New Leadership At The Western New York AFL-CIO Labor Federation: ‘Lunch Pail Guy,’ 1199 SEIU’s Peter DeJesus, Jr., To Head Regional Labor Organization Whose 140 Affiliates Combine To Represent 145,000 Public & Private Sector Workers
President Richard Lipsitz ‘Agrees To Stay On’ As President Emeritus, Commits To Be There “On An As-Needed Basis” To Assist In A ‘Smooth’ Transition
WNYLaborToday.com Editor’s Note: Pictured above, Peter DeJesus, Jr. (on the right) will succeed Richard Lipsitz (on the left) as the next Western New York AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation’s (WNYALF) President when the Regional Labor Organization holds its yearly meeting at the end of March. The 42-year-old DeJesus, currently an Organizer and Political Coordinator for 1199 Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Workers East - who is of African-American and Puerto Rican descent, will become the WNYALF’s first Minority President. (WNYLaborToday.com Photo)
(BUFFALO, NEW YORK) – Peter DeJesus, Jr. - an admitted “lunch pail/Blue Collar guy” with roots in both the Public and Private Union Sectors, will become the next President of the Western New York AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation (WNYALF).
The 42-year-old DeJesus, currently an Organizer and Political Coordinator for 1199 Service Employees International Union (SEIU) United Healthcare Workers East who is of African-American and Puerto Rican descent, will also become the WNYALF’s first Minority President when the Regional Labor Organization holds its yearly meeting on March 27th and officially votes to approve DeJesus.
The WNYALF oversees 140 affiliated Local Unions that combine to represent 145,000 Workers in the Public and Private Sectors and the Building Trades.
“I’m a ‘lunch pail guy,’” DeJesus, who’s also been a Member of the United Auto Workers (UAW) and United Steelworkers (USW) in Western New York over the years, as well as having spent four years as a WNYALF Field Coordinator with the WNYALF in the not too distant past, told WNYLaborToday.com during a sit-down interview with current WNYALF President Richard Lipsitz - who’s agreed to stay on as President Emeritus for an as-yet undetermined period of time in order to assist in making a smooth transition for the WNY Labor Movement.
“I’m a Blue Collar guy who’s worked on the line, drove a forklift and represented Essential and Low-Wage Workers. ‘I’ve seen the impact and all that they do.’ They are the ‘salt of earth’ (and the experience he brings to the table working with all) ‘will be huge,’” he said.
Lipsitz - who was elected to his first of three consecutive three-year terms back in 2011 as WNYALF President, said DeJesus’s name “kept coming up” when he decided it was time to step down from the full-time, volunteer position that must have support from the Union where the WNYALF President is employed: “This is a volunteer position, which is of prime concern. Our (WNYALF) Board had a lot to do with this (in regards to pinpointing DeJesus as the Labor Organization’s next President). People are excited about this and it became an easy decision.”
“I really didn’t want to completely retire or just leave the (Labor) work,” Lipsitz continued. “I could have a couple of years back, but Labor survived the last four years (under an Anti-Union Trump Administration in Washington). I didn’t want to go out on a down note. We worked to elect Joe Biden and there was no turning back. Looking back, it was a wise decision. This just became the right time. I’m turning (71) this year. This is an affiliate-run organization and I won’t be sitting back and seconding guessing my successor. This is part of a youth movement (with the Labor Movement) and I’ll be available on an as-needed basis.”
Lipsitz is a 26-year Member of the Teamsters: 16 years with Local 264; 10 with Local 449; and an overlapping 13 with the International.
DeJesus, who has been married to his wife, Annette, for 11 years and has six children, told Your On-Line Labor Newspaper that when he first heard his name being mentioned six or seven months ago as the next WNYALF President, he told area Labor Leaders: “No, I’m good.”
But as time marched on, DeJesus said he felt something “different.”
“Dick and I always had discussions (during the time when DeJesus served as a WNYALF Field Coordinator) about beginning to ID someone to do what we were doing (as President). My name kept on coming up and Dick invited me to play in a golf tournament in late August to talk. I had a feeling something was up. Now, it was all different. I want to protect the legacy (of the WNYALF build during Lipsitz’s time as President). He has been a mentor to me, a friend and this is the path that I’ve chosen. I, of course, spoke with my wife and she understands my passion (for the Labor Movement). My Union (1199 SEIU) is also ecstatic and very happy.”
“These are unprecedented times (for the Labor Movement),” DeJesus (pictured with Lipsitz above during the recently-held Variety Club Children's Telethon/Photo Courtesy of IUPAT DC 4's William Mayer) continued. “This is becoming an era of growth (with a Union-friendly President - Joe Biden, now in the White House). I want to focus on fighting social and economic injustices, getting us all (individual Labor Unions) back to our roots and not in our own industry silos. I want to get more young people involved (in the local Labor Movement). And as an African-American/Puerto Rican, it’s important they see people who look like themselves in leadership positions. I resemble them. This sends a clear message (regarding the Labor Movement being serious when it comes to elevating Minority Unionists in its chain of command).”
Added Lipsitz: “It’s important to note that six of the (24) Executive Board Members of the WNYALF are African-Americans and two are Hispanic. We also have seven women Labor Leaders on the Board and the WNYALF has (consistently) hired People of Color. Our Board has all been elected by their Rank-and-File Members, so they are heavily invested in (what they do for the Labor Movement).”
Looking back on his career as WNYALF President, Lipsitz is proud of a number of accomplishments, including the Labor Federation’s involvement and support of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) National Strike against Verizon; the UAW’s National Strike against General Motors; Successfully standing up and fighting against a number of local and New York State budget cuts; The successful Unionization Drive at SPOT Coffee in Buffalo; Conducting a number of educational and cultural offerings to Unions and their Members; Developing positive relationships with Members of the Civic and Political Communities; and Charting a successful course through the COVID-19 Pandemic “and all those Zoom meetings,” to name just a few.
“The Labor Federation is not a political party,” Lipsitz said. “The majority are Democrats, but we have Republicans and Independents. But we work for all Unions, their Members and for that matter - all Working People. We’ve worked to build some excellent relationships with our State Delegation too, as well as with U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins. That was part of our work, which builds our strength.”
However, Lipsitz said he is “certainly and most proud” of Labor’s role in helping create “significant and landmark legislation” that saved the Town of Tonawanda after the announcement of the closing of the Huntley Electric Generating Coal Plant - working in conjunction with the local Clean Air Coalition, the USW and the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), that also “kept schools from being absorbed into other districts.”
Working as a Rank-and-File UAW Member at the Harrison Radiator Plant in Lockport for 10 years, as well as in organizing and political action with USW District 4 “under the tutelage of (USW District 4 Assistant To The Director) David Wasiura, (now retired USW Official) Frank Hotchkiss and former District 4 Director John Shinn,” working on the line at Tonawanda’s Sumitomo Tire Plant, and as a 1199 SEIU Organizer/Political Coordinator who was also responsible for eight area nursing homes and the Members employed there, has prepared DeJesus (pictured below speaking at a 2021 Buffalo Labor Rally/WNYLaborToday.com File Photo) well for what he has agreed to take on.
Now DeJesus is looking forward to “striking while the iron is hot” and working to successfully navigate Labor through the changes that are coming: “Our actions will be issue-based, but you will see a different approach (from DeJesus) moving forward.”