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federation of unions in The Last Best

Place. We are where unions across our

state join together to promote better working

conditions for all workers, whether unionized

or not. Because all workers deserve a fair deal, no matter what job you have, and no matter how large your employer is. ​

For well over a century, the collective voices of working people in Montana have strived to “lift all to a higher and better condition” under the Big Sky.  

The Montana AFL-CIO traces its history to a November day in 1895 when the Butte Industrial Conference and the Helena State Trades and Labor Assembly merged their efforts at a joint meeting in Anaconda, MT for the sole purpose of uniting the voices and needs of the working families in their communities.


The Montana State Trades and Labor Council believed firmly in organizing all workers regardless of craft skill, race, gender, or ethnicity.  As such, for over a decade the state federation refused to affiliate with the national AFL-CIO because of their narrow focus on only organizing skilled craftworkers, rather than all workers.

In the first decade of its existence, the MSTLC lent its support to the successful passage of an 8-hour day for hard rock miners and smeltermen, passage of child labor laws, and the implementation of initiative and referendum by the people.  


In 1908, Alex Fairgrieve, president of the newly christened Montana Federation of Labor, pursued affiliation with the national AFL in order to have a voice within the broader labor movement amidst prolonged battles with corporate interests across the state.

The Montana Federation of Labor followed up these early successes by throwing its support behind Montana women’s suffrage (1914), prevailing wage through the Little Davis-Bacon Act (1931), 8-hour day for all (1936), and the merger at the state level of the Montana Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Montana State Industrial Union Council (CIO) in 1956 that established the current Montana AFL-CIO.  


With the voice of Montana labor unified, labor reform expanded in the state with the implementation of the Montana Minimum Wage Act of 1971, passage of the 1972 Montana Constitution, enfranchisement of public employees with the Collective Bargaining Act for Public Employees (1973) and two years later its expansion to include professional educators, teachers, and para-professionals.  

Throughout the 80's and 90's, as corporate lobbyists pushed for free trade agreements and offshoring, the MT AFL-CIO fought national trends that empowered corporations over workers, helping establish Montana as a beacon for independent thought and policy, while fighting sales taxes, mine closures, and right-to-work legislation.

In July 2018, workers in Three Forks with the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers were locked out by the highly profitable French multinational Imerys Talc, after being offered a contract that clawed back working conditions, overtime, and benefits. Unions from across Montana walked the picket lines with the locked out workers in a show of solidarity for over three months. Finally, in November the company conceded and everyone went back to work after winning back most of what they asked for. 

During the 2021 legislative session, Montana saw another Right to Work fight funded by out of state corporations. Thousands of workers from across the state wrote letters, made phone calls, and let the legislature know that freedom of speech in the workplace is a fundamental Montana value. This attack on safety and wages, brought hundreds of workers from across the state to the legislature to let legislators know that workers' are the economy and must be protected from out-of-state corporate speculators.  


The Montana AFL-CIO continues its work as an advocate for Montana’s working families. Montana unions and the state workforce need a voice that understands the challenges of work-place safety, the economics of a living wage, and the need for legislation that protects our freedom of speech at work. We are Montana's unions.   

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Montana State Trades and Labor Council
J.A. Ferguson (Missoula) 1895 - 1898
Michael M'Cormack (Butte) 1900 - 1901
Frank C. Ivers (Missoula) 1901 - 1902
William Erler - Barbers' Protective Union (Butte) 1902 - 1903

Montana Federation of Labor
Alex Fairgrieve - United Mine Workers of America (Red Lodge) 1903 - 1909
Mortimer M. Donoghe - Plumbers' Union (Butte) 1909 - 1919
Steve Elvy - United Mine Workers of American (Sand Coulee) 1919 - 1930
James D. Graham - Railway Workers (Livingston) 1930 -1951
John H. Driscoll - Working Man's Union (Butte) 1951 - 1952
James S. Umber - United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners 1952 - 1956

Montana AFL-CIO
James S. Umber - United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners 1956 - 1967
James Murry - OCAW (Laurel) 1967 - 1991
Don Judge - AFSCME Council 9 1991 - 2001
Jerry Driscoll - LiUNA 2001 - 2005
Jim McGarvey - MFT (Butte) 2005 - 2011
Al Ekblad - IUOE (Great Falls) 2011 - 2021
James Holbrook - IBEW (Billings) 2021 - 2023

Jason Small - IBB 2023 - Present

Meet our Board and Staff

Executive Secretary

Jason Small (IBB)




Erin Foley (Teamsters)

Vice President-Treasurer

Quint Nyman (MFPE)

Vicky Byrd (MNA)

KaCee Ballou (MFPE)

Colette Campbell (MFPE)

Eric Matthews (MFPE)

Mike Kenison (MFPE)

Dusty Deering (UA)

George Richards (IAFF)

Al Ekblad (IUOE)

Kate Foley (AFGE)

Jacquie Helt (SEIU)

John Kesler (USW)

Jim Soumas (IBT)

Mario Martinez (UBC)

Aspen Hicks (IBEW)

Clint Penny (IBB)

Bob Warren (IBEW)

Adam Haight (LiUNA)

Jim Pilon (AFSCME)


Executive Assistant to the Executive Secretary

Lorri Nisbet

Political Director

Amanda Frickle


Communications Director

James Burrows

Labor to Labor Coordinator 

Derek Hitt

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