Wendell W. Young III, 74, the former president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 and a union leader who was a longtime activist for many social justice causes, died Jan. 1 of liver cancer at his home in Lafayette Hill.
Mr. Young, who at 23 became one of the youngest labor leaders in Pennsylvania, expanded what was then the Retail Clerks Union Local 1357 with 4,000-members into an organization representing more than 24,000 retail and non-retail employees, including insurance agents, health-care professionals, barbers and hairdressers.
But Mr. Young’s concerns went far beyond labor issues. He was one of the few union leaders to publicly oppose the war in Vietnam, and he was equally as outspoken on civil rights and the environment.
Growing up in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia, he worked part-time at an Acme market while he was a sophomore at Northeast Catholic High School. When he became active in the union, his fellow workers elected him a shop steward, and in 1962 he was elected president of the union.
During his 43-year tenure as union president, Mr. Young arranged a merger with a meat cutters’ union, giving his union a broader base. He also was instrumental in preventing the sale of Acme markets by presenting management with a plan to have employees buy the company. The plan was rejected, but the stores were taken off the market.
When A&P stores were about to go out of business in 1981, he helped to develop a plan that led to the creation of the SuperFresh chain.
Mr. Young held various positions in the AFL-CIO’s state chapter and from 1995 until his retirement in 2005 hosted a weekly talk show, “Talking Unions,” on WHAT-FM 1340 that discussed activities of the American labor movement.
He also was a leading advocate for the retention of Pennsylvania’s state liquor store system, whose employees are members of Local 1776. Mr. Wendell’s son, Wendell Young IV, is now president of the union.
Mr. Young was an adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s University, where he graduated in 1960 with a degree in political science. He later received a master’s degree in business administration from Rutgers University.
In addition to his son Wendell, he is survived by his wife, Katherine; sons Brian, Scott, Eric, Brendan and Matthew, and 13 grandchildren.
A funeral Mass was celebrated Jan. 7 at St. Philip Neri Church in Lafayette Hill. – WF
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