AFT mourns loss of Nick Yovnello, N.J. higher ed leader

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The AFT is remembering the longtime contributions of Nicholas Yovnello, president of the Council of New Jersey State College Locals, who died in a car accident July 7 in Washington Township, N.J. He was 64.

Yovnello was a member of the AFT Higher Education program and policy council. He led the CNJSCL starting in 1997, and served as president of the Federation of Rowan College Educators from 1993 to 1999. He was also a professor at Rowan University and assistant director of the Campbell Library there.

Nick Yovnello

Less than a week before he died, Yovnello led a CNJSCL negotiating team in bargaining an agreement on a four-year contract covering more than 4,000 full-time faculty, librarians and professional staff at nine state colleges and universities. He told NJ Today that the 14 months of discussions were the most difficult he had experienced in his 40 years of bargaining, but that “we were able to withstand demands that would have decreased our ability to attract and retain skilled faculty, librarians and professional staff.”

Widely respected both within and outside New Jersey’s labor movement, Yovnello was recognized for his ability to build bridges between the diverse communities that affect the future of higher education in New Jersey. He has been described by his friends and adversaries alike as smart, a gentlemen, driven, steadfast, calm—and dedicated to the welfare of the people he served.

“It has been a privilege for the AFT to work with Nick and the Council of New Jersey State College Locals in their efforts to ensure that higher education faculty and staff are treated professionally, to help their students and to strengthen their communities,” says AFT president Randi Weingarten. “This is an immense loss not only for the council, but also for all of AFT New Jersey. Nick’s passion was great, his vision was clear, and his commitment was steadfast. His life’s work stands as a true testament to his dedication as an educator and a union member.”

AFT Higher Education PPC chair Sandra Schroeder, who is president of AFT Washington and an AFT vice president, remembers Yovnello as a man “who gave his all for his union. He was constantly thinking about the issues his union was facing and the best ways to move forward for the good of the members.”

Elaine Bobrove, president of the United Adjunct Faculty of New Jersey and a member of the AFT Higher Education PPC, worked with Yovnello for many years, beginning when he was elected CNJSCL president, and led negotiations for the first adjunct contract. “Nick was a man of staunch principles who cared greatly about those he loved—family, friends, colleagues, his union brothers and sisters; he spent his life searching for equitable responses that advanced human rights. Many of us have been the fortunate recipients of this caring. He walked through the world leaving it, and us, better for his being there.”

Another New Jersey group Yovnello enthusiastically supported was the Health Professionals and Allied Employees. HPAE president Ann Twomey, an AFT vice president, remembers their shared efforts to promote high-quality standards in higher education and healthcare. “On a personal note,” she says, “Nick was a longtime colleague and friend. He was always a strong voice of reason and a steady, effective union leader. I mourn the loss of a gentle, kind and generous man who devoted his life to the service of others—I mourn the loss of a good friend.”

Yovnello had formidable political skills in a state where political games are never played by the book. Nick understood the importance of politics from the local to the national level,” says Donna Chiera, AFTNJ president. “He often told the story of the one election in which he was physically unable to vote, where the local committee candidate lost by one vote. ‘Every vote matters,’ was his conclusion.”

Yovnello also had interests outside higher education. He volunteered for New Jersey’s State Council for Adult Literacy Education Services and was one of the founders of the Lindenwold Public Library. He chaired the Elk Township Planning and Zoning Board and served on the Gloucester County Democratic Committee. These roles gave Nick the opportunity to cultivate political relationships that, at times, benefited the CNJSCL’s legislative agendas. Upon hearing of Yovnello’s death, New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney called him “a true gentleman and a friend. Even when we disagreed, it was always on friendly and amicable terms. New Jersey has lost a true great one. He will be sorely missed. My condolences go out to his friends and family.”

Funeral services will take place in New Jersey on Friday. Yovnello’s family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, well-wishers make donations to the Rowan University Foundation—Nicholas Yovnello Scholarship Fund. The fund’s website can be found at https://giving.rufoundation.org. Condolences can also be sent to the Rowan local  office, in care of Karen Siefring, at siefring@rowan.edu. [Barbara McKenna, Debra Davis, CNJSCL statement]

July 10, 2012