A memorial to Albert Lee, CWA Local 1101 Executive Board member and so much more

He was a Shop Steward, Chief Steward, and served on the CWA Local 1101 Executive Board as Secretary from 1996-2003. Al retired from the company (currently Verizon, formerly Bell System, New York Telephone Company aka Ma Bell, NYNEX & Bell Atlantic) in 2003.

Al became a Chief Steward in the early 80’s and was one of the first Black Chief Stewards in 1101. He was a delegate to many CWA conventions, served on the CWA Minority Caucus and was active in the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.

In 1982 Al spearheaded a successful campaign to allow phone company employees to donate via their paychecks to the Black United Fund of New York. Up until that point, the United Way was the only distribution option for phone company employees.

At the CWA 56th National Convention then-Local 1103 President Robert McCracken talked about Phyllis Cole-Hollis, an 1103 Business Agent who was in need of a bone marrow transplant. The dilemma was that not many African Americans were in the bone marrow registry, making it difficult to find matches. The union launched a National Marrow Donor Campaign to educate members about the donor process and encourage them to sign up, in order to expand the donor database.

CWA Local 1101 President Ed Dempsey charged Chief Steward Al Lee with setting up the campaign for Local 1101. Al organized a core group to go to all work locations in Local 1101’s jurisdiction. CWA Local 1105 and the Company were vital partners in the campaign, which went on for over a year. The data base increased with a large number of African American donors and resulted in several marrow matches.

Barbara Biggs Glover, a retiree and former Chief Steward at 5030 Broadway, recalls Al spearheading efforts where phone company volunteers worked with Hale House, a Harlem-based charity dedicated to helping babies born addicted to drugs, raising funds, distributing diapers and other necessities, and providing essential support.

Al was sent by the union to South Africa in 1994 as a delegate to help oversee the election of Nelson Mandela. He saw the conditions of South African schools in poor communities, and dedicated himself to building a school in South Africa. He raised the money and he built a school. As his daughter said “He BUILT that school.” Al continued to travel to South Africa, fundraising and supporting the school for years.

“He did a lot. He was a lot of things to a lot of people,” said retiree and former 36 Street Chief Steward Anita Lathan. “You needed help he was the go-to person. He’d point you in the right direction.”

Al helped organize the Local’s presence at African American day parade, a legacy that continues today. As his daughter said at his funeral, he always told his kids ‘This parade isn’t a hobby. It’s our heritage and our history.’

Al stayed active at the Local, a regular attendee at the Retired Members Council meetings. He was a leader in CWA 1101 for many years, a tireless community activist, and he will be missed.