Throwback Thursday: AFSCME Retiree John Henry Lewis

By Pete Levine ·

For John Henry Lewis, retiring to Florida after a career spent working on behalf of members of District Council 37 (DC 37) wasn’t the end of his union involvement. In fact, it was only the beginning of his second chapter with AFSCME. 

Q. What job did you do while working? For how long did you do it?

I was an examiner for New York’s Housing and Development Administration. I started in 1962 and became a shop steward my first year. I became a council representative for DC 37’s Schools Division and eventually got a scholarship through them to attend Cornell University’s School of Industrial Relations. I worked in several different capacities for the union after that. 

Q. What do you miss most about working?

I miss working! I like to say ‘I’ve retired but I haven’t expired.’ That’s why I decided in 2003 to organize a retiree chapter of New Yorkers here in Florida.

Q. What did being a working member of AFSCME mean to you? 

It gave us a voice. Back when I was working, management always had the upper hand. I believed that workers had rights and needed to be treated fairly. When I worked in the Bronx, for instance, we’d have bomb scares in our building and management didn’t want us to evacuate. But I’d tell people to vacate the building. It was about safety. We deserved a seat at the table.

Q. What does having a secure retirement allow you to do now? 

It allows me to help and give back to my brothers and sisters who are retired. Some can’t help themselves or live independently. We’re here to help them. We’re like a family. We have a picnic every year and we have health fairs, talks from legislators and other community events.

Q. What do you enjoy most about retirement? What is your favorite thing to do?

I enjoy the freedom! I’m still involved in political issues. A big one right now is Janus v. AFSCME, which we’re really upset about and spreading the word about how it’ll hurt working families.