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In a moving tribute, Jerry McEntee is hailed for making AFSCME a powerhouse union

Convention delegates saw a moving video tribute to Jerry McEntee.
By AFSCME Staff ·
In a moving tribute, Jerry McEntee is hailed for making AFSCME a powerhouse union
David Fillman, former executive director of AFSCME Council 13. (Photo credit: Terrell Halsey)

The 45th AFSCME International Convention kicked off Monday with a somber yet uplifting remembrance program honoring former President Jerry McEntee, who died Sunday at age 87.

A visionary leader who led AFSCME for 31 years, McEntee was one of the most fearless, ferocious advocates working people have ever had. He set up one of the labor movement’s strongest organizing programs that led to robust growth for our union.

Before he took over the reins of AFSCME International, the Philadelphia native followed his father’s footsteps and cut his teeth right in his beloved city and commonwealth.

Retiring AFSCME Vice President Dave Fillman, former executive director of Council 13 in Harrisburg, Pa.; Ernest Garrett, president of District Council 33 in Philadelphia; and Dave Henderson, current executive director of Council 13, discussed McEntee’s life and legacy.

Convention attendees also watched a moving McEntee tribute video.

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Ernest Garrett, President of AFSCME District Council 33. (Photo credit: Terrell Halsey)

“There have only been four executive directors in the history of AFSCME Council 13. He was the first, and I was the third. I couldn’t be prouder to share that distinction with him and to have built on his legacy. I hope one day they’ll say that I did half as much to advance the rights and freedoms of working people as he did,” said Fillman, who knew McEntee for 50 years.

“I know that Jerry wouldn’t want this Convention to become an occasion for sadness. He would want us to carry on with the business of our union. And if anything, he would want this to be similar to the traditional Irish wake, with songs and stories, laughter and good cheer,” Fillman said.

Garrett noted that McEntee became an AFSCME member in 1956 in Philadelphia. McEntee became a member of DC 33 – just like his father.

“Jerry followed in his father’s footsteps. He learned the ropes watching his old man, William J. McEntee, organize his fellow sanitation workers here in Philadelphia,” Garrett said. “Right here is where the seeds of Jerry’s legendary career were sown. He laid the foundation for District Council 33 to become the powerful union it is today.”

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AFSCME Council 13 Executive Director David Henderson (Photo credit: Terrell Halsey)

“It makes me proud to think that such a brilliant career started here in our shop, in our city, in our city, in our great union, District Council 33,” Garrett said.

In 1975, when McEntee was Council 13’s first executive director, he led about 55,000 workers on a three-and-a-half day strike because contract negotiations with the commonwealth of Pennsylvania were stalled, Henderson said.

“You may wonder why it was only a three-and-a-half day strike. Because the state of Pennsylvania rushed back to the bargaining table to grant us a 12% wage increase over three years,” Henderson said. “That’s the kind of leader Jerry McEntee was: Uncompromising. Ferocious. Fearless.”

“Jerry had tremendous savvy and wielded immense political clout,” Henderson added. “But even during the headiest elections seasons, with the most powerful politicians in the country around hm, Jerry would walk into a hotel kitchen – uninvited – to talk to the kitchen staff to see who they were voting for. Because it was their opinions he cared about. It was their opinion that mattered most. Because everyday working people were always first and foremost in his heart.”

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