Field Organizer Omar el-Malah died in his sleep on June 26 at age 39. Doctors gave the cause of death as acid reflux.
He joined the UE staff in 2003, with previous experience working for several other labor unions. His primary assignments in UE were in New England and the Mid-Atlantic area, although he frequently worked in other parts of the country to assist UE campaigns.
“Omar was not only a dear friend, but a comrade and co-worker for many of us in the UE and the broader progressive movement,” said UE General President Peter Knowlton. “Fighting for militant democratic unionism and working class ideals were paramount for him, and he had true compassion for UE members. He possessed all the tools it takes to be an exemplary trade union organizer. His intellectual wit, directness, and level-headed approach to political or international issues will be missed. None of us is irreplaceable but there was no one quite like Omar, and we grieve for him and his family.”
El-Malah worked with Local 279 at Weir Valve on their 2014 negotiations and three-week strike. "The news of Omar’s passing really shook our local,” said Chief Steward Jason Gallant. “He was the embodiment of everything a union brother should be. He taught us to stand and fight against the status quo. Omar inspired us to be the local we are today, and he'll never know how much he truly meant to us. It's not every day you meet someone as passionate about their work as Omar was. He was doing the job he was born to do. He was brilliant at the bargaining table, a virtuoso of contract language, and a true warrior for the labor movement.”
“But more importantly, he was our friend,” continued Gallant. “I can't express how much of an honor that was. His unapologetic nature, his energetic and sometimes inappropriately timed laugh, and contempt for authority are what made Omar amazing. I've never met a more genuine person in my life. Words can't convey how much he will be missed. Sleep well, brother. You've left your mark on this world for so many of us, and we're eternally grateful for it. "
UE Director of Organization Gene Elk said, “Omar loved UE and cherished our principles of rank-and-file unionism and aggressive struggle. He was a tireless fighter for the working class. It was an incredible tragedy that Omar passed away at the young age of 39. UE will miss Omar, his dedication, and the hard work he contributed to building our union.”
Former Director of Organization Bob Kingsley, who hired el-Malah and under whom he worked for most of his time with UE, says: “Omar's passing is a loss to UE and to the labor movement at large. He was one of those special organizers the union called upon for the most challenging of assignments, often crisscrossing the country to aid organizing campaigns or assist members in need. Omar was a true militant who understood rank-and-file unionism and appreciated labor's role in the broader fight for social justice. He was as tough as the picket lines on which he marched with our members during difficult strikes at Weir Valve in Massachusetts and Tinius Olsen in Pennsylvania. He was an activist. He was a fighter. He will be missed."
A memorial service will be held later this summer, and details will be announced on the UE website.