John Thacker, President of the 32BJ National Conference of Firemen and Oilers District, began his union career in 1979 as a laborer for the CSX railroad in his hometown of Russell, Kentucky. John’s coworkers quickly saw him as someone they could go to with problems, and his leadership qualities were formally recognized when he was named a trustee of Local 637 of the International Brotherhood of Firemen and Oilers in 1986, and was elected chairman of the local in 1986.
While John was an officer of Local 637, he heard from a member about a nearby workplace in Kentucky where workers were treated poorly. The employer was Cook Family Food, now Smithfield. John began what turned out to be a hard-fought but successful five-year battle to organize Cook’s workers. The workers won their first contract in 1995.
Thacker rose to become System Council 6 Vice General Chairman of the IBFO in 1991. The union merged into SEIU in 1995 and became the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers. John was named Organizing Director of the NCFO in 2000, Vice President in 2003, and Secretary Treasurer in 2006. After the 2008 merger of NCFO into 32BJ, he was elected to a three-year term as NCFO District Secretary-Treasurer and also to the 32BJ Joint Executive Board. John became NCFO District President and a 32BJ Vice President on January 1, 2011, upon the retirement of President George Francisco.
John says he’s honored to lead the NCFO after having begun as a rank-and-file member. “I’m really proud the members trust me.”
Under his presidency, NCFO has had some important victories. In 2012, when Swedish company AAK tried to decertify the union and strip 59 NCFO members of their union rights, NCFO launched a multipronged campaign that included outreach to the company’s investors and customers and to Swedish journalists. The company backed down and workers won increases in wages and benefits. NCFO also in 2012 won a six-year contract with the nation’s freight railroads. NCFO was part of a coalition of railway unions in this fight that was resolved after President Obama appointed a Presidential Review Board to seek a resolution.
In recognition of the increased role both he and the union were playing politically in Kentucky, former Governor Steve Beshear appointed him to serve on his Workforce Development Advisory Board in 2014. Despite layoffs in the rail industry and a plant closing in 2016, Thacker led the NCFO District in breaking its previous record for political fundraising for the fourth year in a row.
John lives in Russell, Kentucky and has two grown children, Dustin and Lyndsey, and three grandsons, Connor, Hudson, and Harrison.