Former Illinois AFL-CIO chief Robert G. Gibson dead at 93; services Friday

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Former AFL-CIO chief Robert G. Gibson.
Former AFL-CIO chief Robert G. Gibson. | Provided

When he headed the state AFL-CIO, ‘Public sector workers won collective-bargaining rights, and major unemployment insurance reforms were implemented,’ the labor group said.

Robert G. Gibson, a steelworker from downstate Granite City who rose to be the head of the Illinois AFL-CIO, has died.

Mr. Gibson, 93, died of cardiac arrest in Pompano Beach, Fla., where he’d retired, according to his daughter Marsha.

He was Illinois AFL-CIO president from 1979 to 1989. He joined the group in 1958 as its community services director before being elected secretary-treasurer in 1963.

When he headed the state AFL-CIO, “Public sector workers won collective bargaining rights and major unemployment insurance reforms were implemented,” the labor organization said.

“Bob Gibson never forgot where he came from,” said Illinois AFL-CIO president Tim Drea. “He helped build the labor movement in Illinois into what it is today. His charisma and personality are legendary, and his contributions to making people’s lives better are undisputed.”

Mr. Gibson was a close ally of the late Gov. Jim Thompson, who got the AFL-CIO’s endorsement in 1982 over his Democratic challenger, former Sen. Adlai E. Stevenson III. The labor leader backed future Gov. George Ryan in 1994, when Ryan was re-elected secretary of state.

He was born in Missouri, where his father Glenn was a lead miner, his daughter said. He grew up in Granite City, where his father went to work as a steelworker for General Steel.

Young Robert started out as a steelworker in Granite City after he got back from World War II, according to his daughter.

While working at General Steel, “He saw how hard people were working, and he also saw how people got injured,” his daughter said. “My dad wrote all of the workers’ comp laws that are still on the books today.”

During the war, he served in the Coast Guard and was on a troop carrier bound for San Francisco when word spread of the surrender by Japanese forces. He once told the Chicago Sun-Times sailors tossed their caps in the air in jubilation.

When they arrived in San Francisco, “We just literally roamed up and down Market Street all day and night,” he said, “ignoring the shore patrol announcements to go back to the base.”

Mr. Gibson’s wife Martha died 15 years ago. In addition to his daughter Marsha, survivors include his daughter Billie, son Randy and five grandchildren.

Visitation is planned from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at Sunset Hill Funeral Home in Glen Carbon, where a funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Friday.

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August 11, 2021 at 01:52PM

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