For Immediate Release
Contact: Natalia Pérez Santos

Legendary former AFSCME President Jerry McEntee dies. Rest in power, brother.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders released the following statement on the passing of AFSCME President Emeritus Gerald W. McEntee:

“AFSCME, the labor movement and the nation have lost a legend with ‘the heart of a lion,’ as President Bill Clinton described him.

“Jerry McEntee was a visionary leader and one of the most fearless, ferocious advocates working people have ever had. Standing up for people who strengthen their communities through public service was his passion and his life’s work. From the moment he became an AFSCME member 66 years ago, he has never let up in the fight.

“He cut his teeth in Pennsylvania, organizing public sector workers in his native Philadelphia and at the state level. As Executive Director of AFSCME Council 13, he was the driving force behind a historic victory securing collective bargaining rights for state employees in 1970.

“As our president for 31 years, he led AFSCME to historic growth, putting in place one of the labor movement’s strongest and most aggressive organizing programs. He made AFSCME a political powerhouse, with his innate understanding that political action was essential to giving working people a voice, from the White House down to every city council across the country.

“With Jerry at the helm, AFSCME played a difference-making role in the passage of countless landmark federal laws empowering working people – from the Americans with Disabilities Act to the Family and Medical Leave Act to the Affordable Care Act and many more. And Jerry led the fight against privatization and the outsourcing of vital public services. He mobilized an army of AFSCME retirees and working members to defeat then-President George W. Bush’s reckless scheme to privatize Social Security.

“Jerry was ahead of the curve on vital issues of racial justice, civil rights and anti-discrimination of all kinds. Under his leadership, AFSCME made pay equity for women a major bargaining issue, became a key player in the Free South Africa movement and was one of the first unions to be on the front lines of the struggle for LGBTQ equality.

“No matter how powerful and influential he became, Jerry never stopped being a working-class guy from Philadelphia’s Swampoodle neighborhood. He spoke the language of working people, and he used that voice to produce change and get results.

“He was also a man of joyful, infectious energy, a lively storyteller with a tremendous sense of humor. His down-to-earth charm drew people to him, just one of the qualities that made him a great leader. On a personal note, I am grateful for his years of friendship, for the trust he put in me and the time he took to mentor me. I have been proud to succeed him and continue his work. Rest in power, brother.”