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At a glance
Mark Crouch will be honored at a retirement dinner tonight. The details are:
When: 6 p.m. social hour with a cash bar, 7 p.m. dinner
Where: 2930 W. Ludwig Road
Cost: $25 each, with a limited number of seats are still available. Proceeds will benefit the Workers’ Project, a nonprofit attached to the Northeast Indiana Central Labor, AFL-CIO
Entertainment: Provided by the Jug Huffers and Fort Wayne Philharmonic strings musicians, members of the American Federation of Musicians Local 58
For reservations: Call 482-5588
Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Mark Crouch, associate professor of labor studies at IPFW, is retiring after 34 years. He plans to spend time fishing.

Labor-studies prof, advocate retires

Mark Crouch, a fierce advocate for workers, is retiring this month from a faculty position at IPFW.

The experience of sitting across a bargaining table “shapes how you see the world,” the one-time union representative said. “It meant a lot to me that I was able to give back.”

The Kansas native has forged a robust relationship between the campus and unions across the region. Few other faculty members interact with the community as often as Crouch has, said Mike Nusbaumer, sociology professor and speaker of the Indiana University faculty at IPFW.

“Mark has one foot in academia and one foot in the larger political world,” he said.

Crouch’s departure has sparked concern among northeast Indiana labor leaders, who for more than 34 years have relied on Crouch for training and advice during delicate dealings with management. They have wondered whether Indiana University’s Labor Studies Department remains committed to supporting workers’ rights in the region.

Irene Queiro-Tajalli, chairwoman of the Department of Labor Studies, said those worries are unfounded.

“We want to move forward and expand our reach into the community to different groups,” she said. “We also need to expand our reach to the students, to learn about labor rights. They will go out into the world and be laborers.”

Another IU faculty member will start in the position Monday, “someone who has worked with unions on another campus,” Queiro-Tajalli said during a phone interview from her Indianapolis office.

IU officials crafted Crouch’s position so that the labor studies associate professor and northeast Indiana labor coordinator wouldn’t have to answer to IPFW officials, who might be tempted to pressure him not to advocate for employees working for large employers who make donations to the campus.

Queiro-Tajalli declined to say who will be in the position, pending a formal announcement, but said the person has teaching experience.

Following Crouch won’t be easy, said Tom Lewandowski, president of the Northeast Indiana Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

“It’s a tough gig for whoever comes next,” he said. “He’s become iconic.”

Lewandowski met Crouch shortly after the professor moved to Fort Wayne. The two quickly bonded over their concern for working folks.

“He came from the shop and then got educated,” Lewandowski said. “It really made a difference. He’s always had the ability to really talk to anybody.”

Crouch’s genius lies in listening, Lewandowski said. By asking probing questions, Crouch forces the people who come to him for advice to look critically at situations from many angles, he said.

“It’s a very effective teaching style for working people,” Lewandowski said, adding that some academics have trouble communicating with blue-collar workers.

The result, Lewandowski said, is a crop of union leaders who can more effectively represent members.

Dave Altman, president of the Indiana Joint Board for the Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union Council, agreed. He believes Crouch has made a significant contribution to the lives for working people in the region.

“Mark’s priceless,” Altman said. “He has helped me learn a hell of a lot about the labor movement. I hate to see him retire.”

Altman represents about 700 union members working under 27 different contracts across Indiana. Because membership has fallen over the past 35 years – Altman represented 1,100 in 1989 – he has to cover a larger area to assemble enough union dues to pay his full-time salary.

Crouch has not only taught Altman about workers’ rights, he has led classes for members Altman represents.

Queiro-Tajalli said Crouch’s replacement also will teach noncredit courses, with the topics based on requests by local labor leaders.

“It will be important for us to continue and build on the work Professor Crouch has done all these years,” she said. “We are here to do what needs to be done.”

Altman said the news comes as a relief. Members sometimes are more apt to accept some of the limitations to workers’ protections when they hear about them from an independent source, he said.

Those who know Crouch best describe him as a tender-hearted person who is tireless in his advocacy and doesn’t suffer bureaucrats well.

“He was fierce in his representation of people,” Lewandowski said. “Your job (as a union leader) isn’t necessarily to make friends. Your job is to represent people who don’t have a voice.”

Over the past 10 years, Crouch has received an increasing number of calls from workers who have an ethical or legal concern but are afraid of speaking up for fear of losing their jobs. Many are afraid to leave their names – even on their champion’s voice mail.

The two questions he’s asked most often are: “Can they really do that to me?” Usually, Crouch said, the answer is “yes.” The other is, “Should I hire a lawyer?” Typically, he said, the answer is “no.” When you’re bound to lose the appeal, Crouch said, you’re better off saving the money.

Crouch, 63, grew up in a working family. His mother worked in a garment factory and was elected to a union post. His father completed an apprenticeship program with the International Association of Machinists. They both experienced unemployment at different times.

Their son also worked in a factory before being laid off. At one point, his co-workers elected him to represent them in the union.

“I learned a lot about that process simply by being there,” he said.

Crouch’s retirement plans call for fishing.

He and his wife, Angelica, plan to build a handicapped-accessible fishing cabin and pier so that he can easily reach the water on their lakeside lot in northeast Indiana. Crouch loves the challenge of outsmarting his prey.

“I like to fish more than I like to talk,” the notoriously long-winded professor said with a hearty laugh.