John J. Sweeney, Crusading Labor Leader, Is Dead at 86
John j. Sweeney, a New York union researcher who climbed to the pinnacle of the American labor movement in the 1990s, led the AFL-CIO for 14 years, through an era of fading union membership but due to growing political influence, He died at his home on Monday. In Bethesda, he. He was 86 years old.
AFL-CIO spokesman Carolyn Bobb confirmed the death. He did not give a reason for this.
As president, from 1995 to 2009, the nation’s largest labor federation – 56 unions with 10 million members at the end of his term – Mr. Sweeney boosted Labour’s political muscle with thousands of volunteers and in 2008, Barack Obama was elected president. Helped get elected to the post. Over the years, he helped elect Democrats from seats in Congress to governance and state assemblies across the country.
His arduous task, in his quest to reinvigorate and diversify the faltering labor movement, weighed history against him.
For decades in the 20th century, Labor did not welcome women, African-Americans, Latino, or Asian-Americans, who often engaged in grossly discriminatory tactics to maintain white men’s dominance in the workplace. Extensive but disproportionate gains were made since the civil rights era of the 1960s, when unions began to “whites only” to remove them from their formation and by-laws.
But Mr. Sweeney, still facing unilateral demographics, plotted a sea change. He called for women and minorities to be brought into the fold, often in leadership positions; Formed alliances with civil rights groups, students, college professors and clergy; And away from low-paid employees, the AFL-CIO’s traditional emphasis on protecting the best-paid jobs.
In Mr. Sweeney’s campaign for the post of president of the federation, his running mate for the newly created post of executive vice president was, Linda Chavez-Thompson, The daughter of a Texas shareholder. He was a member of the first minority group elected to the top executive rank of organized labor.
The 1995 vote was unique in itself: it was the first election in the history of the federation, which was formed in 1955 after a long system, merging the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations.
A signature Sweeney initiative encouraged thousands of migrants to recruit their unions. Many members had long been hostile to unspecified workers, accusing them of stealing union jobs and pulling down the pay scale. Mr. Sweeney rebuked such a thing as discriminatory, and called for justice to include better treatment for illegal immigrants and citizenship for those illegally in the United States.
Critics said Mr. Sweeney’s policies had been discontinued in the liberal past, deploying 21st-century civil rights and blue-collar union strategies to mobilize 21st-century workers with internet skills. Mr. Sweeney rejected the claim that he had reprimanded corporations, causing jobs to go overseas, and dismissed the hostility that many young white-collar workers voiced toward unions of the old line.
In a labor movement that had been declining since 1979, when union membership rose to 21 million, Mr. Sweeney pushed his constituent unions to increase spending on organizing. He often stated that his first priority was to reverse the long slide and to substantially expand Labor’s rank and file.
But by 2009, when he stepped down, his vision of a dramatic unionization failed in the late 1930s and later in the 60s. In fact, the total membership of the United States has grown from a 15 percent workforce to about 12 percent, a trend that has continued since, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Based on the optimism that supporters of the labor movement felt in 1995 when he was elected, I think not to be disappointed with the results,” Richard W. Hurd, a professor of labor relations at Cornell University, told New York. Times in 2009. “How much you can trace John Sweeney is another question.”
In a departure interview with the Times in his Washington office – seeing Lafayette Park at the White House, where he had recently conferred with President Bill Clinton and with Mr. Obama in the late 1990s – Mr. Sweeney faces Spoken optimistically in front of the Great Recession, which had been going on for over a year and had already forced thousands of layoffs, further winning Union ranks.
“I think the recession is going to bring people to the conclusion that they can’t solve their problems on their own, and they have to watch the event.” And, given that his father was a New York City bus driver, he taught a lesson from childhood.
“Because of the union, my father got things like vacation days or wage increases,” he said. “But my mother, who used to do domestic work, had no one. It taught me the difference between organized and working workers from a young age. “
John Joseph Sweeney was born in the Bronx on May 5, 1934 as James and Agnes Sweeney, an Irish-Catholic immigrant whose struggles shaped social perceptions in America from an early age. The boy went to several union meetings with his father, where he learned about class and workplace disparities and union efforts to improve wages and working conditions.
He attended St. Barnabas Elementary School and graduated from Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx in 1952. As he came of age, he resolved to find a future in organized labor. He served as a gravidiger and building porter (and joined his first union) to pay through Iona College, a Catholic school in New Rochelle, NY where he graduated in economics in 1956. Worked.
She briefly worked as a clerk for IBM, but took a steep pay cut to become a researcher for the International Ladies Apparel Workers Association in Manhattan. He married Thomas R. Met Donahue, a representative of the Building Services Workers International Union of Local Services 32B, who in 1960 persuaded him to join his union as a contract director. Mr. Sweeney will face Mr. Donahue in a run for Labour’s top job after 35 years.
In 1962, Mr. Sweeney married Maureen Power, a school teacher. She survives him along with her children, John Jr. and Patricia Sweeney; Two sisters, Kathy Hamill and Peggy King; And a granddaughter.
The Building Employees Union was one of the most progressive of its day, representing 40,000 porters, doormen and maintenance workers in New York City’s 5,000 commercial and residential buildings. Its contracts include guaranteed salary increases, medical coverage, college scholarships for members’ children and needs, which employers employ and promote workers in relation to race, creed or color.
Mr. Sweeney rose through the ranks, and in 1976 was elected president of Local 32B of the Nominee Service Employees International Union. Soon their 45,000 members hit thousands of buildings for 17 days and won large wages and the profits increased. He later merged Local 32J into Local 32J, representing the watchmen, and struck again in 1979 to improve the contract.
In 1980, he was elected president of the 625,000-member national SEIU and expanded his base in Washington, merging public servants and workers’ office jobs, health care and food services. He put forward strong federal laws for health and safety and spent heavily to mobilize new members. By 1995, he represented 1.1 million union members and was a national force in the labor movement.
Labor was at a crossroads. Frustration with years of rank-and-file Lane KirklandThe president of the AFL-CIO since 1979, boiled over in a coup in 1995 by the presidents of the union. Mr. Kirkland, whose labor’s internationalist vision had made him a hero for Poland’s Solidarity movement, but left him ineffective, even hostile, to propose. Reforms for the unions at home, were forced to resign.
In the 1995 election, Mr. Against Donahue, Mr. Sweeney chose his old friend of Local 32B, who had risen to the Secretary-Treasurer of the Federation and succeeded Mr. Kirkland. But Mr. Donahue’s relationship with Mr. Kirkland forced him to defend the status quo, and Mr. Sweeney’s progressive call for development and change Won the presidency They represent 7.2 million members, with 57 percent delegates.
He was re-elected for four more terms of two to four years, the last time in 2005, when he broke the resolve not to hold office until he was over 70 years old. He retired at the age of 75 in 2009 and Richard L. . Trumka, his longtime secretary-treasurer and former chairman of the Joint Mine Workers.
in a statement Posted on Monday on the AFL-CIO website, Mr. Trumka said of Mr. Sweeney: “He was guided by his Catholic faith into federalism, and not a single day passed when he first met the needs of working people.” Did not meet John saw his leadership as a spiritual calling, a divine act of solidarity in the world that suffered from distance and division. “
Mr. Sweeney wrote a memoir, “Looking Back, Moving Forward: My Life in the American Labor Movement” (2017), and co-authored two books: “America Needs a Rise: Fighting for Economic Security and Social Justice” ( 1996, with David Cussnet) and “Solutions for new employees: Policies for a new social contract” (1989, with Karen Nussbaum).
In 2010, President Obama awarded him the President’s Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor. “Obama revives the American labor movement,” Mr. Obama said at a White House event, “emphasizing union organizing and social justice, and was a powerful advocate for America’s workers.”
Alex Traub contributed reporting.