Despite a 75 percent drop in membership, Dave Whaley commanded respect among policymakers.
"He leaves a hole in Idaho labor and I don't know that anyone can fill his shoes," said Idaho AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Cindy Hedge.
Whaley’s rise from a Lewiston sawmill to AFL-CIO president happened overnight.
His predecessor, Randy Ambuehl, resigned in 1996 to return to work as an electrician, prompting Whaley, then vice president, to quickly leave his job at Potlatch to move to Boise.
“Randy basically dropped the keys on the desk and said, ‘I’m out of here,’” recalled Jim Kerns, president from 1981-1993. “Dave had to learn from Day 1. He did a fine job.”
Whaley died at home Wednesday, suffering from pancreatic cancer. He leaves his wife, Tami, three children and four grandchildren.
Republican Gov. Butch Otter, who recently spent an hour visiting Whaley in the hospital, saluted his work on the Workforce Development Council and called him “a great friend.”
“Dave was a good man,” Otter said. “Even in supporting my political opponents, as he had to do, he was always even-handed and fair.”
Idaho Department of Labor Director Roger Madsen partnered with Whaley and business leaders to reform unemployment insurance rates at the request of employers.
“He has been a strong supporter of the business community, knowing full well that economic development and workforce development, to be successful in Idaho, need a strong business community and a strong workforce,” Madsen said.
Whaley was indomitable, said John Greenfield, a former member of the Democratic National Committee who did legal work for the Idaho AFL-CIO.
“He acted like we didn’t have Right to Work,” Greenfield said. “He carried himself as if he was president of the AFL-CIO in Illinois. That’s how hard he worked.”
Greenfield served with Whaley on the Industrial Commission Advisory Committee since its founding in 2001. “He always showed up, took notes and understood what was going on.”
Idaho AFL-CIO active membership has fallen from 41,300 since passage of Right to Work in 1985 to about 11,000, but Whaley never let the decline undermine his commitment, said Hedge.
“It was a love of labor and a labor of love,” Hedge said. “He was always for the worker and a voice for dignity and respect in the workplace.”
The Idaho AFL-CIO’s executive board will meet Tuesday to choose a successor. Hedge said she will be a candidate. A celebration of Whaley’s life will be held, but has not yet been scheduled.
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