Solas 2023 Honorees: Pat Eiding
Pat Eiding has always been a leader. When he was just 20 years old, he ran an Army radio outpost in Korea. By his mid 20s, he was a member of the Insulators and Asbestos Workers Local 14, a building trades union, and a foreman. At 36, he was head of that union. Eiding eventually rose to become president of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO.
Leadership is one way to put it. Eiding puts it another way.
“I was kind of a pain in the neck all the time,” he recalls with a laugh. “In fact, when I was elected business manager of the local union, one of my real good friends would tell people that they elected me so they didn’t have to work for me.”
One could also say he’s a fighter and a connector — someone who can’t walk by a person in distress without offering to help. He credits his mother for those qualities. Along with his father, a skilled gardener who worked in a textile mill, she raised him and his siblings in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia.
“My mother was just a tough lady,” he recalls. “God bless her, she was a magician. She could turn $1 into five and a piece of meat into five meals. I think an awful lot of me being a pain in the neck came from her — she took no guff and would challenge anybody if they tried to sell her something that was supposed to be round and it was square.”
When Anne O’Callahan was establishing The Welcoming Center and needed help, Eiding was in a position to make a difference. He had just been elected head of the AFL-CIO and provided O’Callahan with her organization’s first office, an unfinished space with a phone line.
“Going back to the day that Anne walked in the door, I was fairly new,” he recalls. “I started that job in January 2002. Of course if you know Anne O’Callahan, once you’re there, you’re there. I mean she was astonishing — how quick she grew this thing. Then all of a sudden she needed more space.”
Even after The Welcoming Center left for larger offices, Eiding stayed involved, serving on the board.
“We had a lot of years together,” he says. “And of course the relationship between [us] just grew. Anything she wanted, if I could do it, I would.”
Eiding recently retired, but he isn’t done fighting and connecting. He serves as Chair of the Board for Graduate Philadelphia, he is a trustee of Temple University, and he has a seat on the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, among other community pursuits.
Looking back, he argues that his impact on The Welcoming Center stemmed from his ability to smooth the way.
“Because of who we were in labor, there were doors that we could open and get that discussion going,” he explains. “I quickly recognized that a lot of the people that Anne was working with, many of them had a degree of some sort. You know, a lot of the folks who come here already have an education that warrants them to have a job in a much higher field and that wasn’t available to them.
“And I think the value of us more than what we did or didn’t do, was the fact that in a city like Philadelphia, we were sitting at the table for immigrant workers,” he adds. “We believe in the fact that they deserve a fair shot.”
Celebrate Pat Eiding and the other honorees at Solas 2023 on Monday, April 24th at World Cafe Live. The Welcoming Center is celebrating 20 years of supporting new Philadelphians, and these people helped make it possible. Grab your tickets today!