A Tribute to Peter Antonellis
Peter was born and raised on the west side of Manhattan during the Great Depression. While still in high school, he worked full-time to help support his family after his father died and while his brothers were fighting overseas in World War II. After the war, he became a machinist apprentice at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
In 1953, Pete was hired as a tool and die maker by the Bendix Corporation in Teterboro, NJ. There he not only excelled as an “expert” in apprentice training and industrial safety but also as an active Trade Unionist in UAW Local 153. For the next 20 years in this 8,000 member Local, Pete served in many positions. He was elected and re-elected to the positions of Skilled Trades Steward, Chief Steward, Committeeman and Bargain Committee Chairman. And regardless of the position he held, the lives and rights of the people he fought for were what mattered most. In keeping his commitment, Pete defied convention, and in the late 1960’s, he and Brother Steward Donald Barbee formed the Local’s first interracial ticket to run and be elected to the Bargaining Committee. Throughout these years, Pete was mentored by UAW International Representative Eugene Zoppo – a tireless fighter for Union recognition and activist for retired workers.
In 1974, then Regional Director, Martin Gerber, appointed Pete as a UAW International Representative for Region 9. Pete continued the work of the Union, and he organized job actions, bargained contracts, and argued grievances. Additionally, knowing the importance of mentoring and education, he coordinated and taught classes at many UAW summer institutes, including Penn State, Alfred State, Cornell, the Rutgers Union Labor Academy and the UAW Fellowship Training in Black Lake, Michigan.
Pete believed Unionism and worker advocacy was not just something to be done while on the job, it was something he actively lived – involving his family, and often bringing his children to Union meetings. In this way, Pete inspired the next generation as his three sons grew up to believe what was worth living and fighting for was workers’ rights.
Worker and Human Rights have always been important to Peter Antonellis and an integral part of his life. In his more than 40 years of dedicated service with the UAW and 20 years as an advocate for better affordable housing, Peter has dramatically improved the lives of others.
Pete was appointed as Region 9 UAW Area Director for New Jersey in 1981 and, in June 1989, Regional Director Thomas Fricano appointed him Assistant Regional Director of Region 9. During those years, he served as Vice President of the Botto House, American Labor Museum; Vice President of the Industrial Union Council of New Jersey, a board member of Region Nine UAW Housing Corporation, and as a member of President Carter’s Commission on the Future.
Soon after retirement from the UAW in 1994, Pete began his next career with the Region Nine UAW Housing Corporation (RNHC). Pete’s goals for RNHC were to “buy-out” the properties’ partners and investors, significantly pay down the overwhelming mortgage debt, maintain the highest quality affordable housing, and become a model employer and progressive member of the community. Pete made “Excellence in Housing” not only the company’s motto, but a daily commitment. To this end, RNHC developed a Service Coordinator program to provide health services, social services and activities, and to promote community involvement among our residents.
Today, 18 years after Pete first became President, RNHC employs nearly 50 workers providing unmatched salary, pension, and health benefits. It has taken complete ownership of almost all of the properties and converted them to non-profit entities. Under Pete’s direction, RNHC has spent the past 6 years acting on a plan to modernize and refurbish each property. To date, the John P. Fricano Towers in New Brunswick, the Martin Gerber Apartments in North Brunswick, the Hillcrest Commons Apartments in Pennsylvania, and now the Peter Antonellis Towers in East Orange have each undergone major renovations. Work has begun on the renovation of the Plaza Apartments in Jersey City. And, plans are in place for the renovation of the Edward F. Gray Apartments in Irvington and the High Street Apartments in Perth Amboy.
Pete will remain an active Executive Board Member with RNHC as President Emeritus. His hope is that RNHC residents and workers always remember that good hard working Union people made it all possible.
Pete and his wife Rose were married for 60 years. Rose passed away suddenly a few days after the dedication of Peter Antonellis Towers. They have 3 sons, (Joseph, Peter, and Daniel), 6 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.