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Robert “Spider” Cantley

Heat & Frost Insulators Local 16

By Jacob Bourne

Recently at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco, Robert “Spider” Cantley, was awarded the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society’s Presidential award for 40 years of service, raising over $23 million for the society. Spider, who’s been a member of Heat & Frost Insulators Local 16 since 1957, shared highlights of his year’s of service.

Organized Labor: How active were you over your 62 years as a Local 16 member?

Spider: I’m still active today and attend meetings as one of the old guys. Over the decades I served on the Executive Board, was involved in half a dozen negotiations and participated in strikes. I worked as a Foreman on hundreds and hundreds of Bay Area jobs.

Local 16 is a small local comparatively. In the mid-1970s a group of us went to Sacramento to push for landmark legislation to be passed banning asbestos in California with many other states following suit. We made many trips to Sacramento to fight for the ban because there’s no known safe level of exposure to asbestos. Problems with asbestos, which causes mesothelioma, still exists today but I know our advocacy helped save lives.

OL: When did you begin volunteering for LLS?

Spider: In the late 1970s, I crossed paths with Joseph Zablocki, the owner of the only union printing shop in San Francisco, who was also the President of the Northern California Leukemia Society of America, as it was called back then. He asked me if I could help raise money for the society within the Labor community. At the time he didn’t know that my mom, Nan Cantley, had leukemia. My niece, Heather Cantley, also developed Leukemia but recovered.

I first went to Local 16 to raise money and then expanded to the Building Trades, other unions and then the business community in general. KGO radio raised money for 30 years on air and spread the message that, “Labor Fights Leukemia” on their show. IBEW 6 with John Doherty, Sprinklerfitters 483 with Stan Smith and Teamsters District Council 7 with Dave Hawley, take it upon themselves every year to send a fundraising letter to every regional local on the Western half of the country and the response is fantastic. Locals pay attention to other locals.

Over the course of many years I traveled back and forth to New York a hundred times for LLS meetings and would communicate back to the Building Trades about what was happening with cancer research. In the last two years the U.S. has had 41 new lifesaving cancer treatments approved, which is equal to the progress made over the past 40 years.

OL: Why is volunteerism a win for Labor?

Spider: In order to counteract today’s smaller membership of Organized Labor than in the past, we need to do engaging work in the public sphere. The general public doesn’t realize that the benefits they take for granted — health benefits, retirement, work safety standards — came about because of Labor. The unorganized community doesn’t realize that we created what the rest of the community benefits from. From day one the Labor community has been a major part of raising that $23 million and counting. We have the opportunity to do something that really matters. Our money goes directly to cancer research, and as a construction guy, the chance to be a part of that is phenomenal. It’s unionism at its best.

Know a building trades member who goes beyond the call of duty in his or her community? Email robert@sendersgroup.com
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