QC trio inducted into AFL-CIO Hall of Fame

Kurt Ketelsen
Kurt Ketelsen

Three top Quad Cities leaders were honored for their contributions to labor at the 31st Annual East Central Iowa Northwestern Illinois AFL-CIO Hall of Fame Banquet, hosted by the Quad City Federation of Labor. 

Each year, the AFL-CIO Hall of Fame awards ceremony gives labor leaders an opportunity to recognize union brothers and sisters who have gone over and above in their work, civic and/or community services. 

This year’s inductees are: Kurt Ketelsen, of United Auto Workers Local 281; the late Cecilia O’Brien, of Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 25; and her husband Pat O’Brien of Laborers Local Union 309.

Keynote speakers for the Saturday, Oct. 15, event, held at Bettendorf’s Isle Casino Hotel, were: Pete Hird, secretary/treasurer of the Iowa AFL-CIO; and Tim Drea, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO.

Any proceeds that remain after the Hall of Fame event are used for civic engagement, educational opportunities, community outreach projects or programs, and member-to-member communication.

Here’s a look at the new Quad Cities area inductees, according to short biographies provided by the AFL-CIO: 

  • Kurt Ketelsen, UAW Local 281, was a Union Time Study Representative and welder at John Deere Davenport Works. He began his John Deere career on Sept. 5, 1978, giving him 44 years of service and counting. For nine years he was Alternate Union Steward, 33 years as Union Time Study Representative and he was Union Time Study Special Representative to convert the union’s newest pay plan from Standard Hour to Continuous Improvement Pay Plans (CIPP) from 1994 – 1997.

He has also acted as counsel to the International UAW on the backlog of CIPP grievances and served seven terms as the UAW Local 281 financial secretary. He also is in his 18th year of service on the Dewitt (Iowa) City Council. He is married to Colleen Ketelsen and has five children.

Cecilia O’Brien
Cecilia O’Brien
  • Cecilia O’Brien – Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 25 (posthumously). She was happy to be a member of Local 25. She was at home with labor; she knew that’s where her friends were. She worked at Partners in Job Training (JPTA) in the early 1980s during the great recession, helping people from the shops of International Harvester, John Deere and CASE find new careers.

As a caseworker for Congressman Lane Evans on his district staff, she helped constituents who needed the type of help that only a letter from a congressman or a phone call could give. At Mediacom, she took on customer complaints. 

She went to work as a liaison for United Way and the Quad City Federation of Labor making communication between two different groups of people easier. During a John Deere strike she took calls at all hours and made sure strikers had essentials for walking a picket line. 

She was a member of the Moline School Board and Rock Island County Board.She was also an active Rotarian and a member of Viva Quad Cities. She was starting to get further involved with the NAMI Walk and had gotten certified to facilitate meetings on mental health before she died on May 12, 2022.

Pat O’Brien
Pat O’Brien
  • Pat O’Brien – Laborers Local Union 309. Mr. O’Brien, who was married to Cecilia, joined the laborers in August of 1978 after years of working non-union at Illini Beef in Joslin, Illinois. He worked for several contractors over the years until he became a union steward and elected officer in the 1990s for Stone Webster and an auditor at Local 309. 

He was involved in many local campaigns, walked his share of picket lines and in 1997, he was elected to the Moline City Council, where he stood up for unions as well. He was instrumental in setting up a matching grant program for people to, for the first time, purchase a home; for which he won a state award. He went to work as Congressman Phil Hare’s district director in 2006. In 2011, he became bureau chief at Illinois Department of Transportation in Springfield; working on traffic safety and keeping our roadside paving and bridge workers safe. 

In 2017, he joined Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs’ office, promoting such programs as Bright Start College Savings, ABLE, and Secure Choice. He served briefly on the Rock Island County Board in 2018. In 2019, he was elected to the Moline City Council.

He was a liaison for FEMA after Hurricane Katrina in Houston, Texas, and is a trained Red Cross Volunteer. He also was president of Council on Community Services and president of the Moline Preservation Society.

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