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The ATU Mourns the Passing of International President Emeritus James La Sala, Second-Longest Serving International President

The ATU is very sad to report the passing of International President Emeritus James La Sala on October 8, 2022. La Sala, the ATU’s sixth and second-longest serving International President, held that position for 18 years from 1985 until his retirement in 2003. He was 95.  

“Jim La Sala was a legend in the ATU. Under his leadership, he initiated and revived programs at the International that helped our Union navigate some of the most tumultuous years of its history, including our Greyhound strike,” said ATU International President John Costa. “Jim was a fearless and respected leader who built the ATU into a powerful union. He embodied the ATU and even recently attended our 60th International Convention in Las Vegas. Our sympathies and condolences go out to his longtime partner Julie and the entire La Sala family.”

During his tenure, La Sala expanded ATU education initiatives, broadened ATU legislative programs, revamped ATU Organizing, and revived the ATU-COPE program.

In 1985, La Sala chose International Vice President Oliver Green as his International Secretary-Treasurer, the first African American to hold one of the top three ATU executive offices. In 1986, he appointed Local President Karen (Moore) Simmons, 1307-St. Louis, MO, as the first woman ATU International Representative, and, again, in 1994, he appointed Simmons, an African American, as the first woman International Vice President.

La Sala also saw the creation of the ATU Women’s Caucus in 1990. That same year, he lent his support to the formation of the ATU Latino Caucus. In 1996, La Sala brought our Union online with the first ATU website.

La Sala oversaw the upgrade of the National Canadian Regional Conference to the Canadian Council (now known as ATU Canada), which strengthened the voice of our Canadian members in their country and our Union.

La Sala successfully fought for increased federal funding for public transit in America and against attempts to gut federal Section 13(c) labor protections for transit workers. He was an early advocate of health and safety protections for transit workers.

La Sala led the International through one of the longest and nastiest strikes of the era against Greyhound Line in 1990. Early in 1993, when many thought the strike might never be settled, La Sala personally reached out to a newly-installed CEO of Greyhound, which led to negotiations with the company that resulted in an end to the strike, and an agreement for a new contract.

La Sala began his career in the transit industry as a bus operator for the Public Service Coordinated Transport of New Jersey in 1946, where he joined Local 824-New Brunswick, NJ, and was elected shop steward. He was subsequently elected Vice President, Financial Secretary, and then, in 1962, President/Business Agent of the Local.

In 1968 La Sala joined the International staff as an International Representative. He was first elected an International Vice President in 1969 and was elected International Executive Vice President at the International Convention in 1981. When International President John Rowland retired in 1985, he recommended to the General Executive Board that La Sala become the International President and they elected him. He was formally elected International President at the 1986 Convention and was re-elected every three years until his retirement in 2003.

La Sala is survived by his longtime partner Julie Knight, six children, ten grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.