Fighting for a contract while fighting for his life

AUBURN — Cayuga County General Unit President Bob Janas fought for a fair contract in Cayuga County while fighting for his life.

Despite battling stage 4 cancer, Janas never missed a single negotiation session. He even went as far as video calling in from the hospital, wearing a patient gown, during a chemotherapy treatment just to be with his contract negotiation team.

Throughout it all, he never stopped putting the team and union members first. That is why Janas was presented with our union’s Danny Donohue Leadership Award for Local Government during the 113th Annual Delegates Meeting in October.

“This award is great, but without the members to inspire me, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do,” said Janas.

Negotiating through chemo

It was shortly before contract negotiations were to begin when Janas learned his diagnosis – Stage 4 cancer. He met with his Labor Relations Specialist, Jason David, to figure out a plan.

“[Janas] wasn’t sure what he wanted to do and was talking about maybe stepping down. I think it’s fair to say anyone would be a little scared,” said David. “But he built a good team and armed them with the tools to keep fighting. We said that if he needed to step down, we’d figure it out.”

David, who nominated Janas for the award, was in awe to see Janas on Zoom from the hospital during negotiating sessions.

“I was getting a batch of chemo. Even if I was totally out of it, I wanted to send a message to management that it was important enough that I was going to be there, no matter what,” said Janas.

The impact that moment had on the team was palpable.

“Because of that he built solidarity with the team, which then equaled solidarity amongst the members,” said David. “Through his actions, he brought solidarity to Cayuga County and was able to help get, in my opinion, the best contract the county has ever had.”

Janas said that contract negotiations were a good distraction for him.

“If I didn’t have other things going on and was just focusing on my disease, I probably would’ve gone through a serious bout of depression,” said Janas. “I had the benefit of not having that leisure time. People don’t understand the amount of time it takes to prepare for negotiations. But I was busy and didn’t have time to sit and dwell on the fact that with this disease I have, I could be gone in a year or two.”

In a strange way, Janas said he’s thankful for the cancer because it made him appreciate life more and he doesn’t get angry at things he can’t control.

The good news is, in the fight against cancer, Janas is winning.

“My last few scans have been good. I’m still doing treatments, but my body reacted as well as it could have,” said Janas. “They won’t tell you that you’re in remission until you’ve had two years of good scans, but they told me that I’m in a good spot.”

Activism: ‘It’s genetics’

Janas learned about unionism when he was young.

“My mom and dad were both union activists,” said Janas. “My dad was president of the steelworkers local, and my mom was in the machinists’ union at the bottle plant in Auburn. Being a kid, I would see them talking about it at the dinner table. Through osmosis, I realized the importance of it. It’s genetics, I guess.”

Janas worked at the same shop as his dad and got active in his union there. He later worked at Mercy Rehab and was part of SEIU.

“I was there during a strike. I wasn’t an officer or anything at the time, but I was an unofficial leader walking the picket line,” said Janas.

Being a union representative is often a thankless job, but can be rewarding.

After helping get a co-worker’s job back, Janas ran into him a couple of years later.

“He said that I saved his life,” said Janas. “Six months after he got his job back, he started getting headaches and went to the doctor where they found a tumor. He told me that if he didn’t have a job with insurance, he wouldn’t have gone to the doctors and he’d be dead. If I didn’t get another thank you for the rest of my life of union activism, that was enough.”

— Nicholas Newcomb

From left to right, Central Region President Kenny Greenleaf, Cayuga County General Unit President Bob Janas and CSEA President Mary E. Sullivan pose after Janas received the Danny Donohue Leadership Award for Local Government at the 113th Annual Delegates Meeting.


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