Manhattan's Grand Central post office was renamed Thursday to honor a Port Washington labor leader.
Vincent R. Sombrotto, who died last year at age 89, led the 1970 nationwide wildcat strike by 200,000 postal workers. The law renaming the building the Vincent R. Sombrotto Post Office was passed by Congress in July and recently signed into law by President Barack Obama.
Sombrotto's family of seven children and 14 grandchildren, national postal officials and dozens of retired letter carriers, many of whom were among the strikers, paid homage to the labor leader at the Lexington Avenue and 44th Street post office. Sombrotto was remembered as the man who brought not only better wages to workers but also secured pension plans for their retirements and helped modernize the postal service.
Strikers led by Sombrotto demanded living wages for letter carriers, who were paid as little as $2 an hour at the time, forcing them to receive welfare.
Ruby Almeida, 89, of the Bronx, who walked out with Sombrotto from the post office in 1970 and who attended Thursday's ceremony, said her monthly pension check is her lifeline to independence.
"Every time that check comes in the mail I praise the name of Vincent Sombrotto and ask God to bless his family and children," she said. "I believed in Vincent. It was scary to walk out. But I followed him knowing that he would stand his ground and would always have our backs."
At the time, President Richard M. Nixon called out the military to face off with strikers and to deliver the mail. After eight days, the strike ended and negotiations began. The results were an 8 percent wage increase and the right to collective bargaining, said Richard Uluski, USPS vice president of area operations in the Northeast.
"Vince fought hard and brought millions of carriers into the middle class," said Uluski, who also noted Sombrotto's annual food drive used to fill food pantries.
"Vince touched the soul and heart of many," he said. "He was a man who stood up for what he believed in. He was a great patriot."
Sombrotto, who became a postal worker in the 1950s, was a child of the Great Depression and a World War II Navy veteran. He grew up in East Harlem. He rose to become president of the National Association of Letter Carriers from 1978 to 2002.
Sombrotto's family resides in Port Washington.
Following his father's passion, son Stephen Sombrotto, 45, is president of Local 621 of the United Workers of America, which represents health care, transit and janitorial workers.
"My father would have never dreamed there would be such a day," he said after Thursday's ceremony. "He would truly be honored but more so for his family because he left behind a legacy."