At 101, dedicated union rep is calling it quits

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NEW YORK (AP) — At 101, Charlie Ponti has finally decided to retire for good — probably.

On Dec. 31, he will officially finish up a 77-year stint with the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 153, where he started as a business representative and organizer and ended as the president of the local's retirees association.

"I loved what I was doing. That made me work harder. I loved to help people," said Ponti, who was celebrated at an association luncheon at a Manhattan restaurant this month.

The Rutherford, New Jersey, resident, who's still spry and looks years younger than his age, started working for what was then the Bookkeepers, Stenographers and Accountants Union in 1937. (It took on its current title in 1967.) He remained an active member even when serving in the military during World War II, and he returned to his work duties mere weeks after coming home.

Ponti would travel all over the city in his dealings with up to 198 different union shops before retiring the first time in 1977. He then took over the job of head of the retirees association, building it up as a politically active, involved group with regular meetings and events. In recent years, that's meant going to the office once a week or so.

"It's a tremendous resource for labor to have an active retirees' group going," said Michael Goodwin, the union's international president, adding that there are about 1,000 members in the retirees association. Local 153 has 16,000 members, and the international union has 108,000 members, he said.

Ponti's "got more energy than me," said 67-year-old CJ Perez of Brooklyn, a retired medical assistant who's been part of the union for 12 years. "He's a great inspiration for us."

Ponti's long service has given him a front-row seat to the rising and falling fortunes of the American labor movement. He remains a fervent supporter of collective bargaining.

"Employers are employers," he said, adding that they promise things to employees but don't always follow through. "There's always a chiseler."

Ponti passed his dedication onto his children, two daughters and one son, all of whom have been part of unions in their professions. His son, Charles Ponti Jr., even worked for the same local for a time.

"I used to work for 153, but I retired," the 61-year-old said with a grin.

They had thought their father would retire once he hit 100 years old and still aren't sure it's going to take now. The elder Ponti has cited health issues in his decision to step down this year.

"We don't believe he's truly going to retire," his son said. "After the holidays come and go, and January comes, I believe he'll be back."

For his part, Ponti says he plans to fill his time with books, visits to the doctors to keep an eye on his health and perhaps some trips to Florida.

And he admits he'll likely be seen at the union offices, especially since union officials have reassured him that he'll always be welcome.

"They told me: 'You'll never retire. You can come in any time you want.'"


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