Jack Ahern: An introduction to the new head of the NYC Central Labor Council

“It never seemed to me to be a choice that I would be anything but a union member,” - Jack Ahern

Found a great article in Crain's: New York Business about our new leader of the New York City Central Trades and Labor Council:
Jack Ahern: Organizing his world
NYC Central Labor Council head will work to protect jobs, bring federal stimulus to city
Daniel Massey

Jack Ahern got his first union card while still in high school, mopping floors in New York City public schools.

Earlier this month, he took charge of 1.4 million card-carrying workers, becoming president of the New York City Central Labor Council.

Mr. Ahern grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in an Irish-American family of carpenters and firefighters—one where dinnertime conversation centered on the union.

“It never seemed to me to be a choice that Ihttp://img183.imageshack.us/img183/8322/image1mw9.jpg would be anything but a union member,” he says.

Mr. Ahern dropped out of Brooklyn College in 1973 to become an apprentice with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 30. As a union member, he worked at Starrett City and Madison Square Garden, but his real education took place at a recycling plant in Hempstead, L.I., where he helped workers organize to win their first union contract.

“Coming from a union job, I could see the difference in working conditions and the way people were treated,” he says.

Over two decades, he worked his way up through Local 30, winning election as business manager and financial secretary, the union's top position, in 1996.

Many successes

He has successfully negotiated hundreds of contracts for the 4,000-member Queens-based local, including one for 76 workers at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center off Long Island following a two-year strike earlier this decade. Mr. Ahern got Sen. Hillary Clinton and others to intervene, helping the workers win a new deal.

In 2006, Mr. Ahern became vice president of the CLC, helping the organization regain its footing after the Brian McLaughlin racketeering scandal. He was instrumental in securing the group's deal with the city for union jobs and good wages at Willets Point. And he cemented his reputation as an even-keeled consensus builder when he brought Buildings Department, labor and elected officials together last year following several high-profile construction accidents.

"He knows people sometimes start from different points or have different perspectives," says City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who was involved in the safety discussions. "Instead of saying, 'Forget about it,' he says, `How can we execute it?' "

Big task

But now, Mr. Ahern faces perhaps his toughest challenge: taking control of the umbrella group for the city's 400 unions during an unprecedented financial crisis.

He replaces Gary La Barbera, who left to head the powerful state Building and Construction Trades Council.

“The economy is the biggest issue in every union hall,” Mr. Ahern says.

Atop the union leader's agenda is making sure the city gets a fair share of the federal economic stimulus. He's also working on the city's congressional delegation, encouraging them to make passage of the Employee Free Choice Act—which would help workers organize—a priority. Shielding New Yorkers from layoffs and working with the city on economic development deals like the one for Willets Point are also part of his plan.

“Whenever there's an issue, he gets everybody in the room and makes sure all voices are heard,” said James Callahan, president of IUOE Local 15. “You have so many diverse opinions and personalities, and he's the guy that can get them all together.”

PERSONNEL FILE
ORGANIZATION New York City Central Labor Council
TITLE President
AGE 55
RÉSUMÉ Business manager, IUOE Local 30; floor cleaner, NYC public schools
MANAGEMENT STYLE Consensus builder
HOBBY Reading history books

The NYCCLC site also add's to Mr. Aherns resume:
In addition to his positions with the Operating Engineers, Jack also serves the labor movement as an Officer and a Delegate to many labor affiliates and councils. He serves as Vice-Chairperson to the NYC Municipal Labor Committee and on the U.S. Department of Labor Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship. He also served on the NYS Governor's Transition Team, Vice President Westchester-Putnam Central Labor Council, Long Island Federation of Labor, and the Nassau-Suffolk Building Trades Council. Jack holds positions on the Stationary Engineers Committee, I.U.O.E., the Executive Board of the Northeastern States Conference of Operating Engineers and as a Trustee of the National Association of Power Engineers Chapter 11 and the Irish American Labor Coalition.
Jack, like his predecessor Gary Labarbera, is another strong labor leader who can empathize with the needs of the 400+ member unions and the common worker's here in New York.

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