12 GREATS IN LABOR HISTORY
The New York City Labor Movement boasts a
centuries-spanning history, which can trace
its early origins to before the American Revolution
and into the frontier era of the 17th century.
The chronicle of labor was written in the names
and accomplishments of champions of the common
man, whose legacy is evident in the rights
and privileges that workers enjoy today. Here are
just a few of the infl uential fi gures who shaped the
history of labor:
MARCH 31, 1927 - APRIL 23, 1993
César Chávez was a labor
icon of the mid-20th century,
who served as a symbol of
hope to millions of Americans.
Chávez was a key fi gure
in the organization of a Califronia farm worker’s
union in 1962, despite heavy opposition from entrenched
land owners. His ultimate success establisheed
him as one of the most inspirational
labor leaders of his time, with an infl uence that
stretched far beyond the fi elds of the Golden State.
Eugene V. Debs
NOV. 5, 1855 - OCT. 20, 1926
Eugene “Gene” Debs
is arguably the most wellknown
apostle of industrial
In his younger years,
Debs was a prominent leader
of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and
later helped found the American Railway Union
(1894), the Socialist Party of America (1901) and
the Industrial Workers of the World (1905).
He ran for the U.S. presidency on the Socialist
Party ticket fi ve times between 1900 and 1920 and,
despite falling short each time, he garnered millions
APRIL 3, 1962 - JULY 11, 2019
Workers elected Héctor
Figueroa president of 32BJ
SEIU — the largest property
service union in the country
with nearly 175,000 members
in 11 states — in 2012, thrusting
him to the forefront of airport worker’s yearslong
campaign for fair wages and benefi ts.
Figueroa helped spearhead the nationwide
campaign for a higher minimum wage for fastfood
workers, which became known as the Fight
for 15, and guided airport workers in their fi ght to
raise their minimum wage to $19 an hour.
AUG. 8, 1908 - JAN. 19, 1990
Arthur Goldberg is best
be remembered for his public
service in the 1960s as
U.S. Secretary of Labor, Supreme
Court justice and ambassador
to the United Nations,
but he spent more than two decades as a
strategist and key adviser during the American
During this time, Goldberg was involved in
shaping the labor-management agreements that
emerged in the aftermath of WWII, and helped
SCHNEPS M A10 EDIA • NYC WORKS • SEPT. 6, 2019
draft the merger agreement between the American
Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial
Organizations in 1955.
JAN. 27, 1850 - DEC. 13, 1924
Samuel Gompers was the
fi rst-ever — and longestserving
— president of the
American Federation of Labor.
During his tenure, the
AFL became the largest labor federation in the
world, growing from 50,000 members in 1886 to
nearly 3 million in 1924. Gompers was dedicated
to transform the social, political, and economic
status of America’s workers.
After his election as AFL president, Gompers
fought in support of an eight-hour workday for laborers.
During World War I, he was elected to the Council
of National Defense and played a key role in
crafting a wartime labor policy, and many of his
policies laid the basis of the New Deal endorsement
of labor rights in the 1930s.
MARCH 23, 1887 - JULY 10, 1946
Sidney Hillman is credited
for laying the bedrock
of the modern trade uninism
workers enjoy today. Hillman
founded the Amalgamated
Clothing Workers of
America — now called UNITE! — which he led as
president from 1914 to 1946.
He fought to ensure the economic health of the
industry and improve standards for those who
labored within it. Hillman was instrumental in
shaping landmark labor legislation protect workers’
rights and living standards.
Thanks in large part to his efforts, political action
and education have become a priority within
the labor movement.
Peter J. McGuire
JULY 6, 1852 - FEB. 18, 1906
Known as the “father” of
Labor Day, Peter J. McGuire
is remembered as one of the
most infl uential fi gures in
the history of the American
He fought to convince activists around the
world that a national labor federation was necessary
and is credited for helping keep the AFL
afl oat in its early years.
McGuire was also the founder of May Day, the
International Labor Day.
1965 - PRESENT
Since taking the helm of
the 189,000-member United
Federation of Teachers, the
city’s teachers’ union, in
2009, Staten Island native
Michael Mulgrew has used
his position to advocate for smaller class sizes,
more city and state funding for public schools,
increased parental involvement in their children’s
education, and less reliance on standardized
Under Mulgrew’s leadership, the UFT won a teachers’
contract with the city that included an 18 percent
pay raise in 2014. Mulgrew was the grand marshal of
the 2018 New York City Labor Day Parade.
MAY 25, 1886 - NOV. 9, 1952
Phil Murray served as
president of the Congress
of Industrial Organizations
and helped to transform the
Industrial Union Movement
into a stable and powerful
Murray was a key fi gure in cementing the alliance
between industrial unions and the liberal
wing of the Democratic Party. He also was vital
in helping to build a better relationship with the
American Federation of Labor, which eventually
led to the merger of the CIO and the AFL in 1955.
APRIL 10, 1880 - MAY 14, 1965
Frances Perkins served
as Secretary of Labor for all
12 years of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s
At the time, she was the
fi rst woman to ever hold a
Cabinet post. Perkins played a pivotal role in the
outcome of labor uprisings that marked the era
during her tenure as Secretary of Labor.
She worked tirelessly to improve the lives of
workers and pushed her agenda of fi ghting for economic
justice and security for all.
DEC. 9, 1906 - DEC. 20, 1997
Esther Peterson is remembered
for her courage
and enormous energy
in bringing about change
within the labor industry,
to which she dedicated more
than 50 years of her life.
Peterson helped integrate a YWCA center in
Boston and became a paid organizer for the American
Federation of Teachers.
She also joined the Amalgamated Clothing
Workers Union and was appointed head of the Women’s
Bureau in the Department of Labor in 1961.
Among her many accolades, Peterson was honored
by the National Women’s Hall of Fame and
received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981.
A. Philip Randolph
APRIL 15, 1889 - MAY 16, 1979
A. Philip Randolph helped
bring trade unionism to millions
of African Americans.
Randolph organized the
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car
Porters and served as the organization’s
fi rst president.
He directed the March on Washington Movement
and fought to end discrimination in the defense
His actions helped inspire the Civil Rights
Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Randolph was
one of the founders of the Negro American Labor
Council and served as its president from 1960
to 1966. In 1964, he was awarded the Presidential
Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson.