Date Posted

A luncheon meeting of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Memorial Association board of directors was held November 23, 2015 at the Joint Industry Board of the Electrical Industry. The Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Memorial Association was established in 1986 to keep alive the work, vision and approach to trade unionism and cooperative relations between labor and management that he expressed throughout his life, through the sponsorship of numerous activities. It is the intent of the Association to continue to do so through educational and social projects that express the lifelong philosophy and commitment Van Arsdale had toward demanding the recognition of human dignity all workers are entitled to.
Since its establishment the Association has overseen the publication of Van Arsdale’s biography. “Harry Van Arsdale Jr.: Labor’s Champion” was written by Gene Ruffini and initially published in 2003. It contains a forward by renowned labor lawyer and arbitrator Theodore W. Keel and a tribute written by Van Arsdale’ grandson Christopher who currently serves as business manager of Local 3, IBEW.
Van Arsdale served as business manager of Local 3 from 1933 through 1968 when he stepped down and became the local union’s financial secretary, a position he held until his death on February 16, 1986. He also served as the leader of the New York City labor movement as the president of the NYC Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO from 1957 until his death in 1986; and treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers from 1968 through 1978.
Memorials that continue his work that have been sponsored by the Association include the renaming of Empire State College (SUNY) Center for Labor Studies, the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor Studies; the planting of 10,000 trees honoring his memory in the State of Israel; annual paid internships to students of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations; renaming Jewel Avenue in Queens to Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Avenue; renaming Eli Whitney H.S. the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. H.S.; establishment of annual concerts co-sponsored with the Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts; numerous labor/management conferences and seminars on contemporary issues facing organized labor and most recently the “Memorial Tree” which permits individuals and organizations to memorialize their contribution to the Association by purchasing a leaf to be mounted at the Electric Industry Center in Flushing, Queens, N.Y.
Memorial Association President John E. Marchell stated, “Harry Van Arsdale Jr’s life exemplified his commitment to worker education, his belief in the dignity of work and the value of harmonious collective bargaining between employers and employees, leading to improved working conditions and productivity in the workplace.”
Local 3 Business Manager and grandson of Van Arsdale, Christopher Erikson observed, “Harry brought honesty, integrity and good will to every endeavor and because of this he achieved innovations that benefited all working men and women. In his later years he took up the mantel of expressing to everyone he met by handing out cards stating, “Be kind, everyone is putting up a hard fight.”
It is hoped that the sponsorship of events will cause people to ask, “Who was this man? What did he stand for? Why has he been memorialized? And by doing so seek out the answers and join in insuring his positive influence will continue on by influencing future generations.
In attendance at the November 23rd meeting were the two Cornell University interns sponsored by the Association. They gave a brief synopsis of the papers they authored. The paper, “Inclusion in NYC Building and Trades” written by Katrina Ablorth, documents the vision and advocacy of Van Arsdale for progressive unionism in New York City’s Building and Construction Trades. Ablorth writes, “Van Arsdale’s ardent support for union members’ self-improvement, spurred by his resolute sense of responsibility, enabled him to unify an eclectic mass of workers towards the singular purpose of protecting the value of their work.” The paper discusses the role of labor unions in increasing job opportunities for minorities and women in the building and construction trades.
The paper, “A Movement for All: The Growing Alliances between Unions and Non-Traditional Worker Organizations” was written by Jacob Barnes. The theme presents the commitment of Van Arsdale to assist in the plight of minority workers and the development and use of non-traditional organizations to advance their work opportunity. Barnes notes in his introduction that Van Arsdale, “‰Û_chose not to confine his work within the boundaries set forth by legislation and common ideology. Rather, he dedicated his career to fighting for the advancement of all workers, regardless of race, origin or right to collective representation.”
Anyone interested in reading the full text of these and other papers written by interns of the Association, they will be available on the Associations’ website.