REMARKS ON THE RETIREMENT OF AFSCME PRESIDENT JERRY MCENTEE

Thursday, December 8, 2011

(Council 26)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once called the organized labor movement, the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.

And for three decades, Jerry McEntee has been a leader in the quest for that progress.

He has fought for a better life for American workers.

And he has dedicated union resources to the struggle for economic and social justice for every man and woman in this nation regardless of age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or disability.

Jerry has literally given American workers a voice. But it was the labor movement that gave Jerry a voice.

Like the kids Jerry grew up with, his father was a sanitation worker in Philadelphia.

Bill McEntee spent his days hoisting heavy trash cans and riding around in a garbage truck.

He spent his nights on union business.

Bill McEntee eventually became president of his local, led his people on strike and won.

In 1939, that strike resulted in the first collective bargaining agreement between sanitation workers and a major U.S. city.

That agreement and the union that fought for it made it possible for sanitation workers to enter the middle class.

The union made it possible for them to retire comfortably after a lifetime of hard work.

And the union made it possible for their kids to go to college.

So instead of growing up to be sanitation workers, the boys and girls with whom Jerry grew up became dentists and doctors. One is a general. And, of course, Jerry became a prominent labor leader.

Their achievement grew from the roots Bill McEntee and that union, AFSCME, planted.

AFSCME has played a role in every struggle to protect collective bargaining rights, equal pay, good benefits, secure retirement, public services and worker opportunity for the last 75 years.

And for more than 50 of those years, Jerry has been part of the fight.

At the helm of AFSCME, Jerry advocated for every piece of progressive legislation passed in the last three decades.

The organization and dedication of Jerry and his 1.6 million brothers and sisters has been invaluable, whether we were raising the minimum wage or passing the Affordable Care Act.

Democrats and our progressive allies are grateful for his leadership and support over the years.

As Jerry retires, I am reminded that our work isnt over. Assaults on collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin and Ohio proved that.

The journey from misery and despair to hope and progress Dr. King spoke of a journey that Jerry McEntee has led for more than 30 years is never truly over.

I look forward to working side by side with AFSCME, our friends in labor and all our progressive allies as we continue Jerrys work.

The labor movement is better because of him. America is a better place because of him.

I congratulate Jerry on a career well spent in the pursuit of progress.

 

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