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In Memoriam: Victor H. Gotbaum

AFSCME is mourning the passing April 5 of Victor H. Gotbaum, former head of New York City’s largest public employees union, AFSCME District Council 37. He was 93.
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In Memoriam: Victor H. Gotbaum
AFSCME is mourning the passing April 5 of Victor H. Gotbaum, former head of New York City’s largest public employees union, AFSCME District Council 37. He was 93.

AFSCME is mourning the passing April 5 of Victor H. Gotbaum, former head of New York City’s largest public employees union, AFSCME District Council 37. He was 93. 

“Victor was a tireless advocate for New York’s working families,” said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders. “He was also a mentor to many labor leaders, and inspired many others. He will be greatly missed.”

Gotbaum will perhaps be best remembered for the role he and the municipal workforce played to help New York City avert bankruptcy in 1975. But even before the city’s fiscal crisis, Gotbaum’s place in New York City history was secure, said DC 37 Exec. Dir. Henry Garrido.

“His leadership of District Council 37 improved the lives of tens of thousands of city workers and their families, and he keenly understood the union’s important role defending public services for all New Yorkers,” Garrido said. “We offer our deepest condolences to his widow Betsy, his children and grandchildren.”

The New York Times, in a lengthy feature published upon his death, called Gotbaum “one of the nation’s most prominent union leaders during a tumultuous time in the history of organized labor.”

For more than two decades, starting in 1965, Gotbaum built DC 37 into a powerhouse of more than 110,000 members, up from the 36,000 when he first became its executive director. Gotbaum also was an AFSCME International vice president from 1975 until 1988. He also served as president of Public Services International, a global union federation that represents 20 million public service workers in 150 countries.

A World War II machine gunner who later became an outspoken peace activist, Gotbaum began his labor career in 1955 with his appointment as assistant director of education for the Amalgamated Meat Cutters in Chicago. 

A 1987 issue of AFSCME In Action recalled, “Gotbaum spent eight frustrating years organizing in the Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, area, fighting the political machine of Mayor Richard Daley before moving on to DC 37 in his native New York late in 1964 to become executive director of DC 37.

In describing his role helping save New York City from bankruptcy, The New York Times wrote, “Mr. Gotbaum, as the main negotiator and spokesman for the city’s unions, succeeded in pressuring City Hall to soften its demands in a way that New York’s workers and bankers could accept. … He went on to help forge an agreement on the painful steps needed to put the city’s financial house in order and to restore creditors’ confidence.” 

After his retirement, Gotbaum founded the Center for Labor-Management Policy at the City University of New York and later served as director of the National Center for Collective Bargaining at Baruch College. He was appointed to the city’s Board of Education in 1993 by Mayor David Dinkins.

Gotbaum is survived by his wife, Betsy Flower Gotbaum; sons Joshua, Irving and Noah; daughter Rachel Gotbaum; stepdaughter Katherin Barr Hogen; eight grandchildren and three step-grandchildren.

 

 

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