Dec. 15, 2017

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UUP mourns passing of former president Wakshull

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Sam Wakshull, UUP’s second president and one of its founding members, passed away Dec. 12.

Wakshull, 95, was UUP’s president from 1975 through 1981, and guided the fledgling union during its early years. UUP made many gains during Wakshull’s time as president, including securing minimum salaries for full-time employees, guaranteed salary increases, term life insurance, and a stipulation prohibiting unilateral decisions by SUNY presidents.

“He was one of our union’s founding fathers and he set us on the path to become the nation’s largest and most powerful higher education union,” said UUP President Fred Kowal. “We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his service. He will be missed.”

“Everybody needs a union, and one of the biggest problems today is that unions are losing membership,” Wakshull said in a 2013 interview with The Voice, UUP’s membership magazine. “We need to educate our members and the community about unions, to talk about what unionism really means. Otherwise, everyone is going to suffer.”

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Growing the union

Wakshull’s goal was to build UUP’s membership and it was one of his greatest successes as UUP president. Spurred by the union’s focus on winning better wages and benefits for part-time employees, the union’s membership nearly tripled—to 11,500—by the end of his time as president.

“The only way I thought you were going to build a union is to have everyone feel as though they are included,” said Wakshull in a 1992 interview, part of “Our Voices,” SUNY Buffalo State’s oral history project. “You also had a means of getting to the membership.”

Wakshull, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II, was on UUP’s first Executive Board and served as vice president for academics in 1974. He also helped form the State University Federation of Teachers, which represented academics on five SUNY campuses from 1968 until 1970, when it lost an election to the Senate Professional Association to be SUNY’s primary bargaining representative.

“(Joining a union) was a new concept for the people we were trying to organize, and many had never been approached to form a union,” Wakshull said. “Many faculty members figured that unions were for electricians, plumbers or people who built cars.”

Wakshull spent nearly 30 years at Buffalo State, teaching in the Exceptional Education Department. He retired in 1991.

Click her to read Wakshull’s obituary in the Buffalo News.

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