The AFL-CIO Executive Council mourns the passing of our brother and friend, Gerald W. McEntee.
McEntee was a visionary leader who served as AFSCME president for 31 years with passion and grace.
McEntee was born in 1935 in Philadelphia, the son of a city sanitation truck driver who learned his first lessons of solidarity and economic justice as he watched his father organize fellow sanitation workers.
McEntee became a member of AFSCME District Council 33 in 1956, and later was a staffer representing municipal workers in Philadelphia.
McEntee made an art form of building power for working people, and he had an unwavering vision to lift up the voices of public service workers in particular. He was the driving force behind securing collective bargaining rights for Pennsylvania state employees, organizing more than 75,000 of them to join the AFSCME family in the early 1970s. As executive director of AFSCME Council 13, he negotiated strong contracts for members. And in 1975, McEntee would not budge in the fight for fair wages, leading state employees in the largest public employee strike in U.S. history.
In 1981, McEntee was elected president of AFSCME; under his leadership, AFSCME became a force for progressive change in America.
McEntee was a giant on the national political front, and took great pride in growing AFSCME’s membership and building its political muscle. The foundation he built as chair of the AFL-CIO Political Committee continues to guide our movement’s fight for equality for all workers.
McEntee also threw his passion into health care reform, and fought relentlessly against efforts to weaken Social Security by educating and mobilizing members across the country to fight against privatization.
McEntee saw our movement through the lens of what was possible, not the enormous challenges we faced. He was passionate about building diversity in the labor movement and mentoring the next generation of labor leaders.
McEntee co-founded the Economic Policy Institute and was an early champion of Working America, helping drive its phenomenal growth and success.
Jerry McEntee was one of the most dogged and indefatigable union leaders in the history of the labor movement, and his contributions to our movement and the lives of working people will never be forgotten.