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Don V VillarDon Villar was born into the labor movement and spirit of social justice.

Keepers of the Flame: Don Villar and the Chicago Federation of Labor

May 14, 2021

Dave talks with Don V. Villar, Secretary-Treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor about the city’s important role in labor history and how it drives their commitment to today’s working people.

The Chicago Federation of Labor is the third-largest central labor council in the United States, an umbrella organization with 300 union affiliates representing over half a million members from Chicago and Cook County, Illinois. 

Don Villar was literally born into the union movement – his mom gave birth to him while his father was on strike, fighting for better wages and benefits for workers in the Philippines. After his family moved to the United States, his mom worked at the flight kitchen in O’Hare and was a member of UNITE-HERE Local 1. 

Don earned his bachelor’s degree while working a building security job as a member of SEIU and went to work for the ABC affiliate TV station in Chicago. He worked there for 25 years and won an Emmy award. 

In 2007, he joined the negotiating committee of NABET-CWA Local 41 with ABC, which made clear to him how systemic inequality for workers could only be overcome through union power and activism. That experience inspired him to apply to law school, and he completed his law degree while working full time.

He is dedicated to civil rights advocacy and labor law. “We see a lot of injustice out there, the devaluing of our labor, workers being disrespected,” said Don, which gets him “fired up” to make things right.

The discussion turns to the important role the city of Chicago has played in labor history. Many labor unions were born out of street actions in Chicago, and many unions “Local 1” and “Local 2” are still based there. During the interview, Don says he is sitting only a few blocks away from Haymarket Square, where at least 8 workers died in 1886 when a labor protest for an 8-hour workday turned into a riot. Today, workers around the world honor their sacrifice on May Day every year. 

Don also speaks about the commitment that the CFL has with workers who have suffered job loss during the coronavirus pandemic, and how their community service events have served as a lifeline for many union members. In partnership with their affiliates, they conducted a food drive the day before Mothers’ Day in the parking lot of IAM Local 1487 near O’Hare Airport. 

Dave Roderick and Ann Clifford from District 141 helped coordinate the event with Machinists and members of many CFL affiliates, from Bricklayers to Musicians. “Union members helping union members,” distributed 1,600 pounds of food to 400 needy families that day. 

Don is deeply grateful to Local 1487 and District 141 for their dedication and solidarity. “Machinists have always been a big part of the CFL; Chicago can’t move without our Machinists Brothers and Sisters.” 

Learn More about the Chicago Federation of Labor >>

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