Workers United Union Hall, Rochester, NY
June 16, 2016
I have the task of introducing our other honoree Denise Young. I was told to keep my remarks short; a most difficult assignment when describing her incredible contributions to the movements for social and economic justice. Although the leaflet announcing this event said “no speeches,” it appears that was a negotiating position, not a hard and fast rule. So, to begin,
I imagine, the FBI file pages are probably labeled something like this:
– Daughter of a Methodist minister.
– American University, Washington, DC.
– Protester against the Vietnam War.
– Welfare rights advocate while raising her young daughter.
– Attendee World Peace Council, Helsinki, Finland.
– Metro-Act executive director.
– Graduate student SUNY Brockport.
– Organizing director, Local 1199 Rochester Health Care Employees Union.
– Organizer, NYS Public Employees Federation.
– Instructor, NYS School of Industrial and Labor Relations/Cornell Univ.
– Life partner of the infamous James Schmidt (see other large file).
– Serious classical music singer; also piano player and jazz aficionado.
– Union leader.
– President, Metro-Justice of Rochester Inc.
– Miscellaneous other agitations, bad associates, and conspiratorial activities.
Denise Young has been involved in almost every progressive issue in our community since moving to Rochester, and before that; peace, racial justice, worker power; you name it.
I don’t remember exactly when I first met Denise. She seems to always have been there. Maybe it was the People’s Power Coalition of the 1970s, fighting “corporate greed” before it even had that name.
I know we worked together filling buses to the AFL-CIO’s first Solidarity Day event, to protest the Reagan administration’s anti-worker policies.
In the 1980s, Denise became our local union’s organizing director. She worked at 1199 in the lean years, when we were small and with few resources. Yet, she figured out ways to organize workers and grow the union.
But even more importantly, Denise Young was a moral force who always reminded us what the movement was all about, and what it was not.
Her office was down the hall. I would frequent it often. We would talk strategy and tactics. Inevitably, the discussion would lead to the question: “Do we do the right thing or the smart thing?”
Well, the answer was almost always the “right thing.”
For Denise Young has always done the “right thing,” not the “expedient thing,” not the “selfish thing,” not the “politically correct thing,” but the “right thing.”
She is the authentic conscience of this town’s labor movement and of its progressive community. She is its leader, and far from retiring, I expect we will witness even greater activism in the years to come.
In typical fashion, she insisted on no retirement party, but rather on this fund raising event for a vital cause.*
A very smart woman who always does the right thing, I give you my union sister, my movement comrade, Denise Young.
* Proceeds from this event went to the James Schmidt Fellowship at the Worker Justice Center of New York. If you wish to make a donation, we would greatly appreciate it. Please contact Peg Billyard at [email protected]