Schenectady County

GE retiree activist dies at 90

Helen Quirini, a tireless activist for GE unionized pensioners, a role model and a community support

Helen Quirini, a tireless activist for GE unionized pensioners, a role model and a community supporter, died Thursday at Ellis Hospital following a stroke. She was 90.

Quirini, of Rotterdam, was president of the retiree council for IUE-CWA Local 301, the union that represents workers at the GE plant in Schenectady, and also co-founded the GE Justice Fund, which coordinates 15 GE retiree councils throughout the country.

For years, she pressed GE to issue annual cost-of-living adjustments to unionized retirees, who number some 15,000 in the Capital Region, saying their pensions were woefully small compared to the company’s vast wealth.

She used tactics such as staging mass rallies in front of the GE main plant on Erie Boulevard, writing letters to newspapers and issuing “Hall of Shame” leaflets at shareholders’ meetings, which compared the pension of a retired GE employee ($683 monthly for 34.5 years of service) with that of retired GE CEO Jack Welch ($741,667 monthly for 40 years).

“She helped win some significant changes for retirees with upgrades in the cost of living,” said Gary McCarthy, president of the City Council, who knew Quirini for years.

McCarthy called Quirini “a great community activist who really cared about improving the community and the quality of life here.”

He said Quirini was not shy about letting people know they did something wrong. “She would make it known in a loud and clear fashion,” he said.

Quirini worked both in the public eye and behind the scenes to get things done, McCarthy said.

“She always was a voice of reason. She would call you up and give you advice. She was as active behind the scenes in trying to resolve problems as she was in some of her more public stands. I always thought she was a class act,” he said.

Mark Blanchfield, a former City Council member and now a City Court judge, called Quirini a role model.

“She was a legend and a trailblazer for women who worked at GE and who may have wanted to pursue careers outside of the home,” he said.

Blanchfield said he “had the pleasure of introducing my daughter to Helen and explaining how much of a contribution Helen made to the area. She was a warm person and self-effacing.”

Ralph Boyd Sr. knew Quirini for 60 years. “I worked many years in the union and on many projects in the community with her,” he said.

Boyd said Quirini was a prolific writer who contributed to the local union unit’s newsletter for pensioners and wrote books. “Her records are in the state library,” he said.

Quirini retired from General Electric in 1980 after working in the factory since 1939. She was one of the first women hired by the company. She was a shop steward and a board member of the local. When she retired, she was a production follower.

Boyd said Local 301 has cancelled its regularly scheduled board meeting for this month in memory of Quirini.

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