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Public Employee Press

Organizer wears labor pride on his sleeve

Organizer Julian de Jesus is a passionate advocate for workers and unions.


Unions stand for democracy and justice,” Julian de Jesus, an Organizer for DC 37, said.

“At its core everyone in a union, even an average Joe, gets a fighting chance, an even playing field.”

A lover of art, de Jesus uses his body as his canvas for pro-union messaging.

His colorful tattoos — large and painstakingly detailed — amp up de Jesus’ credo and dedication to the labor movement. And workers get it.

Snaking up de Jesus’ right forearm is tattoo of a deadly python that ‘Will strike if provoked.’ A muscular sanitation worker rests on his bicep and Rosie the Riveter with fist raised, dominates his deltoid. Body art expresses the driving passion of this millennial.

“Rosie symbolizes unionism and feminism,” de Jesus said. “It’s the first thing my girlfriend noticed about me when we met. She asked, ‘Why would a man have that tattoo?’ I explained my work for the union and what it means to me.

At a FedEx warehouse in Newburgh, N.Y., Julian, then 19, worked loading boxes as heavy as 50 or 60 pounds.

“I was treated horribly — we all were,” he said. “The boss screamed all the time. My hand got caught in a conveyor belt. Trucks ran over my feet. I have scars all over. It was a very difficult job.

“Most new hires leave FedEx after the first week. I stayed two years. FedEx paid ten bucks an hour and worked us like dogs,” he said. “It was so bad one day I called a work slowdown.

“Ten dollars an hour pay, ten dollars an hour pace! My coworkers joined me. We chanted and slowed work to a crawl — a $10 an hour pace,” he said.

At its core everyone in a union, even an average Joe, gets a fighting chance, an even playing field.

The action got management’s attention. Seething mad, his supervisor penalized de Jesus by having him load up three FedEx tractor trailers alone.

“The fear I saw in the bosses’ eyes felt good,” de Jesus recalled. “I called my dad who is a labor organizer, and told him what happened. He asked, ‘Did you sign a union card?’

“I did not,” de Jesus said. “I was feeling empowered but realized I could be fired.”

Instead, FedEx offered Julian a raise to $16 and hour — hush money that he declined on principle.

“I won’t accept it unless everyone gets it — none of us did,” he said. The workers won health benefits, a first. “That’s how badly management wanted to stop us from working together to become a union and have a voice.”

Two weeks later, de Jesus got an internship at Council 1707. Despite his mom’s warning that he may not get hired with so many tattoos, Julian followed his passion and found purpose in organizing workers and went on to work for AFSCME District 1199J and now DC 37.

“My tats spark conversations,” de Jesus says smiling.

The eye-catching artwork wins people over. “Some members take pictures. Others tell me, ‘It’s good to see someone so young believe in unions so much they make it a permanent part of themselves.”