The Illinois FOP Labor Council

The Labor Council provides full union representation: negotiating and enforcing contracts, improving salaries, working conditions, and benefits for law enforcement professionals throughout Illinois. Our members are protected 24 hours a day by a staff of full-time, in-house attorneys and field representatives who have a proven track record of winning.

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By IL FOP Labor Council - Friday, December 14, 2012

 

In Memorium:  Bill Mehrtens

It is with great sadness that the Labor Council relates to its members and friends that on December 10th, 2012, Bill Mehrtens' battle with cancer finally ended.  We grieve at the loss of our brother and dear friend whose leadership and camaraderie we have cherished for years.  We hope to bring comfort to his family and friends and to honor forever his memory as a fearless pioneer and an unflinching advocate.

Bill left his family on the East Coast, came to Illinois and attended Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.  After graduation, Bill Mehrtens chose a career in law enforcement during a time when questioning authority, not joining it, was in vogue.  Bill “went native” (his words) and joined the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department as a Deputy Sheriff.  Bill initially worked undercover and went onto serve as a Patrol Deputy.

In 1986, after the Illinois legislature extended collective bargaining rights to public employees of municipalities and counties, Bill immediately became part of the labor movement.

Bill Mehrtens’ career as a Field Representative is as much a history of the Labor Council itself.  Bill was the very first full-time employee of the Labor Council.  Hired on July 1, 1988 after retiring early from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, Bill became a pioneer in organizing law enforcement officers and negotiating labor contracts.

Working out of his car as much as his “home office”, Bill criss-crossed the two-lane highways of southern Illinois.  In an area not known for union sympathizers, he brought to the smallest towns and smallest sheriff’s office a new idea to raise the living standards of the downstate police officer and deputy: collective bargaining.

Long before the advent of cell phones, personal computers and text messages, Bill spread the word throughout southern Illinois that if officers wanted to improve their lives, they needed to join the FOP and get involved with collective bargaining.

For the many that followed his call to arms, Bill was the FOP.  He negotiated collective bargaining agreements against lawyers who had access to far more resources.  He fought against discipline issued by Sheriff’s with unbridled power.  He stood up for his members and, for over 24 years, fought for them in every forum that he entered.

No matter how prestigious the opposing law firm or no matter how well-funded the opponent, Bill approached each battle with a fearless attitude and an unparalleled will to succeed.  Most importantly, Bill’s instincts and creativity for reaching successful deals would lead to innovative and ground-breaking terms.

Unsatisfied with reaching just a “good deal”, Bill’s actions were the foundation for legal victories in East St. Louis, Jefferson County, White County, Saline County and Carbondale that shaped labor relations for the entire state.  To be sure, Bill has left a huge footprint throughout central and southern Illinois that is unparalleled.

In addition to serving as a Field Representative with the Labor Council, Bill also served in other leadership roles.  Bill was elected to serve on the Illinois FOP State Lodge Executive Board for 26 years.  He served as Sergeant-at-Arms for many years, and most recently as the Second Vice President.  He dedicated hours upon hours to improve the lives of the men and women of law enforcement.

Politics was one of Bill’s true passions.  As Chairman of the National FOP Legislative Committee, Bill took annual trips to Washington D.C. and lobbied on behalf of the FOP membership.  His face soon became synonymous with the FOP on Capitol Hill, especially with Illinois Congressmen.  He was relentless in his advocacy for bills that the National FOP sought passage.

Bill supported causes to encourage collective bargaining both in the private and public sector.  Recently, Bill served on the Executive Board of the Labor and Employment Relations Association (LERA) – Gateway Chapter.  LERA sponsors labor and employment programs in the St. Louis area and Bill would contribute his time and ideas into ensuring the LERA held informative workshops and lectures on timely topics.

Throughout all this, Bill was first a family man.  He and his wife, Angela, have two children: Annika and Alex.  There was no prouder parent, and Bill’s friends can recite many details of their lives, from Annika’s wedding to Alex’s recent summer externship abroad.

And in what seemed like such a sliver of “spare time”, Bill was a man of action, and ideas, with many broad interests. Among those interests, Bill was an avid science fiction reader, a music lover, and a soccer enthusiast.  Bill worked as a high school soccer referee and also volunteered at his local Irish Festival.

Bill’s legacy has left many friends and admirers to comment on his life:

David Wickster, Bill’s friend and Executive Director of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, writes,

“First and foremost, those who were friends to Bill know what an incredibly dedicated and loyal family man he was.  His wife Angela and his children Annika and Alex were the joy of his life.  Bill’s most treasured moments and proudest achievements were as a father and as a husband.

Bill will be remembered for his keen mind, his sharp wit and the way he enthusiastically and energetically pursued his numerous hobbies and interests.

But it is nearly impossible to explain the depth of the impact Bill Mehrtens has left on labor relations in Illinois.  Bill’s legacy of service to those in law enforcement will never be matched.  He will forever cast a shadow – from East St. Louis across the State to Robinson and south to Alexander County – as the pioneer who bargained state-of-the-art labor contracts throughout southern Illinois, lifting the standards of living of law enforcement personnel to unprecedented heights.

 If you want a physical measurement, try this:  The first county contract Bill signed for his home Jackson County Sheriff’s Department gave the top paid deputy a raise to $28,818.  Today, top pay is $61,853.  That’s a 114% increase over twenty years.  That’s $33,000 more dollars for the top paid deputy.  And that’s just one department of many that Bill served.

Bill’s passion for representing law enforcement personnel grew beyond representing just police officers.  He was one the first union representatives in Illinois to see that corrections officers, dispatchers and probation officers be viewed as career professionals, and those choosing those professions deserved fair pay and a work environment that was safe.

Bill’s commitment to improving the law enforcement profession did not end at collective bargaining. As a long-standing member of the Illinois FOP State Lodge Executive Board, Bill urged that fraternalism required camaraderie among all ranks, even with those in command positions.  Bill understood that there was strength in numbers and that the law enforcement profession needed unity to achieve improvements to their standing in their respective communities.

Bill’s passion for law enforcement and politics led him to join the National FOP Legislative Committee.  Bill became the Chairman of the Committee and together with other Illinois FOP members, took trips to Washington D.C. to lobby on behalf of law enforcement.  Bill’s relentless advocacy earned him a formidable reputation on a national stage.

Bill also served on the Illinois Police Officers Memorial Committee and spent endless hours researching and reporting the names of forgotten officers who died in the line of duty.  Due to Bill’s tenacity and commitment, there are names added to both the National and Illinois Police Memorials that had been overlooked.  There are many relatives of Fallen Officers that today can proudly say that their ancestor has been forever recognized for the ultimate sacrifice paid.  The Law Enforcement Community can proudly live up to the commitment “We Will Never Forget” as a result of Bill’s efforts on their behalf.

Despite these incredible achievements, Bill sought no personal recognition for these accomplishments.  The Labor Council will always be indebted to Bill for his actions.  Bill’s decision to retire from law enforcement, a profession he loved, to become the first full-time employee in a fledgling company, that offered no pension or retirement benefits and no health insurance benefits, was a bold leap of faith.  He gambled and thousands of downstate police officers reaped the benefits of his gamble.

Bills’ gamble encouraged others to do the same.  And in just a few a years, the Labor Council was armed with a small group of former police officers who were dedicated to the ambitious goal of providing law enforcement officers with a better standard of living and a better work environment.

The Labor Council and its members will forever honor the memory of Bill Mehrtens.  He was a pioneer.  He was a role model.  He was a loyal and trusted friend whose legacy will be unmatched.”

Ted Street, Bill’s friend and President of the Illinois FOP State Lodge, writes, "Bill never wavered in his dedication to the FOP. He consistently demonstrated his commitment through his service to the FOP membership in Illinois by serving the last 26 years on the State Lodge Executive Board and the last 24 years as a Field Representative with the FOP Labor Council. Additionally, Bill served FOP members around the around the country as Chairman of the NFOP Legislative Committee for many years. Bill was a friend to be counted on and one of the best FOP Ambassadors I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing and working with."

Chuck Canterbury, President of Fraternal Order of Police called Bill, "A true friend to the working man in our country, but especially his fellow officers."

Dave Nixon, Bill’s friend and fellow Field Representative, wrote, "Bill never missed an opportunity to lobby Congress when in Washington. What a lot of people do not know about Bill is how well known he was to the Illinois Congressional contingent and their staff. He was on a first name basis with many, and his work was well respected. We are a much better organization and the lives of law enforcement officers have been improved and made better through his tireless dedication. Bill was more than a co-worker; he was my fraternal brother and friend. He will be missed; but he will be long remembered through his deeds."

Keith Turney, Bill’s friend and fellow field representative with the Labor Council, said of Bill, "I too spent some time with Bill watching him masterfully lobby Washington. In Bill’s final month he was counseling me on a certain approach he believed we should take on a particular piece of legislation. He never stopped being FOP, even at this point in his life. Bill always loved a spirited debate and could hold his own with anyone. What was the most amusing thing to watch was Bill hustling bar patrons at Trivial Pursuit! I have no idea where he acquired such a wealth of knowledge, but to watch him in action was truly humbling. I will miss him dearly."

Michael Vladetich, President of Lodge 241 wrote, "I lost one of my best friends and a true mentor. Bill was the most unique individuals I have ever known. I will miss his wit, his knowledge and his love and dedication to law enforcement. We lost a great man today."

Bill's family and his co-workers have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of messages of condolences and testimonies about Bill. While we mourn his passing, we could not be prouder of how he represented the Labor Council, and of the work he did so diligently, for so many, and for so long.