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Hardest-Working Voices in Labor

Hardest-Working Voices in Labor

A Sun-Times series spotlighting the people and professions that keep Chicago thriving.

Cecelia Renteria helped paint this building at 625 W. Adams St.
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From the Chicago skyline to the West Loop, this painter’s work brightens up the city

Cecilia Renteria is trying to recruit more women to the painting trade.

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Chicago plumber proud to ‘protect the health of the nation’ — now more than ever

Jason Reed’s 22-year career includes numerous construction projects at local hospitals.

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Union electrician sees huge improvement in safety protocols, but some still think he’s crazy to do the job

"I was meant to do this," said Joe Fitzgibbons, a member of IBEW Local 134 for 16 years. "I love it."

Denise Jones is a taper/drywall finisher for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades’ Painters District Council 14.  Denise was photographed for the Hardest Working Voices series. | Brian Rich/Sun-Times
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A former public housing resident is now helping women in trade unions become ‘fit for the fight’

The handiwork of painter/taper Denise Jones, who used to live in Cabrini Green, can be seen all over the city.

Mike Angus, a driver for Waste Management represented by the Teamsters Union, picks up a piece of garbage that was left outside of a dumpster in an apartment complex in southwest suburban Burr Ridge, Monday morning, Nov. 4, 2019.
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Garbage hauling no longer a dirty job but still essential to city life, Teamster says

Mike Angus left the business world to drive a garbage truck — a job he unexpectedly loves.

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From ‘tunnel rat’ to power engineer, electricians like Steven Moore keep the trains running on time

As power engineer coordinator for the Chicago Transit Authority, Moore is ready to respond quickly to electrical issues impacting the city’s 244 miles of ‘L’ tracks.

Mike Badame, assistant chief operating engineer for the Chicago Department of Aviation, at O’Hare International Airport.
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Mike Badame hopes you never notice him at O’Hare Airport — it means everything is working

The operating engineer keeps the world’s 6th busiest airport running smoothly through a massive infrastructure of systems that control everything from the lights to the hot water.

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Plumbing runs in Cliff Bruckner’s family — for 130 years

The Plumbers Local 130 member is part of the fifth generation to work for Chas F. Bruckner and Son Plumbing.

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Nursing assistant helps care for victims of Chicago violence: ‘My patients are definitely the best part of my job’

Clarise Evans sees the impact of Chicago’s gun violence on a daily basis. She’s now pushing for higher wages at her hospital.

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She fixes forklifts, smashes glass ceilings in auto mechanics industry

Kittra Headtke tells girls and women: "If it’s something you love, do it no matter who you are."

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Ex-presidential bodyguard now holding line in year-long hotel strike

Sam Yolo is leading the charge of about 30 workers who have been on strike from the Cambria Chicago Magnificent Mile hotel for the past year.

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Power tools are precision instruments for worker in the guts of the Lake Shore Drive bridge

Matt Clement works as a millwright, one of the world’s oldest professions.

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Handle with care — and a smile: Ex-wide receiver delivers mail ‘through rain, sleet or snow’

"People are getting medicine in the mail they desperately need, or important bills and packages," says letter carrier Damien Tate. "I’m a firm believer in making sure people get their stuff in a timely fashion."

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Crystal Gardner: ‘We made major history by organizing’

The case worker was instrumental in helping unionize workers at the UCAN social service agency for the first time in its 150-year history.

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Why these Chicagoans left other careers to work in ‘boots and jeans and ... with my hands’

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Kara Maude, Elbert Walters and John Felke take pride in keeping the lights on.

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Patrick Byrne: He lost a leg — but not his love for working with heavy machinery

Despite his accident, the operating engineer’s co-workers "don’t look at me as a person that has a physical disability. They look at me as one of their brothers."