Obituary: Jane Becker / Labor organizer loved by generation of activists

Dec. 30, 1932 - July 19, 2013

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Jane Becker, a gifted labor and political organizer who mentored a generation of activists, died Friday. She was 80.

Mrs. Becker of Gibsonia was the wife and working partner to the late United Steelworkers president George Becker, but she built a reputation on her own as a tireless advocate for working people and causes.

She was one of the pioneer organizers of SOAR, the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees, and lent her time and expertise to numerous Democratic political campaigns.

SOAR grew out of a 1986 dispute with LTV Steel, at a time when the firm was proposing cutbacks in promised retiree health benefits. Marie Malagreca, a steelworkers' staffer and SOAR's first director, was charged with forming the group, and she recalls Mrs. Becker as an invaluable lieutenant who "always had my back."

"Her personality was very strong. Instinctively, she knew how to handle political situations," Ms. Malagreca said. "She was the president's wife, but you'd never know it; she was completely at home, you'd never know her from any mill worker. She had no peer in the labor movement as far as I was concerned."

Rosemary Trump, former president of SEIU local 585, said, "She was a tremendous mentor and teacher of mine on politics. She and George Becker were a team. ... She was a powerhouse as far as I'm concerned."

In 2006, the USW unveiled a sophisticated political call center in its Downtown Pittsburgh headquarters and dedicated it as the "George and Jane Becker Collective Bargaining and Political Mobilization Center."

"Jane Becker was the wife and best friend of former USW International President George Becker for 57 years," USW International President Leo W. Gerard, Mr. Becker's successor, said in a statement. "She was more than George's wife. She was a leader in her own right, a great activist for working and retired men and women who was always willing to volunteer and always willing to advance the cause of workers," he said, noting that Mrs. Becker for many years ran the USW's phone banking and political outreach efforts.

Mrs. Becker was born in Midridge, Mo., the daughter of a logger who died in a work accident when she was 8 years old. She was working as a waitress at a lunch counter in South St. Louis when she met Mr. Becker.

"It was love at first sight," said her daughter-in-law, Rebecca Becker.

They were married in 1950 and were inseparable until the labor leader's death in 2007. She is survived by three sons, George F. III, Gregory and Matthew William; 10 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

Visitation and funeral services will be held Friday at the Irwin Chapel in Glen Carbon, Ill. Visitation will be from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., followed immediately by the funeral service.

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Politics Editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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