Andrew "Lefty" Palm, a former United Steelworkers union official who oversaw negotiations with major U.S. steel producers during some of the industry's direst days, died Friday at his Estero, Fla., home of complications from progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare brain disorder. He was 74.
The McKeesport native earned a reputation among union and industry officials as a tough but fair negotiator who struggled to preserve worker rights and benefits in an industry debilitated by foreign producers and the lack of investment. During his career as a district director and vice president of the international union, Mr. Palm represented workers of major steel and aluminum producers, rubber companies and other industries.
"Lefty was the last of the old timers," said Jerry Strelick, retired president of USW Local 1557, which represents workers at U.S. Steel's Clairton plant.
"Lefty was a cool, calm, collected, well-spoken person," Mr. Strelick said. "He kept everybody together. Steelworkers aren't the most ... how do you want to say it ... the calmest people."
USW President Leo Gerard said Mr. Palm "worried about the members every day."
"Lefty was in many ways underrated because he sort of had a casual way about him. But he was always very analytical, very smart, and well respected by membership and the companies," Mr. Gerard said.
Mr. Palm's nickname, a gift from his family because he was left-handed, followed him throughout his long career.
He began by working at Enamel Products Co. in McKeesport, where he became a union steward and later president of the plant's local union.
"From then on, he just got passionate about what the union stands for," said his sister, Nancy McConnell of White Oak.
She and her late sister Audrey worked on the staff of USW District 15, which represented workers in the Mon Valley. Mr. Palm joined them there in the 1970s. In 1982, he was elected District 15 director, a position he held through a series of consolidations that broadened the region he was responsible for to the entire state.
Rich Pastore, who worked on Mr. Palm's district staff, said his boss' even temper, humor and appreciation of the problems steelmakers faced served him well.
"When he died, the union lost a good man," Mr. Pastore said.
Kimberly Palm, Mr. Palm's wife, said that although her husband understood what the industry was up against, he "was always there for the worker."
"He lived and breathed his job," she said. "He truly believed in doing what was right for the worker."
Mr. Palm was elected vice president of the international union in 2001.
Health problems related to the disease that eventually killed him forced him to retire in 2005.
In addition his widow and sister, Mr. Palm is survived by four children: daughters Andrea Palm of Versailles and Laurie Sedota of Brownsville, Fayette County; and stepsons Nathan Rojohn of Greensburg and Gavin Rojohn of Penn Township, Westmoreland County.
Visitation will be held today and Thursday at Shikany's Bonita Funeral Home in Bonita Springs, Fla. A Mass will be celebrated Thursday in Fort Myers, Fla.
Mrs. Palm said there will be a service in the Pittsburgh area, but that arrangements are incomplete.
Len Boselovic: email@example.com or 412-263-1941.