Mack Cehanowicz, a retired business agent with the Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council, passed away Dec. 23, 2010 at age 91. He had been diagnosed with the lung disease mesothelioma earlier last year.
A 52-year member of Plumbers Local 98, Mack worked in the field as a plumber, for the Detroit Housing Department and then as a Business Agent with the building trades from 1975 until he retired in 1982.
“I’ve had a good run and got to know a lot of people in the building trades,” the Taylor resident told us when he was in hospice a few weeks before he died. “They’re all about gone now. But I will say this, the trade and the union were very good to me.”
The World War II veteran was very proud of his service in the Army Air Corps, where he earned three battle stars. He was in the infantry, then was assigned to become a crew chief for an air squadron in India, whose group flew drums of gasoline “over the hump” – the Himalayan Mountains – to China to aid the Chinese war effort against the Japanese.
Mr. Cehanowicz was pre-deceased by his wife Sophie. He is survived by son Daniel and daughter Lynn, and several grandchildren and great-granchildren.
We interviewed Mack for a Labor Day article in 2007. He recalled that his mother died when he was very young and he grew up destitute during the Great Depression. He said when he was 16, he lied and claimed he was two years older in order to get hired into a nonunion metal finishing plant. “The pay wasn’t great, and they worked the hell out of you,” he said.
He said “it was automatically a better lifestyle” getting into the plumbing union in the late 1950s
“I don’t think people in their 40s, 50s or 60s realize that bringing in the union in those days meant survival,” Cehanowicz said. “Unions brought in a safety factor, the union meant that they couldn’t treat you like cattle.
“Now all the jobs are going to countries where there are no unions. In my opinion, the workers in those countries who have gotten our jobs because of NAFTA and CAFTA are in the same situation that we were in during the 1930s. It will take time, but maybe those workers will be like we were, and realize they need a union, too.”