Voice labor leader Wallace dies at 83
Jack Wallace , who unabashedly proclaimed that his life was centered on God, family and his union, in that order, died Thursday following a long illness. Sometimes, it seemed like the union was in the lead position.
Wallace was the long-time president of the Wilkes-Barre Newspaper Guild, a union that represents reporters and other newspaper workers. As a reporter over almost four decades, Wallace covered a Wyoming Valley landscape in which he played a major role as a noholds-barred labor leader.
Born John Wallace, he was “Jack’’ to everyone. Death came Thursday morning at Erwin Hospice of St. Luke’s Villa, Wilkes-Barre. He was 83.
Wallace was committed to the union movement and he believed that collective bargaining was the way to improve the lives of working people. He was a tough negotiator. Compromise often meant standing firm until management gave in.
Over his tenure as Wilkes-Barre Guild leader, Wallace led three strikes, two against the former Sunday Independent in the early ’70s and another against the Wilkes-Barre Publishing Co. in 1973, a post-Agnes Flood walkout that presaged the 1978 strike against the company’s new owner, Capital Cities Communications, Inc. Guild field representatives led that strike but Wallace was a key member of the eight-man Wilkes-Barre Council of Newspaper Unions that managed the strike.
“He did what he thought was the best for the working people, the members of his union,” said Carl Schwab, Plains, a long-time treasurer and executive board member of The Guild. “Jack lived and breathed the Newspaper Guild. It was always ‘the Guild, the Guild, the Guild.’”
Fred Ney, Guild unit chairman at the former Sunday Independent, said Wallace was “a devoted journalist who was a firm advocate for newspaper workers. He improved the lives of many people.”
Bill DeRemer, Guild vice president during Wallace’s tenure, said Wallace “was strictly business when it came to union affairs.” He cited Wallace’s role as a mentor to younger union leaders.
Wallace was an annual delegate to Guild conventions where he maintained a high profile. He always served on convention committees that had the toughest tasks, and he relished the floor fights.
Schwab and Wallace also had a relationship in the former St. Therese’s Little League in South Wilkes-Barre, the former as a coach and the latter as an umpire.
“Even though he had no sons, Jack served several decades as an umpire and board member. He was very devoted,” Schwab said.
Wallace lost his wife, Margaret, to cancer in May 1969, and he never remarried. Coworkers believed that he had made that pledge to Marge as she suffered a prolonged and painful illness.
He was a member of St. Therese’s Church, where he served as an usher. On the church’s closing, he became a member of Our Lady of Fatima Parish at St. Mary’s Church of the Immaculate Conception, from which he will be buried.
Wallace was a Korean War-era Army veteran. He began working in the newspaper industry following that stint. He quickly became involved in the Guild Local 120.
During his reportorial career, he covered the police beat for The Times-Leader, The Evening News. In the early ’70s, he was assigned to the courthouse beat and remained there until his retirement, reporting first for The Times-Leader, Evening News-Record all-day paper created following the Agnes Flood, and then for The Citizens’ Voice after the historic newspaper strike began on Oct. 6, 1978.
While on the courthouse beat, Wallace covered many changes of administration in the pre-Home Rule days. He did extensive coverage of the George Banks trial. His indepth stories fill binders in The Citizens’ Voice library, telling the story of the Wilkes-Barre man who killed 13 people on a cool October night in 1982. Wallace also covered the trial of Dr. Glen Wolsieffer, the Wilkes-Barre dentist who murdered his wife.
In a supreme irony, Wallace led the Guild negotiating team that bargained the first contract for Citizens’ Voice employees when the 1978 strikers created a for-profit company, The Citizens’ Voice, Inc., in 1989. In effect, Wallace was bargaining against himself as he was one of the shareholders in CVI. He didn’t blink as he again took on “management,” one of The Newspaper Guild’s field representatives.
His obituary appears today on page 32.
Jack Wallace, left, is congratulated after he was named to the South Wilkes-Barre Little League ‘Ring of Fame’ in 2011.