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In loving memory of
James Lasala
  • November 07, 1926
  • -
  • October 08, 2022

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Obituary

James (Jim) La Sala passed away on October 8, 2022 in Fort Myers, Florida.  He was one month shy of his 96th birthday and had lived many of those years to the fullest. 

He was an altar boy, an amazing athlete and avid bowler, a war veteran, a bus driver, a union steward who eventually became the leader of an international union, a father and grandfather, and a loving partner to his longtime companion Julie Knight.

He was predeceased by two spouses, Martha and Dottie who gave him six beautiful children, Kathy, Patty, Jimmy, Johnny, Kenny and Barry, ten grandchildren, Danielle, Holly, Matthew, Madison, Anna, Jake, Luke, Sophia, Luca, and Theo, and six great grandchildren.  He leaves behind his sister Angie and her family, and he was predeceased by his brother Ben. 

Jim’s grandparents immigrated to the United States from Santa Ninfa, Palermo, Sicily.  Jim’s parents, John and Catherine (Kate), raised Jim and his siblings in New Brunswick, NJ, instilling in them the value of hard work and Sicilian traditions that Jim enjoyed throughout his life. 

As soon as he graduated High School at age 17, Jim joined the United States Navy.  He served our country in World War II on the “USS Vogelgesang” a Gearing-class Destroyer in the 7th fleet.  After his discharge, he took a position as a bus driver in New Brunswick, NJ.  He joined ATU Local 824, was elected shop steward and went on to serve in a number of positions. In 1968, he joined the ATU International staff and was elected International President in 1986.  

He was a formidable leader, making the union a powerful force advocating for its members. The ATU was much more than a job for Jim. It was a purposeful lifetime honor to represent transit workers throughout the US and Canada. He was forever shaped by his time with the ATU and he continued to attend their annual conferences until he passed. His license plate read ATU1. 

Jim had a lifetime love and affection for the state of Florida, traveling there as a bus driver and for decades worth of family vacations.  He spent his post-retirement years in Fort Myers, Florida with Julie by his side and loved having family and friends visit. 

True to his Sicilian roots, Jim made spaghetti sauce every Sunday and passed that tradition along to all of his children and his grandchildren. In his later years the process became a bit messy (and in one famous batch he ended up losing a ring down the kitchen sink drain), but the sauce was always delicious.

In his retirement he wrote a memoir in order to pass along his life story to future generations. In it he wrote, “I have arrived at this point knowing I have lived a fulfilling life.”  He will be remembered for his compassionate and generous nature. He leaves behind family, friends, colleagues, and an ATU community that are themselves fulfilled by his contributions over the years and who will miss him greatly. 


 

Amalgamated Transit Union press release:

The ATU is very sad to report the passing of International President Emeritus James La Sala on October 8, 2022. La Sala, the ATU’s sixth and second-longest serving International President, held that position for 18 years from 1985 until his retirement in 2003. He was 95.  

“Jim La Sala was a legend in the ATU. Under his leadership, he initiated and revived programs at the International that helped our Union navigate some of the most tumultuous years of its history, including our Greyhound strike,” said ATU International President John Costa. “Jim was a fearless and respected leader who built the ATU into a powerful union. He embodied the ATU and even recently attended our 60th International Convention in Las Vegas. Our sympathies and condolences go out to his longtime partner Julie and the entire La Sala family.”

During his tenure, La Sala expanded ATU education initiatives, broadened ATU legislative programs, revamped ATU Organizing, and revived the ATU-COPE program.

In 1985, La Sala chose International Vice President Oliver Green as his International Secretary-Treasurer, the first African American to hold one of the top three ATU executive offices. In 1986, he appointed Local President Karen (Moore) Simmons, 1307-St. Louis, MO, as the first woman ATU International Representative, and, again, in 1994, he appointed Simmons, an African American, as the first woman International Vice President.

La Sala also saw the creation of the ATU Women’s Caucus in 1990. That same year, he lent his support to the formation of the ATU Latino Caucus. In 1996, La Sala brought our Union online with the first ATU website.

La Sala oversaw the upgrade of the National Canadian Regional Conference to the Canadian Council (now known as ATU Canada), which strengthened the voice of our Canadian members in their country and our Union.

La Sala successfully fought for increased federal funding for public transit in America and against attempts to gut federal Section 13(c) labor protections for transit workers. He was an early advocate of health and safety protections for transit workers.

La Sala led the International through one of the longest and nastiest strikes of the era against Greyhound Line in 1990. Early in 1993, when many thought the strike might never be settled, La Sala personally reached out to a newly-installed CEO of Greyhound, which led to negotiations with the company that resulted in an end to the strike, and an agreement for a new contract.

La Sala began his career in the transit industry as a bus operator for the Public Service Coordinated Transport of New Jersey in 1946, where he joined Local 824-New Brunswick, NJ, and was elected shop steward. He was subsequently elected Vice President, Financial Secretary, and then, in 1962, President/Business Agent of the Local.

In 1968 La Sala joined the International staff as an International Representative. He was first elected an International Vice President in 1969 and was elected International Executive Vice President at the International Convention in 1981. When International President John Rowland retired in 1985, he recommended to the General Executive Board that La Sala become the International President and they elected him. He was formally elected International President at the 1986 Convention and was re-elected every three years until his retirement in 2003.

La Sala is survived by his longtime partner Julie Knight, six children, ten grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.


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  1. Randy Heiland says:
    21 Oct 2022
    Brother Lasala it was a great privilege meeting you in 1982 and knowing you throughout all these decades. Our last in person visit was Disney convention 2010 . Time May have past but thoughts endure. Rest in peace and keep heaven organized~ Randy Heiland ATU 569

  2. Jerry Fancher says:
    15 Oct 2022
    RIP Brother Lasala... You always offered a helping hand, when needed. I thank you for your service with the ATU. Also, and most of all, your time on the USS Vogelgesang (DD-862.) Wishing you calm seas, and a following wind. ~Jerry Fancher President ATU 1056 retired

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