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Fouche carries union torch

September 30, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

"Born union. Lived union. Died union."

That's how Arthur G. "Bobby" Fouche of Hagerstown said he'd like to be remembered for the knowledge and experience he's brought to union meetings and collective bargaining sessions for more than 50 years.

"The union is the voice of the working people," said Fouche, a card-carrying AFL-CIO member who has exercised his voice in local, state and national labor union circles since 1948.

He has helped organize unions, guided union workers through labor contract negotiations, handled laborers' grievances and surveyed political candidates to determine who would best support union interests before offering political advice to union members.

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At 75, Fouche continues to carry the union torch passed to him from his parents and older siblings, volunteering as education director for the Central Maryland AFL-CIO Council.

The council will honor Fouche as the organization's Labor Person of the Year on Wednesday for his many contributions to the labor movement.

More than 450 people are expected to attend the Arthur G. "Bobby" Fouche Tribute Dinner and Dance sponsored by the Central Maryland AFL-CIO Council and the Maryland State Trade Union Council.

"People are making the effort to attend out of a show of respect for Bobby," said Ken Wade, who for 30 years represented the carpenters' union on the Central Maryland AFL-CIO Council.

"Bobby is an extraordinary individual. I've personally never met anyone who's had the desire to help people the way he does," Wade said. "He's been a gentle giant in the labor union in Washington County over the last 50 years."

Fouche has served as local and general chairman of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, president of the Western Maryland Railway General Chairman's Association, secretary-treasurer of the Eastern Region General Chairmen, president of the Central Maryland AFL-CIO Council, director of the council's Committee on Political Education and vice president of the Maryland State and D.C. AFL-CIO.

At the national level, Fouche has served as Region II field representative for the AFL-CIO and president of the Field Representatives Federation.

"Bobby has been a tremendous leader," said Charles Shindle, a member of the International Federation of Electrical Workers who now serves as secretary-treasurer for the Central Maryland AFL-CIO. "He's a resource that everybody uses."

Fouche's experience with unions spans a lifetime.

His father, a locomotive engineer for the Western Maryland Railway and member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Engineers, participated in the historic Western Maryland Railway strike of the mid-1920s. Four of Fouche's brothers were also railroaders.

"Everything in our household was union," he said.

His parents' strong work ethic and assistance from the union helped the large Fouche family - 14 children - survive the strike, the Great Depression and other hard times, Fouche said.

"The help the union gave our family enabled us to exist," said Fouche, who credits his parents' support of the striking railroaders with "setting his course for life."

At 16, Fouche started working the overnight shift at the railroad as a "call boy" - calling the train crews to work - while striving to maintain good grades in high school.

"Education was a prime thing in my family. We heard about it day and night," said Fouche, who eventually earned his bachelor's degree in labor studies from Antioch University.

After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, got married and returned to his union work as a crew dispatcher for the railroad. Before long, Fouche was elected as local chairman of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks.

"I welcomed that challenge," he said. "It was the first step that enabled me to be of real service to our membership."

The scope of his service to union members grew over the years as Fouche accepted positions of greater responsibility within the labor movement and his community.

He led the Field Representatives Federation in contract negotiations with the national AFL-CIO, participated in local, state and national elections of the Committee on Political Education, and served as liaison between the national AFL-CIO and about 30 local labor councils in Pennsylvania, Fouche said.

While serving as a Hagerstown city councilman in the 1960s, Fouche took an active interest in bettering the wages and working conditions of city employees and introduced the collective bargaining process for them.

Fouche, who has Parkinson's disease, retired as a field representative for the national AFL-CIO in 1996 but didn't stop working to promote a better way of life for union members.

"I enjoy it so much more now because my experience over the years has given me a much better position from which I can help people," Fouche said. "I'm still at it because I feel I still have a contribution to make. I still want to give back."

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