Over the years whenever someone asked me how I got my job at the Union I always answered the same way, “I was just lucky I guess”. However, I’m not 100% sure that’s the right answer. Was it lucky that my friend Jimmy left with his family for their summer vacation the same day I got fired from my job as a telemarketer? Maybe, but my parents always said, “Things happen for a reason." Jimmy said that morning, “Go take my job, it’s not like I can push carts from France.” So on July 1st, 1990 I was hired as a part-time cart kid at Pathmark #602. Thirty-One days later I became a member of UFCW Local 1500. Was I lucky that my store had no shop steward and an aggressive store manager when I started? Maybe, but it caused me to start asking a lot of questions. I asked so many different people so many questions that a full-time cashier named Barbara used to say, “Oh here comes the mayor of Bay Shore,” whenever she saw me.
After a few months I was working in Dairy and I definitely got lucky. My Rep. Jimmy Crawford took a chance on me and made me the part-time Shop Steward in late 1990. I was really proud to see my name on the Union shop sign by the timeclock and I thought I did a pretty good job. That all changed when Executive Board VP Steve Gallagher was transferred to my store. Steve showed me how to “really” be a steward and said to me, “Kid, you think you’re a good steward? Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and really get involved? The Union is way bigger than this store you know.” Steve pushed me to start attending rallies, union meetings and even to try and get on the negotiating committee to represent Pathmark part-timers.
I didn’t have enough friends with me at the proposal meeting that night so I had to settle on being the backup. I was crushed, but there was nothing I could do about it. As luck would have it, Secretary-Treasurer Dan Russo called me a few weeks later and said that the other part-timer had to step aside and I was up. He said, “You’re in kid, try not to screw it up. You’ll get a letter in the mail in a few days telling you where to be and when, don’t be late.” I met some of the strongest stewards the Pathmark stores had during the ‘94 negotiations, they took good care of me and we all did our job.
I must have done something right because on July 1st, 1995 President Frank Meehan gave me a shot and hired me as a SPUR to work with our Organizing department. Over the years I was a Membership Servicing Representative, a Union Delegate and then in September of 2009 I was promoted to Field Director. In every position I had access to some of the best role models in the labor movement. I am convinced that without their help and guidance I would not be in the position I am in today. Frank Meehan taught me to fight. Dan Russo taught me how to watch every dime. Fred Walter taught me how to dress and how to negotiate. Bruce Both showed me that there was always more than one way to get something done or get somewhere (but would try to convince you that his way was the best). Lenny Salvo taught me about the history of our Union (and where to get great french toast). Mike Onufrak taught me to always try to be right and to win every argument. It was Joe Castelli & Bernadette Warren who taught me to care.
I thank all those mentioned above and the dozens of others staff members who I didn’t have enough space to mention for everything you did for me and our members. I would be remised if I didn’t take a few lines to properly thank our newly elected President Tony Speelman for all of his years of patience, compassion, diligence and effort. I have learned a great many things from Tony in our years together. Most importantly that hard work and long hours are expected, and when a member needs us, we need to be there, no matter what. Tony is the most genuine and dedicated person I have ever met in my life and we are all very lucky to have him leading our great Union. Tony, thank you for believing in me and trusting my sometimes, crazy ideas.
To the all the members and the Executive Board of Local 1500, both past and present, I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart. I cut my teeth as a Union Rep in the Queens stores. I learned what it meant to be Union from the hardworking men and women in the dozens of Key Food stores and the few Pathmarks I serviced during those five years. Many of you became my “work parents” back then and some of you still are now. The members in Queens, North Nassau, Eastern Suffolk and the Bronx (twice) gave me the opportunity to succeed and to grow. Every time I asked, you did. Any time I said I need, you gave. Every time I said be here, you were and every time I walked into a store you welcomed me and treated me like family.
If someone asked me today how I got my job at the Union, I think I would have to answer it the same way. The truth is I was lucky and I still am now. I was lucky enough to get a part-time Union job when I needed one. I was lucky enough to meet the thousands of people I have during my 25+ years as a member of this Union. I was lucky enough to have family and friends that understood (and still do) when I’m not around or why I’m in a bad mood after a tough day. I was lucky enough to have fabulous members, strong Union leadership and great role models to show me the right way.
When you think about it I guess my story isn’t much different than the Union: many people working together toward a common goal. Now I don’t think most people realized when they were helping me along the way I would end up as Secretary-Treasurer. As a matter of fact, I imagine a few people thought I would fail. But the fact is that because of all of your time, effort and belief, I am here now. I recognize that the opportunity I was given in 1995 could’ve been given to anyone and I fully respect the obligations and responsibilities of my position. I look forward to working with our members, staff, allies and elected officials for years to come in an effort to better the working conditions for all working men and women. Thank you all for this amazing opportunity, I will not let you down!