By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
Lifelong union activist James W. Welsh, 90, passed away on Feb. 5. He was president of NYC Laborers Local 924 for 10 years and retired in 2001.
“President Jimmy Welsh was not only a mentor but a true friend,” said Kyle Simmons, Local 924 President. “Everyone who knew him would agree that he was the nicest man who never raised his voice and always had something good to say. He was a special human being who was never thrown off balance; he always got his point across. I will always miss his leadership and mentoring he provided me over the last 20 years.”
James Welsh transferred from City University to the Parks Dept. in 1955 and worked in St. James Park in the Bronx as an Assistant Gardener. He became a City Laborer in the late 1950s. Welsh said he got active in the union “to see how his dues money was being spent.”
Welsh became a union shop steward and one of DC 37’s original grievance reps, said retired Blue Collar Division Director Jose Sierra. He served as Local 924 secretary and members elected him local president in 1991, after Joe Zurlo retired. Welsh was the local’s third president. He also served as a vice president of DC 37’s executive board when the union was under administratorship. By the time Welsh retired, he had spent more than 46 years on labor’s frontline, fighting for workers’ rights at rallies, demonstrations, protests and labor conventions.
City Laborers comprised the largest local in DC 37 during the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. James Welsh stood out as a dedicated activist who helped built DC 37 into a powerful and progressive labor union. On the frontlines with Lillian Roberts and Victor Gotbaum, City Laborers helped DC 37 face down headstrong mayors and tyrannical commissioners like Robert Moses, who “never respected unions or the working people of the city,” said Welsh.
Welsh stood with DC 37 in the Civil Rights Movement and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
City blue-collar workers in DC 37 shut down NYC in 1971, leaving trucks idle on major roadways and bridges to demand respect, fair wages and prevent layoffs. These militant strategies helped the union win health benefits, protections and dignity for all city workers.
Mr. Welsh said, “At that time there was no pension, no collective bargaining, no health benefits to speak of. We had to fight for everything we got.”
“Working with James Welsh was a real eye opener,” said Simmons. “He gave me an education in labor history and organization. Always a gentleman, his door was always open and he was always willing to help.”
”Jimmy was an old school labor leader,” said Jim Tucciarelli, a retired DC 37 executive VP and Local 1320 president. “Jimmy helped organize the Council under Joe Zurlo. Jimmy was a dedicated leader who fought for his members yet was a gentle, warm-hearted individual that I am proud to call a friend. He will be missed by all who knew him.”