Black Friday: Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Day
Trade unionist commonly named day off after him, here is why
Harry Van Arsdale Jr. was born on this day 116 years ago, November 23, 1905. This date is important to the history of not only Local 3 and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers but the entire Labor Movement because of what Harry achieved for all workers, organized and unorganized, as well as our families and communities.
“Organized labor is a great force in our country and has made it possible for organized and unorganized workers to have a better standard of life,” Harry once said. “The accomplishments of organized labor are something of which every citizen may well be proud and every active trade unionist particularly so, for they have helped make this possible.”
More than anybody else, Harry made it possible. He was a trade unionist through and through, from cradle to grave. His father, Harry Van Arsdale Sr., was a member of Local 3 since its earliest days, and they were toughing out a 33-month lockout by the electrical contractors of New York City when Harry Jr. was born.
After taking the exam, Harry was initiated into Local 3 on August 13, 1925 as an electrician’s helper, and he gained the reputation of a skilled craftsman installing telephone switchboards and new technology for sound movies. In 1931, he accepted his appointment to Business Representative. It was a chaotic time for the local union and the country was in the middle of the Great Depression. Harry ran for Business Manager and was elected in 1933 to the post he served in until 1968, when he was elected Treasurer of the IBEW.
All these details and more are available in Harry’s biography, Labor’s Champion, published by the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Memorial Association. Local 3’s Mentoring Program gives each mentor and mentee a book. Books are also distributed through the Educational and Cultural Trust Fund, which Harry helped to establish in 1964 with signatory contracts and the Joint Industry Board of the Electrical Industry.
Harry strongly believed in education and skills training throughout one’s life and career. The Joint Industry Board started the scholarship program for members’ families in 1949, and it has gone on to give thousands of scholarships for higher education. Today, apprentices and members of Local 3 earn associates, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees at the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor Studies at SUNY Empire State College.
Most members of Local 3 will have already learned these facts and stories. Some haven’t, so make sure you read Harry’s book and talk about it. What many people outside of Local 3 don’t know is that Harry was the first to do a lot of things that we take for granted today. For example, he negotiated the first multi-employer pension plan in the construction industry and the first multi-employer self-insured group for workers’ compensation (Electrical Employers Self-Insurance Safety Plan), and by the early 1960s he established an affirmative action program to hire more minority workers in the electrical industry in construction, manufacturing, and supply.
In 1957, Harry was elected to lead the New York City Central Labor Council of the newly merged AFL-CIO. As head of the Labor Movement in New York, he supported the earliest organizing drives by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), Hospital Workers Union Local 1199 (SEIU), and Municipal Workers of the City of New York (AFSCME). These local unions now represent hundreds of thousands of workers and retirees, and the NYC CLC is the largest of its kind in the nation.
Harry’s life and legacy are celebrated by Local 3 every year on his birthday (November 23) and observed on the day after Thanksgiving with a paid day off in the union’s collective agreement. Truly, he is remembered every day and everyone in Local 3 knows who you mean when you say “Harry.”
The Memorial Association is currently accepting applications to become a member and make a one-time donation. Donations can also be made to the Tree of Life memorial dedicated to Harry in the courtyard of the Electrical Industry Center. Please consider making a contribution today.
It's up to us, whether you knew him personally or learned about him later on, to share Harry’s memory and what he accomplished as “Labor’s Champion.”