August ‘Augie’ Sallas, who headed printers union, ‘knew a lot of people,’ dead at 86

He was chief of the Chicago Typographical Union Local 16 when it waged and settled a strike against the Chicago Tribune in the late 1980s and was active with the Little Village Community Council.

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August Sallas.

August Sallas.

Sun-Times file

When a teacher once asked one of August “Augie” Sallas’ kids what his father did for a living, the answer was: “He’s a picket.”

That was because he’d often hear his dad tell his mom as he walked out the door, “Honey, I’m going to go picket.”

Mr. Sallas, a longtime printers union leader and Little Village community activist, died Friday. He was 86 and had heart failure, according to his daughter Jacqueline Ansted.

Mr. Sallas, who spent most of his childhood at Angel Guardian orphanage on the North Side, became the first Mexican American chief of the Chicago Typographical Union Local 16. He was head of the union when it waged and then settled a bitter strike against the Chicago Tribune in the late 1980s.

From about 1994 to 2014, Mr. Sallas, who was an ally of Mayor Richard M. Daley, was one of the first people visitors encountered on the first floor at Chicago’s City Hall, where he staffed the information booth and gave tours of the building.

He once wrote about how he enjoyed that position — and being in the know: “Lots of my friends would come and stop to talk to me by starting a conversation with, ‘Hey Augie, didja hear?’ It was always...some political gossip or tidbit. The old-timers in politics called City Hall ‘The Hall.’ ‘What’s happening at the Hall?’ they would say. I’m a political junkie, the Hall was my playground.”

He also was president of the Little Village Community Council, founded the Hispanic American Labor Council and ran unsuccessfully for the Chicago City Council.

For the Little Village Community Council, Mr. Sallas helped organize legal clinics, health clinics, college fairs, job fairs, toy drives and efforts to help people obtain passports.

August Sallas (right) with César Chávez, co-founder of what became the United Farm Workers.

August Sallas (right) with César Chávez, co-founder of what became the United Farm Workers.

Cortesía

“He took the lead on bringing services people would not find easy to get,” said Baltazar Enriquez, president of the community organization. “He was a miracle worker. Augie knew a lot of people. Thanks to his knowing people, we got things done.”

When people came to the council office on 26th Street needing, say, help paying their utility bills or getting dental work or a school recommendation letter, Mr. Sallas would say, “I know someone who can help with that.”

“Augie didn’t ask for anything,” said Jose Caez, retired business manager of IBEW Local 1031 and president of the Hispanic American Labor Council. “He gave.”

“He really had his finger on the pulse of Little Village,” said former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, whom Mr. Sallas supported as a member of her Hispanic advisory council.

Mr. Sallas also collected donations to repair the broken clock on the Little Village arch, a gift from Mexico President Carlos Salinas de Gortari during a visit in 1991.

“It belongs to Mexicans of the city of Chicago,” he once told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s an iconic symbol.”

He was 5 when he and his older brother Joseph moved into the Angel Guardian orphanage after tuberculosis ravaged their family. His father Lawrence died from the disease. His mother Victoria grew so ill she was sent to the old TB sanitarium on the North Side on Peterson Avenue at Pulaski Road.

Mr. Sallas lived in a cottage at the orphanage with 25 boys from 5 to 15 years old.

“He was raised by very strict German nuns,” according to his daughter.

“I learned a lot living in that orphanage,” he told the Lawndale News last year. “I learned about how children deal with grief, I learned about human nature. I learned the importance of building a sense of community.”

When he was about 14, the brothers reunited with their mother and moved to Texas, where she died a year later. The boys then returned to Chicago.

Young Augie enrolled at what was then called Chicago Vocational High School, where his daughter said he studied typesetting and “made the decision to go into the printing trade.”

Mr. Sallas worked for publications including the Blue Island Sun-Standard, the Times of Hammond, the Chicago Tribune, the Sun-Times and the Daily Racing Form.

Mr. Sallas’ wife Margaret and son August Jr. died in 2017. In addition to his daughter Jacqueline, he is survived by daughters Victoria Ann, Laurie and Julie, son Gregory, brother Joseph and eight grandchildren.

Visitation is from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Martinez Funeral Home, 2534 S. Pulaski Road. During visitation, he’ll be wearing his lapel pin of the postage stamp honoring César Chávez, who organized the nation’s farmworkers.

Mr. Sallas’ funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Agnes of Bohemia Church, 2651 S. Central Park Ave.

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