1435 Morris Avenue - Suite 3A, Union, NJ 07083
Tim Haresign, President

In Memoriam - Marcoantonio “Marco” Lacatena

Last month we had the sad task of informing you of the death of Thomas Wirth. This month we are equally saddened to inform you that another great pillar of the Council has fallen — Marco Lacatena — who served as Council President from nearly its inception in 1973 until his retirement in 1993. He died on November 5 in Greensboro, North Carolina after a long illness.

It was Marco and other union stalwarts at Montclair State College who organized Local 1904 AFT in 1972, and joined with union activists in other AFT locals (Don Silverman and Bob Arey at Jersey City State College, Tom Wirth and Ralph Bean at Stockton, Irwin Nack at William Paterson, Joe Le May at Ramapo, Will Stern and Rena Rogge at Kean) to lay the foundations of the Council. Marco was among those who played a key role in winning the representation elections against NJEA (by one vote!) that made the Council into the collective bargaining agent for the state college faculty, librarians and professional staff in 1973 and in withstanding three more challenges by the NJEA in 1975, 1978 and 1980 by progressively larger margins. And it was Marco who led the negotiations that resulted in the initial collective bargaining agreement and eight more under his presidency and conducted two successful strikes, the first in 1974 for an unprecedented ten days and the second in 1979 for a day and a half. These were tumultuous times and Marco was clearly up to the task of providing strong, effective leadership.

Collective bargaining in the NJ public sector was new when the Council was organized. Under Marco’s leadership, the Council negotiated the first contract with the State to provide for binding arbitration. In the following years, his leadership led to many other gains at the bargaining table including dental and eye care programs, librarian range upgrades, substantial across-the-board salary increases and additional salary steps. He was respected (and some would say feared) by the Office of Employee Relations for his extraordinary skills as a negotiator. He never settled a contract until he was absolutely certain that the State had reached its bottom line. His militancy was tempered by good common sense and he never wavered in his commitment to improving both the employment conditions and professional standing of the Council bargaining unit.

Organizing was also part of Marco’s agenda. While he was president, the professional staff at Thomas Edison State College voted to join the Council unit in 1982, followed by regular part-time employees in 1987.

Marco clearly saw the dangers of “college autonomy” from day one. He predicted that the diminished oversight from the State would result in diminished state funding and that the individual college boards of trustees and presidents, once freed of state control, would enact irresponsible policies that would drive up tuition costs. He criticized New Jersey’s “high tuition/high aid” model predicting that it would restrict the access of lower income students to public higher education, because aid would never catch up to tuition increases. We are living with the consequences of the State failing to heed Marco’s advice.

Marco was also a force to be reckoned with in Trenton, opposing the Department of Higher Education’s efforts to erode faculty rights and bypass the negotiations process, but defending it against Governor Whitman’s ultimately successful campaign in 1994 to abolish it and bestow its powers to the individual state colleges and universities. He had an especially warm and productive relationship with its last Chancellor Ed Goldberg. Marco was also a powerful presence before legislative committees testifying in favor of expanded funding of public higher education and against budget cutbacks.

One of Marco’s last projects as Council President was to expose “management bloat,” i.e. the proliferation of managerial positions at high salaries at the state institutions, eating up parts of their budget that would be better spent on instruction—another bitter fruit of college “automony.”

Marco’s roots were in the working class. He was born in Paterson, NJ, the child of struggling Italian immigrants. Due to economic distress, he was forced to drop out of high school. He volunteered for the Army and after serving for four years, completed high school. He enrolled in Farleigh Dickinson University while working full time, graduating in 1959 with a degree in Physics and Math. He taught at Ridgefield Park High School and West Milford High School before earning a Master’s Degree from Brown University.

Marco was hired as a faculty member at Montclair State in 1965 where he helped develop the computer science curriculum for what was then a brand new field. He rose to the rank of Associate Professor in the Math and Computer Science Department and retired in 1992, a year before he retired as Council President. MSU awarded him with the rank of professor emeritus.

The Council sends its deepest condolences to Marco’s wife of 56 years, Barbara, their three children and six grandchildren. Bobbe, as she was called by Marco, worked in the Council office from 1979 to 1993 as the office administrator and was a great asset to the Council. She also taught Latin as an adjunct at Montclair.

Obituaries have appeared in both the Star Ledger and Bergen Record.