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Paying Their Dues: A Love Story

When a young union organizer approached Rich Gollin and asked him to sign a union card, he wasn’t sure it was for him. She stuck with it and convinced him, though, and that led to 45 years of marriage, four children and eight grandchildren, and a long career in the labor movement.
Paying Their Dues: A Love Story
By Kevin Zapf Hanes ·
Tags: Our Stories
Paying Their Dues: A Love Story
Barbara and Rich Gollin on their wedding day. Credit: Photo courtesy Rich Gollin

It’s not, but here is the story of how a one-on-one conversation between a union organizer and a laid-back, nonunion social worker led to 45 years of marriage, four children and eight grandchildren, and a long career in the labor movement.

It was the late 1960s when Rich Gollin, now AFSCME New Jersey Council 52 executive director, was in graduate school and doing substitute teaching on the side. He was living at home with his parents and only wanted to make enough money to go out with friends on the weekend, he recalled.

Gollin’s father, a Teamster shop steward, was not a fan of Rich’s lack of drive to go out into the working world, and demanded that he “go get a real job.” Real to a union shop steward carried the implication that he needed to look for something full-time with benefits. Even better would be a union job.

Gollin went to work as a social worker at the Hudson County Welfare Board, still determined not to “overdo it.” “We worked in the office one day a week and were in the field the other four days,” he said. “I was young, able to spend time outside and not stuck in an office. I was content and my father was off my back.”

One day, a young lady named Barbara introduced herself to Gollin, asking him to sign a union card. She said that she and some co-workers were going to form a union to improve working conditions. Gollin told her he liked his current job.   “I don’t have a boss breathing down my neck,” he said. “How are you going to make that better? And you want me to give you money?”

Understanding the value of building union power and gaining a voice at work, Barbara didn’t give up. She continued to talk to Rich and explain the importance of standing together to defend what he enjoyed about his job and look for ways to make it even better.

“I had no doubt that unions play a big role in the workplace,” Gollin said, “but I did not see how being part of a union would change my life. I wanted to just do my job until I received my master’s degree and move on.” After several conversations, Gollin signed the card.

Once they won union representation, Barbara and Rich took on key roles in their local, recording secretary and chief shop steward respectively. Within two years, the team would take on another of life’s challenges – marriage and building a family.

As Rich’s union activity continued, moving from local vice president to Council 52 staff representative and associate director, the pair would have four children. Years later, Gollin would become AFSCME Council 52 executive director, a post he continues to hold. He also serves on the International judicial panel.

“I joke with Barbara all the time that I didn’t want to give her money then, but somehow now I give her all my money,” laughed Gollin. “I have never regretted signing that card; the love of my life came along with it!”

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