A Tribute to Thomas Natchuras
Tom Natchuras was an ardent affordable housing advocate, a standout UAW Organizer and Director, and an educator who was prophetic in his vision for training, labor and management. His extraordinary leadership skills paved the way for great leaps in the Labor Movement and improvements in the quality of life for vulnerable populations.
At a glance, Tom’s professional success appears an easy path. However, his decades of service reveal choices that challenged management and brought about social change on the local level that mirrored changes nationally. The rights of his Union brothers and sisters were the focal point of his actions as his life became measured not by days, but by fights against injustice. Tom not only dreamed of taking on the most powerful companies in the world; he lived it.
From early on, Tom was humble and hard working. His childhood was carved from struggles of the Great Depression. As a young man he faced even greater challenges as he proudly served in the United States Marine Corps. After being discharged at the conclusion of World War II, Tom worked as a welder for Bethlehem Steel in Buffalo.
In 1956, Tom went to work as a welder at the Chevrolet Forge plant in Buffalo. It was here that the Union provided a home for Tom; here where he was able to find his voice – his purpose – and ultimately, his life’s passion.
“History will one day judge how we fared. Let it not be said that we failed because we could not or would not change to meet the new challenges. After all, we make our own history.”
Workers in UAW Local 846 quickly recognized Tom’s passion and his courageous leadership. Within three years of joining, he was elected President. His distinctive skills in grievance representation and negotiations prompted Regional Director Martin Gerber and Assistant Director Edward Gray to use Tom’s political savvy and leadership as a Union Organizer beginning in 1963. He was instrumental in organizing several plants including Trico Products Corporation in Buffalo.
After serving as Area Director for Western New York and Assistant Director of Region 9, Tom became Director in 1983. As Director, Tom led the first efforts to build a joint Labor Management decision-making process in the workplace. He drove the creation of Region 9 Alliance and the Northeast-Midwest Alliance of Management and Labor. Tom envisioned a joint partnership that would include job training, a liberal arts education component, decision sharing, political action and an overall strengthening of the middle class.
In addition to fighting on the front lines of many high profile labor disputes, Tom was dedicated to educating fellow Union members to ensure they would become effective Union leaders. Tom worked with Lois Gray, Director of the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations to establish training for his staff and officers. Gray recalled, “Tom possessed a strong interest in educating Union leaders in economics so they too would be effective negotiators.”
In 1989, after his retirement from the UAW, Tom set out once again to protect the quality of life for others. This time, he accomplished his goals as President of the Region Nine Housing Corporation (RNHC). RNHC had been a developer of both family and senior housing. Tom led the expansion of its mission. Under his leadership, RNHC began to manage the properties it developed. His hands-on approach improved the quality of nearly 1,200 apartments. Tom began the process of buying out the partners remaining from early syndication and taking over control. Ultimately, RNHC took over management of all its communities.
Tom’s activism on behalf of others was also evident in his civic volunteerism. He served as a member of the following Boards of Directors: The Northeast-Midwest Institute, Blue Cross Hospital Corporation of Western New York and the United Way of Western New York. Tom also kept his commitment to education and the UAW strong by serving as an instructor at the Cornell University Labor Extension Service and the UAW Summer Education Institutes.
Tom passed away in 1999 at the age of 75. He and his wife Evelyn were married for 49 years. He was also survived by three children: Michael Natchuras and his spouse David, Mark Natchuras and his spouse Kathy, and Mary Natchuras Carpenter – who is a Director on the Board of RNHC – and her spouse Paul Carpenter and their three children, Alexander, Breann and Colin.