Labor group recognizes Geist

Former state Rep. Rick Geist will be honored as Person of the Year by the Blair-Bedford Central Labor Council. Geist will receive the honor Sept. 11 at the 34th annual Person of the Year Dinner at the Bavarian Hall.

Geist served as state representative for the 79th District from 1978 until 2012 and was the ranking Republican on the Transportation Committee since 1994.

He also sat on the House Rules and Commerce committees. He was a past president of the High Speed Ground Transportation Association and the first chairman of the Pennsylvania High-Speed Intercity Rail Passenger Commission.

Prior to his election to the House, Geist worked as a senior manager with EADS, a civil engineering firm, in Altoona.

Geist is a worthy recipient of the award, said labor council President Robert Kutz.

“We wanted to honor Rick for all of his accomplishments and giving back to the community for his entire life. There have been a lot of times we didn’t see eye to eye, but he always took the time to discuss the issues with us and let us know where he stood. He has always given so much back to the community. We wanted to make Rick know that we care,” Kutz said.

Geist said he appreciates the award.

“I think it is wonderful; I worked closely with those guys for probably 30 years. My relationship with labor got off to a rocky start, but it matured into respect. I never closed my door to labor,” Geist said. “I am looking forward to the dinner. I have attended every one of them.”

The labor council will present Utility Workers Union of America Local 180 with its 2014 Labor Award.

Members of Local 180, which represents about 140 line, substation, clerk and meter services employees in the Altoona, Lewistown and Shippensburg areas, have been locked out by FirstEnergy, Penelec’s parent company, since Nov. 25 after the union rejected the company’s final contract offer.

“They have been out 120 days and have held to their principles and have shown they mean what they say and stand by what they mean. They were out there when the nurses [UPMC Altoona] went on strike with their burning barrels to keep the girls warm. They have shown true grit, and we are proud of them,” Kutz said.

“It is an honor, a surprise for us to receive the award. It was quite a shock, and we really feel good about it,” said Ben Wilkinson, Local 180 area vice president.

The 2014 Humanitarian Award will be presented to Don Belsey and the late Thomas Strunk for their efforts in running the St. Vincent de Paul Assumption Chapel Food Pantry, Kutz said.

Belsey, who serves as director of administration, said he was humbled by the award.

“I don’t deserve an award. Everyone who works at the food pantry deserves this award and recognition. Without every volunteer, we could not do what we do,” Belsey said.

Strunk, who served as director of procurement, died March 1 and will be honored posthumously.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.