The Philadelphia Public Record Newspapers are pleased to announce the 13th Public Servant of the Year award goes to Wendell Young IV, for his contributions to the City of Philadelphia, the State of Pennsylvania and organized labor everywhere.
He is being honored at a gala banquet this evening at Swan Caterers starting at 6:30 p.m. Swan is located at Water & Snyder Streets in South Philadelphia with free parking under I-95.
Wendell Young IV joins a group that has received the distinguished award over the past decade and half. They include Hon. Jannie Blackwell, Hon. Bob Brady, Ed Coryell, Hon. Ronald Donatucci, Pat Eiding, Joseph Egan, Mike Fera, Carl Greene, John Perzel, Samuel Staten, Jr., Hon. Margaret Tartaglione, Joe â€œGenoâ€™sâ€ Vento and Hon. Anthony Williams.
Reared from childhood to be an active member of organized labor, Wendell W. Young IV is today President of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1776. The union represents more than 22,000 members who work in retail, food processing, manufacturing, healthcare and professional offices in southeastern, northeastern and central Pennsylvania, and southern New York. He is also a Vice President of the UFCW International Union.
Young was born in 1961 in Philadelphia. He attended Archbishop Ryan High School as well as Penn State and LaSalle Universities. He is a graduate of Saint Josephâ€™s Universityâ€™s Comey Institute of Industrial Relations, where he has served as an Advisory Board member and taught courses in labor economics and collective bargaining.
From 1977 to 1983, Young was employed at Penn Fruit and Acme Markets. In 1983, he began his career as a union representative, in which capacity he worked as a field representative and an organizer. Subsequently, as the unionâ€™s lead negotiator he assumed responsibility for all collective-bargaining activities and spearheaded a number of initiatives as a union negotiator to establish affordable child care and education benefits for working families.
He was elected President of UFCW Local 1776, taking office in January 2005, and serves as Chairman overseeing health- and pension-benefit trust funds for the unionâ€™s members.
Young is involved actively with fundraising activities for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the ALS Association and other charitable causes. He was the recipient of the City of Hope Tri-State Labor and Management Council 2009 Spirit of Life Award. In 1998 he was the Democratic candidate for the Pennsylvania State Legislature in the 61st District.
Young resides in Lower Providence Township in Montgomery Co., Pa. He is the father of three children, Rachel, Alexandra, and Nicole.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
He is one of the rare breed of union leaders born in a family where the parent was also a union leader and his succession to the same office has been seen by rank and file as a smooth transition. In his case, it is obvious he picked up his dad, Wendell Young IIIâ€™s, laurels. When he assumed that leadership, his years under his dadâ€™s wings made the transition seamless.
The story of the lives of Wendell Young III and IV traverses a history of the progress of organized labor in its efforts to better the conditions of their rank and file.
To understand Wendell W. Young IV, it is necessary to get a feeling of the influence father had upon son.
Commenting on his fatherâ€™s death in 2013, Wendell Young IV notified union employees, â€œMy Dad passed away at home after a long battle with cancer. He fought this fight with the same passion and determination that defined his life time commitment to representing workers and their families. During those last few months he got to spend a lot of time with family, friends, co workers and the many others he met along the way. He enjoyed the calls, visits and messages he received from so many of you.
â€œHe had a very interesting life! I was privileged to have spent more than 30 years working with him at the union. Surely we had some difficult moments, but as the kid growing up who thought he was the greatest and who often missed his dad because of his busy schedule, I loved the time I spent working with him. He had a hard time fitting a day into 24 hours, rarely went on vacation, and lived like a firefighter, responding to multiple alarms at once all day, every day. I often thought that if I didnâ€™t work with him I wouldnâ€™t see him much or know him very well. I am so happy to have had that experience.
â€œHis accomplishments are amazing and too many to discuss here, but think about just a few.
â€œIn the early 1960s he was elected business agent at 22 and elected president of the union at age 23. He fought for civil rights and womenâ€™s rights, opposed the war in Vietnam, took on powerful companies and politicians, and challenged the international union leadership, all before age 30.
â€œThis didnâ€™t always go over well with the union members and others. At one point in the late â€™60s, he fought for and won a controversial change in health care for his union members that extended medical coverage for unwed mothers and their newborn babies. It was one of his proudest moments. This and other progressive/liberal activities caused such an outrage that members mounted an effort to recall him as union president.
â€œHe continued doing what was right, not what was convenient or politically safe, and he continued fighting for 44 years as president of Local 1776.
â€œI could go on and on, but many of you already know much about him and fought some of the fights with him over the years. All of his life, people, politicians, companies and events have drawn lines in the sand and said he couldnâ€™t go any further. He always pushed past those lines to find and secure the best deal and quality of life for his members.
â€œEleven years ago he had a stroke and heart attack. Soon after, he learned he had Parkinsonâ€™s disease. Eight years ago, he learned he had liver cancer and was told he would die within a year or two. Like everything else in his life, a line was drawn in the sand and he pushed past it. He lived a full life through all of the last 11 years. He retired from the union, started a business, traveled, and engaged in activities on behalf of workers, immigrants, the Catholic Church and more. Most important, he spent time with family.
â€œHis last year was the toughest. His cancer became very aggressive; it slowed him down, but never stopped him from living his life and finishing his work. As difficult as recent weeks and months have been, I have enjoyed the time we have spent together, the chance to be with him and talk with him privately, with my daughters, with Kathy and my brothers. This year he brought our family together in a very special way. It was a long and great goodbye. I will miss him very much.
â€œI have been attending funerals with my Dad for a long time and letâ€™s face it: If you knew him like I did, he was laughing more than crying. Sometimes he would say, â€œI like the way the Irish do it.â€ He often reminded me of the way he wanted his funeral to be and we talked about it recently. He doesnâ€™t want people to be sad. For now, Iâ€™ll leave you with just a few of the things he often saidâ€¦.
Referring to employer representatives and their proposals when they over reachedâ€¦ â€œThat person/proposal is lower than whale shit and we all know you canâ€™t get any lower than whale shit because it drops to the bottom of the ocean.â€
When talking with members about getting realisticâ€¦ â€œSometimes you got to pick up the tail of the donkey and look it in the eye.â€
When talking about how he was going to take on challenges and adversaries that were bigger and well financedâ€¦ â€œWeâ€™re going to have a Ho Chi Minh strategy. Weâ€™re going to wear them down slowly by picking at them like mosquitoes.â€
When trying to build consensus… â€œ100% of the people donâ€™t agree 100% of the time.â€
When addressing an obstructionist vocal minorityâ€¦ â€œItâ€™s a 51% world.â€
When dealing with strong-minded people who all know their way was the only wayâ€¦ â€œThere is often more than one right solution.â€
When talking with members about the need to divide the resources to benefit allâ€¦ â€œWhen we donâ€™t have enough apples, we make applesauce.â€
Responding to TV reporters about Gov. Dick Thornburghâ€™s liquor-store privatization planâ€¦ â€œWeâ€™re going to hang him from his jockstrap.â€
And when trying to close the deal â€¦ â€œYou got to know when to cut bait and when to fish.â€
â€œOn behalf of my family and everyone here at Local 1776 who worked with my father, Wendell W. Young III, I want to express my thanks for the outpouring of support from so many members and friends on Dadâ€™s passing on New Yearâ€™s Day at age 74.
â€œWendell III, as we called him for years, was one of the most progressive leaders in our state and nation. He never stopped working on behalf of the men and women he was proud to represent, and never stopped enjoying meeting and talking with you.
â€œI plan to carry my Dadâ€™s lessons into the efforts the Local continues to make for all of our members. My fatherâ€™s wife Kathy, my brothers and I thank you for standing with us as we recognize Dadâ€™s life work.â€
A POWERFUL TEAM
President Wendell W. Young IV speaks well of his executive team of Secretary-Treasurer Michele Kessler and Recorder Barbara Johnson as they operate from their headquarters in Plymouth Meeting with branches in Pittstown, Biglersville and Harrisburg. His Communications Director is Tara Innamorato.
The union traces its beginning to 1937 when the Retail Clerks & Managers Protective Association was founded by employees of American Stores, A&P and Food Fair. In 1962 Wendell W. Young III was selected Chief Executive Officer of Local 1357 which grew as
State liquor-store clerks joined the ranks along with food-processing, boot-and-shoe-factory and health-care workers, clerical and professional administrators, insurance agents, barbers, hairdressers and cosmetologists.
Two years after Wendell III was elected, Food Fair hired 1,000 strike-breakers in what became known in organized-labor circles as an â€œhistoric strikeâ€.
Growing all the time, Local 1357 changed its number to â€œ1776â€ in May 1989.
In 2004, Wendell Young IV became the president of Local 1776, continuing to champion the causes and welfare of his far-flung union members as did his dad before him.
Get him to talk about his life in the Young household and he will introduce you to a family of community movers and shakers, founders of Catholic churches, active in politics and in labor, where duty and family were the motivations.
â€œI grew up in a liberal progressive household in Northeast Philadelphia, around the Oxford Circle. The Tartagliones were neighbors. Dad was everywhere, an activist. The one thing he did, I havenâ€™t is getting himself elected as a Democratic ward leader.â€
HISTORY OF STRUGGLE
Young adds, â€œMy involvement in the union didnâ€™t happen overnight. It was a slow process. At 16 I worked in a Penn Fruit Store. That wasnâ€™t all. My father would have me volunteering around the union, leafleting, picketing and canvassing for political candidates before I was eligible to vote.
â€œI learned the reality of life and the key role unions play in the lives of working men and women when in the late â€™70s, the country was in a major recession, and the Penn Fruit Store at 5th & Luzerne, where I was then working, closed.
â€œFollowing that was a closure of the Food Fair chain, affecting hundreds of employees. Jobs were going overseas by the thousands. Unions were suffering. But suffering the most were those whose retail jobs were all they knew. It was then I knew I had to volunteer even more than I had in the past. I found myself spending months walking picket lines. I volunteered as an organizer at the age of 17. Saving the unions and decent wages became serious business.â€
That role he feels gave his life serious purpose. â€œThis was to be my job. I went to work at Acme, which had bought up Penn Fruit Stores. I soon found myself elected as a shop steward. More and more the union asked me to do lead organizing campaigns. I had gotten good at that.
â€œI wanted to get involved fuller in union activities, but my dad wanted another life for me. I actually hoped one day to open a supermarket and had a financial backer. But in 1983, at the age of 23, the union members pressed my dad to let me work for the union full time.
â€œThat is when I fully realized the dedication and love my dad gave to our local. I was proud to work with him. I became a union organizer at entry level and for much of the next decade was absorbed in organizing and representation duties.â€
He recalls a major effort to organize the French retail giant Carrefour was his biggest challenge. â€œWe won, but their losses eventually did them in.â€
There were a lot of picket lines in those days and unions were struggling to maintain membership and decent contracts. He found himself involved in every level. At the same, the local grew as national unions merged, pressing it to take on more members, including those in other occupations. His local now not only represented employees in Philadelphia, but now covered many in Pennsylvania and then into other states.
As his dad neared retirement, Wendell IV found himself working closely with Secretary-Treasurer Herman Wooden and his dad. When Wendell III decided not to run for reelection, he said â€œI decided to run for that post. I campaigned and I won.â€
Today he carries a host of union obligations including Vice Presidency of the International Union, a post he has held since 2006. He is proud of the fact he also chairs the Trustees Committee of the International Foundation, which dedicates itself to educating trustees to insure pensions are properly invested and benefit workers.
Wendell IV turned 52 last September. He sees labor constantly fighting an uphill battle. â€œI am proud to say we were early supporters of Barack Obama and I was a member of the electoral college.â€ He was also a delegate to the Democratic Convention last time and an Obama supporter.
One of his chronic fights has been to keep Pennsylvania Liquor Stores from being privatized. â€œI wrote my first paper in college, while working as a retail clerk, on why Pennsylvania Liquor Stores should never be privatized. Seems Republican Governors see it as a holy grail.â€
A main stay of his efforts has been to insure labor did not take a fall against the iconic super-giant retailers. It was his unionâ€™s leadership and efforts that led to the rebirth of A&P. We helped promote investment by the Commonwealth in family owned supermarkets that now have put an end to whole areas in neighborhoods were fresh fruit was never available.â€
An example of how his union leadership thinks out of the box is the fact when the owners of the Acme chain planned to sell it off and close it, affecting 18,000 jobs, â€œmy dad was able to get other unions to help him buying the stock-option plan to keep others from doing so, their parent company pulled the Acme chain off the market and agreed to work with the union to reenergize the chain.â€
Another example of innovation was a move by the union to save a chocolate-processing plant in Hazleton which had been slated for closure in a major reduction of similar facilities owned by one company. His union agreed to concessions in return for guarantees the company would reinvest in the plant to help its employees produce better and cheaper chocolate. â€œThat move saved this plant, which is still growing, and we now have hundreds more employees.â€
Wendell is proud of the fact his executive board reflects the diversity of the unionâ€™s membership. â€œMen, women, Black, white, colored, straight and otherwise, working together for the membership.â€
He also points to the unionâ€™s openness to suggestions: â€œWe look at contracts from both sides â€¦ we give and the other side gives as well.â€