Joe Battaglino knew how to bridge the chasm between politicians, business owners and labor union leaders.
The longtime assistant business agent with IUE/CWA Local 301 fiercely defended the rights of the working man and was a champion of a prevailing wage, even for non-unionized laborers. But he also had a knack for seeing the perspective of the other side of the negotiating table, a trait that helped him broker tough deals.
“He had a gift of putting everybody at the table together,” recalled Bob Mantello, the president of Greater Capital Region Building and Construction Trades Council and a longtime friend of Battaglino. “And in this day and age, that’s a hard thing to do.”
Battaglino, a former General Electric Co. worker, died Thursday following a prolonged battle with prostate cancer. He was 64.
A resident of Rotterdam and graduate of Draper High School, Battaglino served two years in the Army before becoming a heavy equipment operator with GE. His career in the union began in 1970 and culminated with his appointment as business agent in 1983.
Among his distinctions, Battaglino served as president of the Schenectady Area Labor Council and was a founder of the annual Capital District Labor Parade in Albany. He was the first recipient of the Schenectady County Democratic Committee’s annual Walter V. Reuther Trade Unionist award and received a commendation for his organizing by the county Legislature in 2008, among many other awards.
“He was a tireless fighter for equal rights for not just union workers, but all workers,” said Carmen DePoalo, Local 301’s business agent and a close friend to Battaglino.
Battaglino could be gruff, but always had a huge heart, DePoalo said. Battaglino’s imposing stature was tempered by his compassion for his family and fellow union workers — people he considered his extended family.
“Joe was a quality guy,” he recalled. “He loved life, he loved his family and he loved his union.”
Sometimes that meant buying cleats for youngsters who needed them to play youth sports. Other times it meant floating a few dollars to a co-worker.
Battaglino had a knack for bringing new union members into the fold. He knew how to show them the ropes and even coach them later in life.
“I think he worked harder when he retired,” said Mantello. “There wasn’t a thing I couldn’t go to him for.”
His honesty and work ethic gave him appeal to the workers he represented. His clout among laborers made him influential among politicians, many of whom sought his support.
“But if you didn’t support labor, you didn’t get the support of Joe,” DePoalo said.
Friends also credit Battaglino for courageously battling cancer. Even though he struggled with the disease for years, he seldom let on the extent of his illness.
New treatment last summer brought hope that he’d be able to survive longer. But in the end, his physicians gave him until Christmas to live.
DePoalo said his friend took that as a challenge, swearing that he’d live to celebrate the holiday with his family. True to his word, he returned home to spend his last holiday with his brother William and wife, Christine.
“He was an icon in Schenectady — everybody knew Joe,” Mantello said. “He was like a gentle giant.”
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