Washington, D.C. – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on May 1, 2023 spoke on the Senate floor on Terry O’Sullivan retiring as General President of Laborers’ International Union of North America.
“Today it brings me immense joy, gratitude, and a little sadness to pay tribute to a giant of American labor, a hero of working families, and a leader who truly stands in a category all his own: Terry O’Sullivan, who Friday retired as General President of the Laborers, or LIUNA, after more than two decades. Over the years, Terry has become one of the dearest friends I have had in Washington.
There would be no expansive middle class in America without the labor movement, and the labor movement would not be the same today without Terry O’Sullivan and LIUNA. The proud members of LIUNA helped build our roads, our bridges and tunnels and office buildings and housing. Under Terry’s leadership, LIUNA – the laborer’s union, as it is fondly known – has become one of the most impactful unions of the twenty first century.
It was under Terry’s watch that LIUNA workers helped clean up the wreckage of Ground Zero after 9/11. Under his watch LIUNA built its first-ever high school for students to enter construction work. And it was LIUNA that organized immigrants and supported comprehensive immigration reform. So unsurprisingly, anyone who knows Terry knows his loyalty lies in one place and in one place alone: the working families of LIUNA and of America in general.
And I know this personally: my cousin Abe Weinshall was a proud member of Local 79, the hod carriers in New York, and they treated him so, so well, even when he had a severe illness, because the health care the laborers were able to get was top notch.
Terry’s loyalty has been very long. It’s a loyalty that first drew breath in the early years of his childhood, having been raised in a union household as the son of a LIUNA secretary treasurer, Terence J. O’Sullivan. At 11, Terry attended his first LIUNA convention – he started early – and from then on there was no turning back: he became a proud card carrying member for life.
After becoming LIUNA General President in 2000, Terry spent the next two decades growing, modernizing, and expanding LIUNA into one of the greatest advocates for working Americans in this century. In the face of radical wealth polarization, Terry won better wages, better benefits, greater say about working conditions for his union members in LIUNA and his fellow Americans.
I’ve known Terry a very long time. Terry first stood out to me because even at the most formal events in Washington, I noticed that Terry never wore a tie. We joke about that. But over the years, Terry has become a confidant, a brother, and someone I’ve turned to for advice and guidance again and again over the years. Some of my most enjoyable evenings in Washington were dinners with Terry, and Yvette, his wife, and a good glass of wine.
To listen to Terry speak is to hear a man on fire with love for his country and with love for the working families of America.
To watch Terry work is to see someone singularly dedicated to his mission. And he’s someone equally at ease in the boardroom, the labor rally, and the construction site. He doesn’t miss a beat going from one to the other.
And of course, Terry is famous for his candid style and no-nonsense attitude. He’s from California; I’m from Brooklyn; but we share that direct speaking way. If you cross Terry’s path or the path of working families, you’ll quickly find out you’ve made a powerful adversary. But if you win Terry’s heart, you’ll discover you’d found a lifelong friend, as I have discovered.
Of course, Terry’s legacy is not just felt in America but around the world: he is a proud supporter of a united Ireland and Irish workers. Terry and I have worked together on so many Irish issues, and we have agreed to continue working together on them in the years ahead.
So for me, this is not really a goodbye. Terry and I will stay good friends, working on the causes we believe in, and hopefully having some nice dinners at his and Yvette’s home on the Eastern shore.
The work Terry began will certainly continue. The fights he advanced shall go on. And as we celebrate Terry’s well-earned retirement, we wish him and his family the very, very best on their next adventure.”