Roberto Mendez is retiring after a 36 year career at United Airlines. His work as a union activist has helped deliver thousands of meals, toys and vital assistance to thousands of grateful recipients within his community. Over the years, Roberto has served as a Union Steward, a Local Lodge Trustee, an EAP Rep, and Regional EAP Coordinator.
(Below, Roberto Mendez with incoming Regional EAP Coordinator, Noelle Sakamoto at a recent food drive.)
Roberto Mendez, Longtime Machinists & Aerospace Union Activist, Retires After a 36 Year Career
Labor groups praise the career of Machinists & Aerospace activist Roberto Mendez on his retirement from United Airlines after 36 years of service.
Roberto Mendez could not have known how important his career path would become when he was hired to work in the United Airlines Flight Kitchens more than three decades ago. In 1984, Roberto was a young, modest employee at the airline’s peripherals, working his way from food prep to Cabin Cleaner, ultimately earning a position at the Maintenance Base.
With a reputation for kind honesty and a willingness to work hard, Roberto became an active member of IAMAW Local 1781 in the San Francisco Bay Area. He quickly established himself as a trusted voice on behalf of his coworkers, serving as Shop Steward, Local Lodge Trustee, and Chairman of the 1781 Community Service Committee. As Chairman, he helped lead the 1781 Committee to become one of the nation’s most effective Community Service operations.
After 9/11, Roberto began partnering with the San Mateo Labor Council to expand the role of unions in historically under-represented communities. Working alongside Labor Council Community Services Director Rayna Lehman, their partnership set up programs that helped thousands of union members in the region. The collaboration also led to the creation of a large-scale, labor-run food distribution network in San Mateo County involving the Second Harvest Silicon Valley Food Bank. The food distribution program is still operating, helping families on a regular, ongoing basis.
As the efforts grew in complexity and size, Roberto became instrumental in food-distribution efforts that have lasted over 17 years.
In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Roberto partnered again with the San Mateo Labor Council to help provide for union families, delivering more than 1,700 free and healthy meals a month. Dubbed the “Union Grab and Go Food Distribution,” the program was run from the Local 1781 parking lot.
In 2003, Roberto was named the District 141 EAP West Coast Coordinator, a position he used to “save jobs and save lives,” according to the San Mateo Labor Council, who recently praised his years of activism at their August Membership Meeting. At the ceremony, a member rose to give credit to Roberto for saving his life after the member fell victim to a downward spiral of substance abuse.
IAM Local and District officers were quick to thank Roberto for his years of service and sacrifice.
“Roberto is the epitome of a service-oriented EAP professional, always there when needed,” said District 141 EAP National Director, Bryan Hutchinson. “How can I help?” “Tell me what you need. That’s Roberto,” he said.
San Mateo Labor Council Executive Secretary-General Julie Lind also praised Roberto for his “unity and thoughtfulness.” Noting Roberto’s years of partnership with the Council and other community groups, Lind said, “He always put the good of the Council before any and all potential divisive issues that arose; always a calm, analytical voice,” she told the assembly.
Roberto’s work in community service and food distribution efforts inspired his longtime partner, San Mateo Labor Council Community Service Director Reyna Lehman, to offer some of the most heartfelt praise. “In the world of work, the highest compliment you can give is to call a coworker a colleague and in the world of life, the highest compliment is to call someone a friend. And, Roberto is both of those to me.”
Lehman described the millions of pounds of food they had distributed, the thousands of toys, and the hundreds of workshops and training programs they had provided to those in need.
“Roberto has been a source of pride for our district and our union,” said IAMAW 141 President and Directing General Chair, Mike Klemm. “I want to congratulate, from the bottom of my heart, Brother Roberto Mendez, for his years of service and his well-deserved retirement. He’s helped establish our union as a compassionate, professional, and dedicated group of workers who want to work together to make the world a better place.”
Now that they are both retired, Roberto and Maria, his wife of 45 years, plan to enjoy more baseball games and time with grandchildren.
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