HVA Biography

To Purchase
"Harry Van Arsdale Jr.
Labor's Champion" -
Biography of Harry Van
Arsdale please click
on this link.


Click Here to read
a review of
"Harry Van Arsdale Jr.
Labor's Champion" as
original appeared in the
January 2004 ILRR
(Reprinted w/permission)


November 23, 1905 to February 16, 1986

The son of a union electrician, Harry Van Arsdale, Jr. was born during a 33-month lock out of Building Tradesmen, by the Building and Construction Industry of New York City. Memories of his father being unemployed and the effect it had on his family remained with him throughout his life. It was his determination to insure workers and their families would have better lives that set him on the path of greatness as a trade union leader, concerned citizen and internationalist.

Initiated in Local 3, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in 1925 as an electrician’s helper, he emerged as a solidifying catalyst of the union when he became business manager in 1933. He held this post until 1968.

A visionary and man of unquestioned integrity, he and his associates set out to establish greater democratic handling of union business. An example of his vision and integrity was his institution of the practice of mailing quarterly financial statements to each member of the union, a revolutionary measure in 1933; not until 1959 were similar practices mandated by law.

He was responsible for the first multi-employer pension plan in the construction industry established in 1941; paid holidays; paid vacation; the establishment of annuity funds for workers and the founding of the Joint Industry Board of the Electrical Industry.

He established the six hour day for construction workers and was an advocate of the shorter work week as a means to distribute work opportunities to a greater number of workers.

In 1950, with the cooperative efforts of employers of the Electrical Industry, he spearheaded the construction of 2,500 affordable apartments for union members. This project, known as Electchester, stands today as a monument to cooperative efforts between labor and management to meet the needs of workers.

As early as 1961, he instituted an affirmative action program that enabled minorities to enter the electrical trade.

He established educational scholarships for member's children in 1949. Today over 1,000 scholarships have been awarded.

In 1964 he orchestrated establishment of the first multi-employer self-insured group for Workers’ Compensation, called, Electrical Employers Self-Insurance Safety Plan.

Elected the first president of the merged New York City Central Labor Council AFL-CIO in 1957, Harry Van Arsdale, Jr. served as its president until his death in 1986. As President he expanded the role of labor throughout New York City. He organized good will study tours to Puerto Rico in 1958 to observe and understand, first hand, the difficulties Puerto Rican immigrants were experiencing in the work place. Similar tours were conducted to Jamaica, Mexico and the International Labor Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

As president of the Central Labor Council he gave great support and encouragement to the development of United Federation of Teachers Local 2; Hospital Workers Union Local 1199 and Municipal Workers in the City of New York. To a greater extent he was instrumental in organizing the Taxi Drivers in New York City, what is now Local 3036. Service Employees International Union.

As president of the 1.2 million member Labor Council he established the Black Trade Unionist’s Leadership Committee and Hispanic Labor Committee as vehicles for minorities to have input to the Council. He also established the Council’s Community Service Program and Rehabilitation Programs.

In 1968 he was elected Treasurer of the International Brotherhood of  Electrical Workers.  As Treasurer he attended IBEW progress meetings throughout the United States and Canada inspiring leaders of Local Unions to achieve increased benefits for their members.  Pointing to Local 3 as a model of what can be accomplished, he constantly reminded them that the current level of benefits Local 3 members enjoy have grown over time and that the new and innovative benefit plans that he negotiated were established initially at minimum levels.  He introduced Canadian Business Managers of the IBEW to Local 3 and they participated in Critical Thinking Classes held at Bayberry Land, South Hampton, New York.  During his term as International Treasurer Harry had shown a great dedication  toward the building of  a closer relationship and understanding between all IBEW members in Canada and the United States. 

In 1968 as Central Labor Council President he began a drive to establish a Labor College in New York City after many trials and negotiations with the State University and Cornell University a labor college was born in September 1971 as part of the newly established State University of New York, Empire State College.  Today, as a result Labor Leaders and rank and file members can go to college and earn Associate, Bachelor and Masters Degrees in Labor Studies.

Harry's accomplishments in the positions that he held as Business Manager of  Local 3, Executive Council Member of the IBEW, President of  the New York Building and Construction Trades Council, President of the Central Labor Trades Council, President of the New York City Central Labor Council, Treasurer of the IBEW and Financial Secretary of  Local Union #3, have affected changes in the work place and caused workers to have opportunities that were previously denied them simply because they were workers.   Harry has been the architect of Labors accomplishments affecting the lives of millions of Trade Unionists.

During the last few years of Harry's life he was involved with a group called the Moral Re-Armament(MRA).  MRA calls for a way of life that seeks to foster ethical commitment in business, industry and the professions to create jobs and to correct the economic and environmental imbalance as well as strengthening the moral and spiritual dimensions of democracy so challenging selfish interests and corruption.  Harry posed the following question to many; "When are people going to join the human race?"

Harry Van Arsdale Jr.’s vision and character continue to shape the trade union movement, and the lives of working men and women, his appreciation of the dignity of work, honesty and integrity in labor and management relations and the advancement of educational opportunities for workers and their families continues to flourish in those whom his life touched.

It is the purpose of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Memorial Association to insure that these virtues continue to flourish for generations to come.