UE Mourns Former District 6 President John Lambiase

February 15, 2024

John Lambiase, who served as president of UE District Six from 1998 to 2005, passed away on January 3. He led his first strike at age 15, when he was a steward at a grocery store in Brooklyn. After a stint working for the United Farm Workers and volunteering on the 1979 UE strike at Kraco in Los Angeles, he was hired as a UE field organizer and assigned to work with locals in Connecticut.

He moved to Erie, Pennsylvania, where he worked on UE’s efforts to organize workers industry-wide with the Plastics Workers Organizing Committee. In October of 1998 he was elected president of UE District Six, which covered the western half of Pennsylvania, western upstate New York, and West Virginia. His widow Mary McGinn, a former UE organizer herself, recalled that being chosen to lead the UE members of his district was his proudest moment.

“I always loved going to his district meetings,” said McGinn. “He would always have some educational component like a movie. At one it was about the Memphis sanitation workers and how they had organized their strike. In another, he gave out powerful quotes from Frederick Douglass and asked people to say what they meant to them.

“He was also always trying to get the members to talk and share their experiences with each other.”

Lambiase stepped down from his position in 2005 and moved to Massachusetts for family reasons, and returned to the UE staff, working with locals in Connecticut until a stroke in 2008 forced him to retire.

In retirement, Lambiase remained active in his community. During the Trump administration, he joined protests against the president’s anti-worker and anti-immigrant policies and, more recently, he was involved in labor solidarity with Palestine. He also, according to McGinn, “continued to share his union stories and political insights” with those around him — including his physical therapist, whose belief that physical therapists need a union prompted her client to share his accumulated organizing experience with her.

Lambiase enjoying retirement in his Cornell University t-shirt.

Last November, Lambiase was pleased to see the UE triumph among graduate workers at Cornell University, where he attended the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. As a student, he occupied the administration building to protest the university’s support of the Vietnam War; in the early 2000s, as District Six president, he traveled to Ithaca to meet with an organizing committee of Cornell grad workers.

“His perspective was unique as the UE is unique,” said McGinn. “He really practiced the true UE philosophy.”

This article was updated on February 17 to reflect the fact that Lambiase worked at a grocery store in Brooklyn, not upstate New York, as was originally posted, and printed in the print edition of the UE NEWS.


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