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Labor Mourns the Passing of Former UAW Region 9A Director Phil Wheeler

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“The entire UAW family today expresses great sadness at the passing of Phil Wheeler,” says UAW President Ray Curry. “Phil was a tough leader who never shied away from taking on companies. Under his tough exterior was a man who loved the labor movement, UAW members and fighting for social justice.”

Phil became a UAW member in 1964 when he was hired into Colt Firearms in Hartford, Connecticut, after the Army. He became steward of UAW Local 376, then moved to shop chairperson in 1967 and president in 1969.

In 1986, he was appointed assistant director of Region 9A, which covers New England, New York state (including New York City) and Puerto Rico. His responsibilities included servicing and organizing throughout the region. Three years later, Phil was elected director of UAW Region 9A, a position he would hold until his retirement in 2006.

Wheeler was critical in winning a long strike at Colt Firearms that began in January 1986 when he was still president of Local 376. Four years later, as regional director, Wheeler led the UAW members back to their jobs at Colt as partial owners and with a $13 million back pay settlement — one of the largest ever awarded by the National Labor Relations Board.

In 1996, corporate executives were making millions as they laid off thousands of hard-working employees and devastated surrounding communities. Wheeler set to work and formed Citizens for Economic Opportunity (CEO), a coalition of unions, religious organizations, community groups and citizen activists whose purpose was to call out corporate greed in Connecticut. Since its formation, CEO has developed a legislative agenda that increases wages for many low-income workers, stops the trend of eliminating good paying full-time jobs and replacing them with part-time and temporary, contingent work and sets a high standard of corporate conduct from companies who want loans, contracts, and economic development assistance from the state.

After retirement, Phil continued to be active in Hartford-area charitable and civic engagement organizations.

“To me, Phil will always be the leader who put organizing front and center in our Region and fought for every member,” adds UAW Region 9A Director Beverley Brakeman. “I consider him a mentor and friend, and our entire Region will miss his fighting spirit.”