Petronella’s career in organized labor began in 1972 when he joined what was then known as Local 371, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workers of North America. Five years later, he became an official union organizer. He graduated from the Harvard University Trade Union Program in 1978, and he was elected Executive Vice President of Local 371 in 1982. Petronella served as president of Local 371 from 1999 until his death last Friday.
Petronella was renowned for his negotiating skills. He helped negotiate numerous contracts over the years, like the generous 4-year contract for Stop & Shop workers. The deal included an immediate $750 bonus for full-time employees, a $10/week pay raise, and bigger employer contributions to union-run benefit plans.
Petronella was also instrumental in the drive to unionize bartenders at Foxwoods Casino in eastern Connecticut, one of the largest gaming establishments in the country. On July 31, just days before Petronella died, the Foxwoods bartenders voted 190-145 to unionize. The yes vote was a decisive moment in a 17-year Foxwoods struggle. The battle isn’t over, however, as the tribe has announced that it will contest the vote.
Those who knew Petronella remember his warmth and generosity. He actively supported various charitable causes including the United Way and multiple sclerosis research.
“I think of Brian and I think everything good in the world was in Brian Petronella,” Thomas A. Wilkinson, Secretary Treasurer of Local 371, told reporters, “and that’s not an overstatement from me.”