By Kathryn Routliffe
One of my oldest and dearest union colleagues, Jerry Minkkinen, died Friday. I am still trying to come to grips with the news.
He was the first Newspaper Guild official I met when I was hired by Pioneer Press in 1983. He didn’t introduce me to unionism; I’d been a union officer at my previous newspaper job, and I already believed in the union movement. But he taught me so much about how to make day to day unions work for their members – for us – that it’s a debt I could never repay.
Jerry combined a street fighter’s instincts, with the seductive charm of a troubadour – he could hold a room in thrall, something I experienced many times – and the formula worked for us far more often than not, whether it was sitting at the table with successive waves of increasingly nasty management, fighting grievances on behalf of individuals or the union as a whole, or giving us tips on how to fight for ourselves. He did this not just for my section of the union but for every News Guild bargaining unit in the Chicago area. That’s a lot of work for one person.
More than that, though, he was a good man, who gave his all to the union. He sacrificed health and family through much of his career, in order to help us. I am glad to know that in the last few years, he had much joy of his family.
He laughed often, was kind, was both fierce and gentle, and I am honored that we were colleagues and friends. There is so much more than I could tell you about him, but it all jumbles up in a tremendous Jerry-sized pile of stories. None of them will make up for the Jerry-sized hole his passing has left.