Bob Rommel to retire
Union career based on building bridges
By Karen McLean
SPEEA publications editor
EVERETT – Whether on behalf of a member in a grievance or at negotiations, Bob Rommel, assistant executive director, stayed true to his
guiding principles – building relationships.
“You don’t need to accede to the others’
wishes, but you must work at having an
ongoing relationship,” said Rommel,
who worked contract negotiations for
SPEEA since 1992 and is about to retire.
“Just because there’s a road block in
front of you, find a way around it,” he
advised. “Keep an open mind and have patience
His perseverance has made a difference, noted
SPEEA Executive Director Ray Goforth. “He’s
been invaluable to the employees. He can look
back on a career that concretely improved the
lives of thousands and thousands of people.”
Sharon Moats, a former Northwest regional vice
president and negotiation team member, recalls
Rommel’s skills at building teams and making
everyone feel heard and valued.
“Bob always knew what questions to ask to get
to the heart of the issue. He listened to both
sides,” she said. “In negotiations, he was always
ready to strategize to get to common ground.”
From his first job at age 15 at a poultry processing
plant, Rommel always worked with and for unions.
Since his father was a lifelong Teamster, he knew
the value of unions. On the job, he saw how unions
made a difference in the workplace and stepped up.
“I saw that a lot of people needed help when dealing
with their employer, and I was good at it,” he said.
After high school, he became a truck driver and
joined the Teamsters. He served as a Teamster
shop steward while working for companies
including Fluor Engineering, Darigold and K&L
While working full-time, Rommel earned a
degree in 1984 from the University of Washington.
Since the UW didn’t offer a formal labor relations
program at that time, his studies were in business
with an emphasis on finance and marketing. “I
knew it was something I could use,” in his work
as a union representative.
In the mid 1980s, he went to work full-time as
a business representative at Teamsters Local 174.
For Local 174, he took part in administer-ing more than 30 collective bargaining agreements
along with having been involved with negotiating about 200 contracts. In addition, he also
assisted throughout the Western Conference
of Teamsters traveling to other Locals to con-duct organizing training. He was also involved
in negotiating a number of initial contracts for
new bargaining units.
He saw an ad for a contract administrator job at
SPEEA in 1992 and applied – not knowing any-
thing about this aerospace professional union.
After interviewing, Rommel soon found him-
self representing white-collar employees.
During the 1992 negotiations, he was assigned to
oversee the strike preparation commit-
tee along with sitting at the bargaining
table next to Dan Mahoney, the SPEEA
General Counsel at the time.
A year later, he was assigned to Everett
– mostly by himself to answer phones
and work contractual issues for much
of the late 90s.
When Susanne Murphy started at SPEEA
in 1999, she and Rommel were the only
ones in the Everett office at the time.
“He really taught me the ins and outs
of SPEEA as a democratic union,” said
Murphy. “His passion for the labor
movement can be seen in everything
he does for SPEEA.”
Kurt Schuetz, an Everett Council Rep, who has
worked with Rommel on many cases over the
years, agrees. “He always steered conversations
back to what would be best for the members –
what would be in the employees’ best interest.”
In addition to negotiations and grievances,
Rommel also joined members in representing
SPEEA within the labor community – such as
the Puget Sound Labor Agency (PSLA) and
Snohomish County Labor Council.
Originally, Rommel never expected to stay at
SPEEA. “I was always on a five-to-seven year plan.
When I came here, I didn’t think I would stay.”
When asked what motivated him to continue at
SPEEA, he replied: “Always having a challenge –
and the opportunity to create something better
than what we had.”
One of the significant changes he’s witnessed in
the labor movement over the years is the recognition that unions benefit all workers – including
“It doesn’t matter what level you are within a
company, workers always need representation
assistance with their employers,” he said. “It’s
why I went into labor relations.”
Bob Rommel, assistant executive director, is shown at top in his office, and above
at a retirement open house with wife, Irene, and past SPEEA presidents Tom
McCarty and Craig Buckham.