Remarks in Remembrance of George Goodman
Temple Beth El
Rochester, New York
July 1, 2016
George Goodman was a true hero.
I first met George when I was 17 or 18 years old, as a freshman at the University of Rochester. There was this cook at the Sage Dining Center who people said looked like Burl Ives. He told a lot of jokes, and made the campus feel a little bit more like home for the students he encountered. That was George Goodman.
I got a job in UR’s Rush Rhees Library after I graduated. It was the time when service workers were organizing a union on UR campuses. George was skeptical at first, checking out every aspect of this union, but after a successful recognition election, he joined the union’s negotiating committee, vowing to make this “the best union ever.”
When the contract talks bogged down, several hundred service workers went on strike in September, 1975, risking it all to achieve fair working conditions. Four of us, Organizer Larry Fox, Corinne Conover, George, and I stayed up all night in a Henrietta hotel trying to reach a settlement with administration representatives, but to no avail. The strike went on, and George Goodman was one of its most important leaders. He inspired other workers to find the courage to walk off the job, and to take on one of the most powerful institutions in Rochester.
Day five of the strike, with support from students and faculty, the workers won. UR conceded and agreed to our first union contract, one that was similar to the agreement won by Strong Memorial Hospital workers the year before.
We all returned to work, feeling prouder and stronger. George Goodman was our leader. The workers elected him as a union steward and delegate to our national union’s convention.
In 1977, George could have easily been reelected to the national convention. Instead, he asked me to run because he had heard that I was being considered for an organizer position with the union. George’s unselfish act helped launch what became a lifetime career for me.
George Goodman mentored other future organizers like Dan Butler and Rickey Elliott. His workplace, UR Food Service, became known as the “George Goodman School of Trade Unionism.” Other leaders emerged from there like David Ares, Shirley Barnes, Dawn Marshall-Hosier, and many union Delegates.
A rookie organizer at the time, David Pickus worked with us to form that first union committee. He wrote to me this week, “Sorry to hear of George’s passing. A wonderful guy and great trade unionist. He will be missed.” David is now the president of 1199 New England representing 30,000 health care employees in Connecticut and Rhode Island. He is another person, who in his youth, was encouraged and influenced by George Goodman.
George always carried a union contract book in the pocket of his white cook’s coat. He knew it practically by heart. He taught its meaning to other workers, and just how important it was to keeping decent working conditions. He told new employees of the sacrifices made by those before them, just to get that contract.
George Goodman understood the principle of “solidarity.” He walked many other picket lines. He served for many years on the Local 1199-Rochester union’s executive committee.
George was always fair and honest in his dealings with management and with the workers who he represented.
He continued to serve generations of UR students, always with a sense of humor, and a welcoming attitude that never quit.
But his greatest legacy is that union contract.
Today, in an era when many colleges have subcontracted their services to employers who pay minimal wages and few benefits, the service workers at the University of Rochester earn a living wage. They have good health insurance and retirement security, education and training opportunities, child care support, and dignity and respect on the job – in no small measure because of George Goodman.
George Goodman was a true hero; a true hero to me, a true hero to the many union activists he motivated; a true hero to the members of Local 1199 in Rochester, and to countless UR service workers who enjoy the fruits of his labor.