Five questions with Ed Finkelstein, longtime Labor Tribune publisher

Ed Finkelstein

By Eric Berger, Staff Writer

Ed Finkelstein, publisher of the St. Louis/Southern Illinois Labor Tribune, along with supporters of organized labor in Missouri earned a big victory last week with the defeat of Proposition A, the so-called right-to-work measure. 

Finkelstein, 80, has spent much of his life working in various capacities for the Tribune, a pro-union publication. He also spent six years as an information officer in the U.S. Air Force and graduated from the journalism school at the University of Missouri- Columbia. 

As a labor journalist, he has both witnessed how public opinion of unions has changed over time — and tried to sway people to support unions. 

Why did you want to work for the Tribune?

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I have worked for the Labor Tribune since I was 14 years old and a gopher. Gopher the coffee, kid. Gopher this, gopher that. 

And one summer, one of the reporters asked me to write an obituary of a labor leader, and I did. I’m sure he rewrote the whole thing, but it got published and he put my name on it, and when I saw words that I had written in print, I was astounded, and it was at that point that I decided I wanted to be a journalist.  

Why were you interested in writing about labor in particular?

The Labor Tribune owner was my uncle Marty Rubin, and he inculcated in me the need to fight for the underdog, and so I have always felt that the people needed a voice. And as I worked part-time for the Tribune throughout my high school and college career, I saw unfairness in how the general media was dealing with organized labor, and I was really determined to be part of the effort to help labor unions and working families tell their stories.  

How do you think the public’s view of labor unions has changed over time?

Today, the public’s view of labor is amongst the highest it’s ever been. (According to the Pew Research Center, about 60 percent of Americans view labor unions favorably. In 2001, the number was 63 percent, but public support of unions dropped significantly during the Great Recession.)

After World War II, when you had 30 to 40 percent of the work force organized, there began a consistent effort to beat up on the unions. Management, and particularly wealthy people who saw the unions as a counter to their accumulating more wealth, decided that they needed to knock unions down. They took the long-term view in how they were going to discredit the unions by cutting into the public confidence in them, and frankly they succeeded. The unions do their job in representing their members, but they don’t tell their story, frankly.

Over the past dozen years or so, as the middle class has shrunk and union membership has shrunk, the one percent grows richer. It’s because there is no one there to fight for the working people to get at least their fair share. And that’s happening more and more, and I think you are starting to see a revolt. 

Why do you think Proposition A failed?

Proposition A lost because voters in Missouri realized that the so-called “right-to-work” was little more than an attempt to lower wages for workers and lower working conditions. Given what has happened in Missouri, I think you are going to see a renewed vigor from unions in Missouri and across the country. 

A lot of people your age are retired. Why continue working?

I believe in what I’m doing. I enjoy getting up every day and going to work. I think the work that I’m doing is needed. The core of my being is to reach out and help people who sometimes can’t help themselves.