Amalgamated Transit Union International President Larry Hanley was eulogized May 14 as a labor leader who was too tough to intimidate but sufficiently gentle to nurture and inspire his members.
“Larry spent his entire life fighting against the bullies and for the common man, the common woman,” Charlie Greinsky, a friend of 33 years, told the roughly 500 mourners inside The Church of Our Lady of Pity in Staten Island, a week after Mr. Hanley died at age 62.
‘Every Day an Adventure’
“Every day with Larry was an adventure,” said Mr. Greinsky, who had previously credited the ATU leader with allowing him to get a job doing advance work for the White House after a career spent in pupil transportation and as one of the founding Commissioners of the NYPD Civilian Complaint Review Board.
He recalled an incident early this century during a hotel workers strike outside the then-Holiday Inn in Staten Island when a police officer approached Mr. Hanley on the picket line and said, “I’m going to arrest you.”
“For what?” the ATU leader replied.
“For having a can of soda on the picket line,” the officer replied, going on to contend that it could be used as a projectile or to douse a member of management, according to Mr. Greinsky.
He said a Captain overseeing the protest was summoned and the arrest averted, but then Mr. Hanley offered a parting shot, telling the officer who had threatened him with arrest, “I’ll do you a favor: you can have the empty can; I’ll give you the nickel.”
‘Loved His Work, Members’
When the laughter subsided, Mr. Greinsky continued that his old friend “lived by the Judeo/Christian creed of help your fellow man…he lifted up minorities, women and gays.”
He concluded, “Larry loved his work. It was his prime interest in life…work and politics and his members.”
The other eulogist, Mr. Hanley’s daughter Monica, told the audience, “He was always, always funny, and his wit was sharp and quick.” During his 15 years as the president of ATU Local 726 representing bus personnel in Staten Island, she recalled that he had his car windows smashed and tires slashed, but “he was never intimidated by any threat he received.”
Ms. Hanley described one instance in which she remembered him being as vulnerable as any father, when she was 5 and “needed to have stitches in my head.” Addressing him directly in his casket, she said, “you held my hand so tight and stared so deep into my eyes. I knew you were just as scared as I was, but showed it differently.”
She closed by talking about his work as a union leader, saying, “His strategy was always built around ‘organize, organize, organize.’”
Mr. Hanley is also survived by his son, Lawrence Jr., and his wife, Thelma.
Built Lasting Bonds
His success in communicating with his members and forming coalitions with other unions, transit advocates and environmentalists on matters ranging from contract battles to campaigns to secure additional funding for mass transit was reflected both in who attended the funeral and the comments of some of them following the hour-long service. Many were friends long before he made the jump to International President of the ATU nearly nine years ago.
Representing the city were First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan and Labor Commissioner Renee Campion. (Mayor de Blasio spoke at a memorial service at Local 726’s Amboy Rd. headquarters in mid-afternoon.)
Organized labor was represented by leaders including AFL-CIO New York City Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez, Service Employees International Union Local 1199 President George Gresham, and ATU Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello, as well as retired Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Roger Toussaint, who worked closely with Mr. Hanley during the latter’s tenure both as Local 726 president and as a staffer and vice president of the International ATU.
Former Mayor David Dinkins, who is 91, made the trip, as did one of his former political aides, Patrick Gaspard, who went on to become White House Director of Political Affairs and U.S. Ambassador to South Africa under President Barack Obama—someone Mr. Hanley didn’t hesitate to criticize when he believed he hadn’t been appreciative enough of what unions meant to the Democratic Party and, more importantly, what they had done to build the middle class in America.
Helped Dinkins Make History
Both Mr. Dinkins and Mr. Gaspard worked with Mr. Hanley when he served as Staten Island chairman of the 1989 Dinkins campaign that ended with the election of the city’s first African-American Mayor.
Among the other political players on hand were Mr. Hanley’s longtime friend, ex-City Councilman Sal Albanese, and three veteran Working Families Party officials—its former executive director, Dan Cantor, state co-chair Bob Master, and state political director Bill Lipton, who took exception to the claim a week earlier in this newspaper by State Sen. Diane Savino that Mr. Hanley had become estranged from the party after co-founding it 21 years ago.
And Gene Russianoff, who founded the Straphangers Campaign 40 years ago and remains its chief spokesman, as well as being a pivotal figure in passage of the city’s Campaign Finance Law three decades ago, was one of the mass-transit advocates who came to say farewell to Mr. Hanley.
Outside the church, Mr. Toussaint—who served as an honorary pallbearer—said pointedly, “Larry was a real leader; among the handful in the labor movement.”
Mr. Greinsky recalled an incident during Staten Island’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 1990 when Mr. Dinkins, in his first year as Mayor, passed a bar called The Bullpen and got a rude reception from some of its patrons. “The derogatory terms started flying, and bottles and cans,” he said. “Larry went over and put his arm around him. Everybody stopped throwing things and calmed down.”
Two men who described him as a mentor also paid tribute. City Councilman Daneek Miller, the former president of ATU Local 1056 in Queens, who recalled “a lotta late-night conversations and said, “I was his disciple. Larry’s the reason why I’m at the Council.” He explained that when he left the union to run for political office in 2013 in the 27th Council District in southeast Queens, “We had [the support of] not just the local but everyone from New York to California” under the ATU banner.
‘Larry Taught Us Well’
And David Bowers, who spent 25 years as a Bus Operator in Staten Island and nearly 20 as a Local 726 shop steward before retiring in 2013, cited the lessons learned from Mr. Hanley during both union protests and quieter conversations.
“I learned to know my contracts, know my sick rules and never go in unprepared” when meeting with management, he said. “Anyone who came in after me knew those things also. Larry taught us well.”
Ed Watt, the former secretary-treasurer of Local 100 who knew Mr. Hanley when both were starting their careers as Bus Operators and Local 100 members based in Brooklyn’s Flatbush Depot (a transfer in the early 1980s to Staten Island accelerated Mr. Hanley’s union career, allowing him in 1987 at age 31 to become Local 726’s youngest president), also served as an honorary pallbearer.
Asked what he remembered most about his former colleague, Mr. Watt said, “He never forgot where he came from, and whether you turned a wheel or you turned a wrench, he always had your back.”
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