Thomas Rapanotti Sr., 74, union organizer

January 30, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Thomas A. Rapanotti Sr., a former executive director of Council 67 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and leader of a Baltimore police union during a 1974 strike by patrol officers, died of a heart attack Saturday at his Essex home. He was 74.

Born and raised in Uniontown, Pa., the son of an immigrant Italian coal miner, Mr. Rapanotti followed his father into coal mining while attending high school.

After graduation, he began work as an organizer for the United Mine Workers in West Virginia. He later joined the United Rubber Workers Union while working at a defense plant in Ohio, and then was president of a bus union in southern Pennsylvania.

After serving with the Navy Seabees in the Pacific theater during World War II, he moved to Baltimore and went to work at the former Glenn L. Martin Co. aircraft plant in Middle River.

He was an active member of the United Auto Workers during the 1950s, until becoming a union organizer for Council 67 of AFSCME (AFL-CIO) in 1966.

Diminutive in stature, well-tailored and seldom without a cigar clenched between his teeth, Mr. Rapanotti cut quite a figure as he negotiated with management or government officials.

"My father used to say there are three things in a house: the roof, the food and the union," Mr. Rapanotti told The Sun in a 1969 profile.

As director of AFSCME's Police Council 27, the parent organization of Baltimore's Local 1195, Mr. Rapanotti strived during the late 1960s and early 1970s to bring Maryland's police officers into an international police union sanctioned by the AFL-CIO in 1969.

But that dream ended with the five-day strike by 900 union members of the city force, and Donald D. Pomerleau, then police commissioner, dismissed the union as bargaining agent for city patrol officers. City police officers have been represented by the Fraternal Order of Police since 1983.

In the wake of the strike, Mr. Rapanotti was fined $10,000 by the Circuit Court for failing to heed a court order ending the walkout. The union was similarly fined $25,000.

Mr. Rapanotti continued working for AFSCME Council 67 and succeeded Ernest B. Crofoot as its executive director in 1986. He also served as international vice president of AFSCME's Capital District, which is responsible for union activities in Maryland, Washington, West Virginia and Virginia, and retired in 1991.

Thomas Kelleher, senior representative of Council 67 and friend of 30 years, recalled Mr. Rapanotti's compassion for workers: "He had the common touch and he placed importance on talking to the worker. He taught me to take time to talk to the person who is actually doing the labor because he is important. He was the kind of man who treated everyone as a friend."

Mr. Rapanotti spent his retirement years working in the garage woodshop of his Essex home, building cabinets and furniture.

He was a communicant and usher at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church in Middle River, where a Mass of Christian burial was offered yesterday.

Survivors include his wife of 53 years, the former Helen Vennicasa; a son, Thomas A. Rapanotti Jr. of Oliver Beach; a brother, Ernest Rapanotti of Warren, Mich.; a sister, Gene Pinter of Essex; and two grandchildren.

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