Joseph J. Sullivan Sr., 80, of Philadelphia, a former heavy equipment operator who rose to become president of Teamsters Local 470, died Tuesday, April 9, of cardiopulmonary arrest at Deer Meadows Retirement Community.
Mr. Sullivan joined Teamsters Local 169 in 1954 while a student at Southeast Catholic High School. He worked part-time as an apprentice oiler on crane equipment at Pier 38 to supplement his family’s income.
In 1958, he went to work for Driscoll Construction Co. in Blue Bell as a heavy equipment operator hauling construction apparatus to job sites in and outside Pennsylvania.
At Driscoll, he became a shop steward with Local 470. In 1965, during a lull in construction, Mr. Sullivan joined the Scott Bros. Division of Pennsylvania Truck Lines. He worked as a truck driver and operated a crane called a “piggybacker.” A piggybacker straddles railroad tracks, and loads containers and truck trailers onto flatcars. He operated one at the Conrail Terminal in Morrisville, his family said.
He became a Local 470 shop steward at Scott Bros. as well and was elected recording secretary in 1980.
In 1984, Mr. Sullivan became the local’s full-time business agent. In 1991, he rose to vice president, and in 1992 was elected president and business agent. In 1994, he was named one of three trustees to administer the bargaining unit’s pension and health and welfare fund.
“Joe brings a wealth of experience to the fund,” the Philadelphia Update, a fund newsletter, reported in 1995. He remained at the helm of the 2,000-person local until retiring in 1997.
After Mr. Sullivan retired, Local 470 merged with the larger Local 107, which kept its name.
Bill Hamilton, president of the merged local, said Mr. Sullivan was known for his integrity. “He was one of the working people, he worked his way up through the ranks,” Hamilton said. “He understood wages and benefits packages and how they affected family — and safety on the job. His representation showed that.”
Mr. Sullivan’s influence went beyond Local 470. He served as a vice president of the Philadelphia Building Trades Council, a delegate to national Teamsters conventions, and co-chairman of the Joint Area Committee for Construction Grievances.
In honor of Mr. Sullivan, the union sent an 80-foot tractor-trailer to his funeral on Saturday, April 13, and parked it in front of St. Richard Church in South Philadelphia.
A lifelong South Philadelphia resident, Mr. Sullivan earned a certificate of achievement from Indiana University of Pennsylvania as a teacher of the laws governing the licensing of commercial drivers. He also was a monitor for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the agency that administers the test.
Mr. Sullivan was married to Catherine Brown Sullivan, with whom he had five children. He also raised his grandson Christopher Sullivan starting when the boy was 5. His grandson credits Mr. Sullivan with teaching him leadership skills and how to strive for success.
“My grandfather taught me that if you set your mind to something, no matter what it is, you can achieve it,” Christopher Sullivan said. “He put his blood, sweat, and tears into being a Teamster, whether driving a truck or becoming president. He was the anchor of this family and especially of my world.”
In addition to his wife and grandson, he is survived by children Joseph Jr., Michael, Joyce, Denise White, and Deborah Hoffer; 11 grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; a brother; a sister; and nieces and nephews.