John Amrol was part of the initial team that negotiated union contracts here in NH

  • John and Janet Amrol

Monitor columnist
Published: 1/11/2022 4:03:24 PM
Modified: 1/11/2022 4:02:32 PM

Someone called him Mayor McCheese because he knew everyone in downtown Concord.

Most called him the Father of Collective Bargaining because he’s the face of that movement in the Granite State.

And as far as descriptions go, John Amrol, who died last month at age 85, emerged as a Teddy Bear. With a chainsaw.

“If he wanted to be heard,” said State Employees’ Association president Rich Gulla, “he was heard. And everyone knew that he could be stern and demanding. He was the kind of guy who if you met him, you would have to have your facts and figures together because he’d certainly have his.”

Amrol lost his fight against pancreatic cancer. Gulla replaced Amrol as president of the State Employees Association after Amrol’s 10-year run ended in 2000.

He lived in Concord for 70 years, graduated from St. John’s High School – Bishop Brady’s predecessor – in 1953, and worked for the Department of Transportation for 44 years, retiring in 1997.

He joined the New Hampshire Army National Guard and retired as a Master Sergeant, and he joined more committees than a soccer mom, chairing the SEA’s retirement committee and its collective bargaining advisory committee, among many others.

Elsewhere, Amrol surveyed the Kancamagus Highway and supervised a construction operation to repair old railroad tracks.

But the identifying piece of Amrol’s life was his work as a union leader. He was part of the first bargaining team in New Hampshire history more than 40 years ago, following the passage of the state law on public employee labor relations, also known as RSA 273-A.

He was the Regional Vice President and Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO Executive Board. He was out front, fighting for workers.

He crafted his negotiating style and developed a reputation as a no-nonsense guy with a warm and fuzzy interior, which he mixed perfectly to create what his colleagues said was a strong sense of fair play.

“He was good at being tough while not ruffling feathers,” said Christine Turgeon, the communications manager for the State Employees Association. “I would see him at committee meetings and when he works for something he believes in, get out of his way.”

Avis Crane worked closely with Amrol at the SEA for 30 years. She said he was a math whiz, a valuable skill to have if you’re negotiating union contracts.

She echoed Turgeon’s assessment. 

“He was blunt and he had high standards for himself and others. Underneath the sometimes gruff exterior, he really was kind,” Crane said. “He was always looking out for other people.”

Crane said she was inspired by things Amrol did that no one ever heard about.

“He was the kind of person who looked out at the world instead of looking at himself,” she said. “He was good at following up, so he got things done and did not let ideas drift.”

No one facing off against Amrol during negotiations could be reached to describe any major conference-room battles.

But those he worked with and represented swear by his open mind and listening skills. In fact, the union’s headquarters on North State Street was dedicated to Amrol in 1992 and bears his name.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who was elected governor when Amrol was the president of the SEA/SEIU in 1997, honored him last month as part of the “Congressional Record,” the official daily record of debates and proceedings of the U.S. Congress.

“Each and every member owes a debt of gratitude to John,” Shaheen said on the Senate Floor. “He was a force in fighting for their well-being, dignity and fair treatment. As a negotiator, John was as tough as New Hampshire granite.”

Gulla was the one who gave Amrol the nickname Mayor McCheese because “he knew everyone,” Gulla said.

He saw his friend a few days before he died. Amrol had been shuttled back and forth from his home in Hooksett to a facility in Epsom.

Gulla said he had no idea Amrol was so close to the end.

“We had a few laughs and it was unexpected,” he said. “He was one of those folks who did a lot behind the scenes to make life better for a lot of people.  I truly loved him, and I’m really going to miss him.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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