BLOOMINGTON - Longtime labor leader John Penn will soon take a larger role in the union that has shaped his family for a half-century.
Penn, 59, will become the Midwest regional manager and vice president for the Laborers' International Union of North America on May 1. In his new roles, he will oversee more than 50,000 union members in 10 states and have a greater say in shaping the union's national policies.
The Bloomington man is currently business manager for LIUNA's Great Plains Laborers District Council, a regional group working with 10,000 members in Illinois and three other states. Prior to that, he spent 28 years as business manager of Bloomington-based Laborers' Local 362, which has had a long affiliation with the Penn family.
Now, Penn hopes he'll be able to help raise the standard of living for more people.
As the Midwest regional manager, he will help the Great Plains Laborers and other district councils make political gains to benefit local members, such as wage improvements.
"Before, it was more local politics. … Now it's going to be dealing with governors and senators in 10 states," said brother David Penn, business manager for Laborers' Local 362. "That's huge."
And as one of 13 vice presidents on the 16-person general executive board, John Penn will help shape the union's direction in the U.S. and Canada.
His latest promotions come 50 years after his father, Paul Penn, began his term as business manager for the Bloomington local. The position has also been held by John and David Penn's brother, Don Penn.
John Penn is appreciative of his promotions, but said he didn't aim for the titles. As he was rewarded for his hard work and commitment, he also credited the efforts of the members he serves.
"We were raised the member is always first," said John Penn.
Penn's recognition of the membership is part of the secret of success at the grass-roots level of Local 362, said Mike Matejka, governmental affairs director for the Great Plains Laborers District Council and a member of the local union.
"John is one of the most generous people. … (Local) 362 is very much a community and family where people watch out for each other," said Matejka.