Retired Port Agent Joe Perez Dies at 76

February 2010

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Joe PerezRetired SIU Port Agent Jose “Joe” Perez, a colorful character who actively served the membership for nearly 40 years, passed away Dec. 31 at North Austin (Texas) Medical Center, following an illness. He was 76.

A native of Robstown, Texas, Perez earned an honorable discharge after serving in the U.S. Army from 1954-57. He began his career with the labor movement as an organizer in Houston for the Retail Clerks (now the United Food and Commercial Workers). He started working for the SIU in 1959 at the Houston hall, reporting to Port Agent Robert Matthews.

In the ensuing years, Perez served in various capacities including those of field representative and safety director. He transferred to New Orleans in 1990 and was elected port agent there in 1992. Perez was reelected to that post in 1996 before retiring in 1998.

In addition to his work with the SIU, Perez was actively involved with the Greater New Orleans Central Labor Council, the Louisiana AFL-CIO and the Port Maritime Council of Greater New Orleans and Vicinity. He kept in touch with union members and officials long after retiring, and remained an asset not only to the SIU but to organized labor as a whole.

SIU Executive Vice President Augie Tellez knew Perez since 1978. “You could always count on Joe to give you a hand,” Tellez said. “He became a stalwart in the Gulf. He was a good guy and he had a great sense of humor.”

Perez’s upbeat personality is what stands out to SIU Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel. “He always had a smile on his face and seemed to be happy with life,” Heindel said. “He never had an unkind word to say about anybody.”

SIU Gulf Coast Vice President Dean Corgey remembered that Perez “gave me my first job, back in 1973. Joe started many a career of young men and women going to sea. He was a dedicated trade unionist and a soldier in many battles that set the stage for jobs, benefits and working conditions that we all enjoy to this day.”


SIU Assistant Vice President Jim McGee said Perez “helped break me in, back in 1977. Joe helped show me how things were done. He was a great guy and a straight shooter and a good union representative. Joe was a real advocate for the membership and he also was a good friend. He’ll be missed.”

Chris Westbrook, SIU port agent in New Orleans, recalled first meeting Perez “when I was an employee at E.N. Bisso and Son, and we were going through a pretty contentious organizing drive. I remember Joe was available all the time, for anything we needed out there. The other thing about Joe was he had a very calming presence. His demeanor, in tense situations, was cool. Knowing him later and coming into the organization, he was always there for anything you needed, almost like an uncle who took you under his wing. He stayed in touch all the way up to the end – he genuinely cared about the members and the organization.”

Survivors include his wife, three children and four grandchildren. Donations in Perez’s memory may be made to Hospice Austin, 4107 Spicewood Springs Rd., Suite 100, Austin, TX 78759 or to the St. Vincent de Paul Society c/o Queen of Angels Chapel, P.O. Box 448, Spicewood, TX 78669.

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