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Being tasked with writing a periodical article can get challenging over time, so whatever we see, we do, or wherever we may go, I am always on the search for good content.  I look for the highlights (or lowlights) of each day or week and then look to share my experiences with our staff and of course, our readers.  This one was an easy one for me.

As President Newell mentions in his article, a few weeks ago we held our annual scholarship breakfast at our headquarters.  This is always a fun and touching event where we present members or their dependents with the scholarships that they have recently won.  We all have a nice breakfast that morning (we are the food workers union, you know).  And we typically invite a guest speaker to address the scholarship recipients, with a message of motivation and support.  

Our Local 1500 family is a very large one.  And I am always inspired by the stories of our current members about what they’ve been through and how belonging to our union has helped them build a career, raise their families, put their kids through school, purchase their homes and vehicles, etc.  It is something that keeps me striving to help make our union the best union experience it can be.  This year our keynote speaker was Anthony Portesy, a former member of Local 1500, who is now an attorney.  This year’s message was extra special for me as I got to see a former member speaking to current members and their families.  The story of a former member who left to pursue other aspirations, but never forgets his membership in our union is an important one.  And it reminds us of the value that your membership brings to you. 

Anthony was a part-time member who began working at King Kullen in 2003 for some extra cash leading up to his junior prom.  He also wanted to start saving up to purchase a car.  Like many of our origin stories, (including mine) Anthony was looking for a more short-term gig to get him over a couple of financial hurdles and wasn’t necessarily thinking at the time of making King Kullen a long-term job.  He chose the job at King Kullen over a job at Old Navy, who called him a day too late, because he had already accepted the job at Kullen.

At some point Anthony realized he had vision coverage through Local 1500, something he never imagined or thought of.  This got him out of a financial jam when his glasses broke.  He wasn’t covered under his parents health coverage at the time, so he would typically go to Walmart and pay cash for his glasses.  With his new vision coverage, he did not have to skimp anymore.  He began to learn the value of his union.

Anthony spoke about how his part-time wage was higher than the – then minimum wage, and how that enabled him to, among other things, pay for his college application fees.  He spoke about the value of the higher wages that his union enabled him to enjoy.

He also talked to the current scholarship recipients about the fact that he applied for, and received a scholarship from Local 1500, just as they were doing that morning.  The scholarship he received from us was $1,000 per year for four years, and at the time his SUNY Stonybrook tuition was $4,350 per year (we’re talking 2004 folks), so just about 25% of his tuition was covered by his union membership!  That is a prime example of the value of belonging to Local 1500.

Anthony worked his way through law school, at King Kullen, at night.  He studied with people whose parents were doctors, lawyers, and judges.  But he was the only one in his law school with a pension plan.  Think about that one for a minute.  Gives me goosebumps I must admit.  After he graduated, he used all of his accrued vacation and personal time off to study for the bar exam, which he obviously passed. His words were “imagine getting paid to study?”  

He has now been practicing law for over ten years, along the way winning about $12 million for workers who were underpaid by their employer, among many other accomplishments.  Anthony credits his Local 1500 membership for assisting him on his path to success.  He understands that his experience enabled him to see the difference between a terrible employer and a responsible one…between a union job and a non-union one.  He asks himself what if he had taken that job at Old Navy back then, would he have had the same foundation or support to accomplish what he did while working for King Kullen?  That is the driving force that keeps us doing what we do here at Local 1500.  

And we all have similar stories: from the part-timer that became a produce manager and raised a beautiful family on their salary;  to the front-end manager who eventually became a district supervisor or even a vice president way up in their company;  to the kid that just needed some spending cash for an upcoming trip back in 1988 and is now an executive at his union;  to the part-time deli clerk who became the Secretary-Treasurer of their union; to the part-time cart boy that ultimately became president of his union.  What is your success story?  There are thousands out there and I would love to hear them!

Anthony Portesy’s success story is a fresh perspective and is one that should inspire us all.  You can never know what your part-time job as a Local 1500 member can one day become.  Whether you’re here for a short period of time, or for the long haul, you can count on your union membership to help you along your journey.

Thank you, Mr. Portesy, for never forgetting where you came from, and taking the time to address the youngsters that are coming up.  They all appreciated hearing your story and I just bet they were thinking about theirs.  

If you have a Local 1500 success story that you would like to share, email me at JWaddy@UFCW1500.org  Your positive experience as a member can inspire many people, including me!