By John McNamara
New Britain’s and SEIU’s Art Perry died this week after an extended and brave battle with cancer at the age of 63.
I knew and will not forget Art as a union organizer of fighting spirit and boundless optimism through too many political and union organizing campaigns to count. He worked at it for 34 years mostly for District 1199 and from 2004 to 2011 as political director for SEIU’s 32BJ – a period of inspiring and successful union drives at public and private employers on behalf of janitors who won better wages and working conditions for the first time.
In New Britain Art Perry, with Susan McKinley Perry, always has been here for progressive candidates and working people, mostly winning and sometimes losing, but always standing up for fairness and social justice. “You are who you hang with,” he quipped last year. And Art Perry was one of us in the labor movement and progressive politics in New Britain.
In 2011 Art joined the CT Labor Department in the commissioner’s office where he applied his organizing skills to public policy and allocating resources to job creation and workplace rights. Notable has been Art Perry’s work to bring the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program to Connecticut. JAG is a national non-profit working with state-based organizations delivering supports and interventions to help “most at risk” young people stay in school, get to college and obtain sustainable jobs. Says Liz Dupont-Diehl, the JAG-CT Director: “Art was the heart and soul of Jobs for America’s Graduates, Connecticut. It would not exist without him. He worked tirelessly to bring this program to CT and it has already touched hundreds of young people.” The JAG program has been established at New Britain High School and in other communities in Connecticut since it began.
There are sure to be many war stories and remembrances of Art’s work and life in the days ahead that will let Susan, Art’s sons, and family know that they are not alone in their sorrow. “To many people he was a mentor, a leader and a walking vacation if they needed,” posted his son Joshua Perry. “To our family he was an individual of never-ending wisdom, subtle smoothness, and a provider of the deepest love you could find.”
I am better for having known Art Perry because he was able to instill some of that fighting spirit and boundless optimism in me.