matter how high he climbed, there was nothing more important to him than looking out for all those who sign up for the tireless-yet-often-thankless jobs that keep our nation running – all those who clock in day after day, without complaint,” Duckworth said.

“Not only was he a mentor and a friend, but he held each of us fortunate enough to hold elected office accountable.  He made sure that we were doing right by working families, doing right by rural Illinoisans, and doing right by every worker, not just those that were in unions, but all workers,” Duckworth concluded.

“Who wanted to demonstrate the dignity of work way beyond quitting time on Friday afternoon?  Ed Smith.  Ed Smith was devoted to the workers in that community [Southern Illinois] and that state.  It was his life,” Durbin said.  “When I saw what Ed had done in Cairo, and realized how much progress he made because of the power of his own values and the power of his own being, our friendship was cemented forever.”

“It is rare to find someone who is consistently smiling, consistently kind, consistently fighting for working people without exception like Ed Smith.  Time and again that defined his time on Earth,” Durbin continued.  “He really did keep the tally of what he had done for people, and it was a lot of work to do because he helped everyone in every direction.”

“He was a wonderful man, and I will miss him a lot because I counted on him so much.  He created a really idealistic vision of what you can do if you have a mission in life and live faithfully to it.  He did that,” Durbin said.  “He also showed over and over again that he cared about everyone.  No one was too small or insignificant.  For him, the labor movement was not just a movement, it was a way of life.  He proved it over and over.”

Durbin concluded, “So Betty, his wife, and his great family, thanks for sharing Ed with us.  He really made a difference in our lives, as Senator Duckworth and I have said today.  He made a difference in Illinois and the lives of countless families.”

Durbin also shared his thoughts on Smith’s legacy in a opinion piece in the Chicago Sun-Times, available here.

Video of Duckworth’s and Durbin's floor speech is available here.

Audio of Duckworth’s and Durbin's floor speech is available here.

Footage of Duckworth’s and Durbin's floor speech is available here for TV Stations.