“I will be Union until the day that I die,” Larry Keel says without pause. This sentiment is one of many reasons that the organized labor community in Alabama presented him with the 2018 Labor Person of the Year Award.
“When they told me, I said ‘Oh My God, I would be honored.’ It was such a humble feeling,” says Keel remembering when he found out the news.
“Honesty, integrity and loyalty are the three words that exemplify Larry Keel’s commitment to the labor movement for more than half a century,” said IAM Southern Territory General Vice President Mark A. Blondin. “His actions and his words have literally changed the lives of thousands of workers and their families, not just in Alabama but around the world. Because when one worker succeeds we all do and that’s a life lesson Larry has always lived by.”
It was December 1966 when Larry James Keel took his father’s advice and applied for a job at Hayes International Corporation in Napier Field, Alabama as a material handler. He later moved to supply as a Stock Clerk, to Storekeeper and eventually to Lead Man in supply when he retired in March of 2011.
“My dad told me, ‘Son, come out here. You are working too many hours for too little pay at your current job. And the first thing you need to do is sign up for the Union,’” remembers Keel like it happened yesterday.
So in April 1967, as soon as his probation was over, that’s exactly what Larry did and started his legacy of 51 years that he has been a dues paying member of the IAMAW. For 42 years, he served as the Recording Secretary of Local Lodge 1632 after being elected in 1973 and has held a variety of union positions since that time. From Vice President of District Lodge 75 for nearly 25 years to President and Vice President of the Alabama State Council of Machinists for close to a decade to serving on the Blue Ribbon Commission of the IAMAW, Larry admits he couldn’t have done it without the support of his wife and his daughters.
“I married my wife Patsy in 1968 so she has been on this journey with me the entire time. The union life is a give-and-take situation and you spend a lot of time away from home. Patsy and my daughters have stood by me all these years and I couldn’t have done it without them by my side,” explains Larry.
And they are still in his corner as Larry continues to take an active role in the movement. He currently serves as one of the Vice Presidents of the Alabama AFL-CIO, VP of the IAM retirees in Alabama, a member of the MNPL planning committee and President of the Wiregrass Labor Council. He has yet to miss a scheduled union meeting as a retiree in his new Local Lodge 2003, mentoring the next generation as to why the Union is going to revive this country and put workers back on top.
Larry says, “A lot of the younger people don’t know who brought them to the dance and how they got there. It’s our responsibility to change that. But at Local 2003, I am seeing some younger members really making a difference. I see a lot of hope for the future.”
In 2017, Larry was presented with the unique privilege of being made a Lifetime Member of the Machinist Union. A proud moment for him and the IAMAW.
“One of the best decisions I ever made was to join the IAM. It has fed my family for many years and continues to do so. I will be a Fighting Machinist until the day I die,” Larry states proudly.
Here’s to you Brother Keel!