Hilton, New York
October 7, 1951 – November 23, 2022
Rochester – Born in October of 1951 in Buffalo NY, Bruce Edward Popper passed away peacefully while surrounded by family on Wednesday, November 23, 2022 after a long and hard fought battle with cancer. He was predeceased by his parents, Clifford and Ethel Popper. He is survived by his loving wife, Barbara Sullivan; their daughter, Dee Dee; his sister-in-law, Judy Gurski; his nieces, nephews, cousins, and many friends.
Bruce enjoyed the outdoors and was an avid hiker and backpacker. He carried a harmonica wherever he went and you could often find him jamming in the corner of a blues bar. A union organizer for workers to the end, Bruce spent 45 years fighting the Good Fight. A 1974 graduate of the University of Rochester, he was a member of the Employee Organizing Committee that began 1199 at UR. Bruce started his union career in 1978 as an organizer for 1199 SEIU and retired as a VP in 2019. Over his lifetime of service he served on multiple commissions and boards including Rochester and Monroe Country Racial and Structural Equity Commission, Rochester Health Commission, Rochester Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative Steering Committee and the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the Rochester Alliance of Communities Transforming Society (ROC/ACTS), and the Boards of the Health Careers Advancement Project (H-CAP), Healthcare Division Board Service Employees International Union (SEIU), New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), Rochester and Genesee Valley Workforce Development Center, Finger Lakes Occupational Health Services, and served as the executive vice president of the Rochester and Vicinity Labor Council (AFL-CIO). He was proud to live in the city that honored Frederick Douglass, his personal hero whom he often referenced in his speeches. Bruce has written and spoken extensively over the years regarding collective bargaining, organizing, advocacy, minority and poverty issues. One of his most cherished possessions is a photograph of his closest union brothers and sisters taken at Frederick Douglass’ grave in Mt. Hope Cemetery. They surprised him with the gift because he had dragged so many of them there for a history lesson over the years. Bruce combined an unparalleled level of duty and devotion with a friendly demeanor marked by empathy and respect for others. He demonstrated that workers are the lifeblood of a community and through them all things are possible.
Thank you to Dr. Mulford and her amazing team at The Wilmot Cancer Institute, and the staff of the Palliative Care Unit at Strong Memorial Hospital for their extraordinary care.
The family will have a “Celebration of Life” gathering for friends and family at a later date. Please check back for updates. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the Bruce Popper Memorial Fund at the Rochester Area Community Foundation.
Please feel free to share a memory or leave a condolence.
Longtime local labor leader Bruce Popper has died
A longtime area labor leader has died. Bruce Popper, who was a leader of what is now 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, before he retired a few years ago, died on Wednesday at the age of 71 at Strong Memorial Hospital after a lengthy illness.
Popper’s history with 1199, which represents about 2,600 health care workers in the Rochester area, and approximately 15,000 employees spread across Upstate NY, dates back to the late 1970s when he was hired as an organizer.
After Popper retired as Vice President of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, Tracey Harrison was named to that position.
Harrison said that Popper “was always focused on ensuring that workers’ rights were protected.” He said that Popper was an excellent negotiator during contract talks, but said he was always focused on his members.
“How to improve their lives. So whether it was proper health insurance, being able to retire with dignity and respect, pension plans, education opportunities, childcare funds, you name it. Anything that he felt or had seen just from over the years in his research that had an impact on workers, he tried to remove any type of barriers,” said Harrison.
Assemblymember Harry Bronson (D-138), knew Popper well, and talked about him being extremely intelligent, but also very direct when discussing workers’ rights.
Bronson remembered a discussion among local anti-poverty advocates, when Popper distilled the argument being made very concisely.
“So for Bruce, when we were discussing how to address poverty and end poverty for our families, he said, ‘This is simple folks. If you want to end poverty, you have to pay them more so that they can provide for their families.’”
Bronson also said that Popper, “strongly believed that the labor movement was about social justice and fairness.” He said that, “everything (Popper) did was about workers’ rights, but it was bigger than that, it was about social justice.”
Assemblymember Demond Meeks (D-137), who previously worked as an organizer at Local 1199, said that, “While my heart is heavy with the passing of my labor brother, mentor, and friend Bruce Popper, I am truly grateful for the many life lessons I gained from him.” He praised Popper for taking a stand on social justice issues.