New Jersey State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Laurel Brennan was honored Sunday, March 30, with the Evangelina Menendez Trailblazer Award from United States Senator Robert Menendez.
Named in honor of the Senator’s late mother, the award is given annually to a diverse group of New Jersey women in appreciation of their outstanding contributions to the state and their compassionate, effective advocacy on behalf of New Jerseyans.
“Laurel is a trailblazing labor leader – being the first woman to serve as Secretary-Treasurer of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO – developing and implementing policies that have a dramatic positive impact on the lives of one million union members and their families,” said. Sen. Menendez. “She has been a trailblazer for workers and for women throughout her career.”
“We all know Laurel's commitment to our union movement first-hand. She has been a tireless champion for working women and families across our state,” said Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO. “This is a well-deserved honor in recognition and thanks for a career spent advancing the cause of our union movement and of working families.”
Brennan has served as secretary-treasurer of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO since 1997 – the first woman to hold the position. For the past 11 years, she has developed and organized the annual Women in Leadership Development (WILD) conference to address the broad questions of how unions help women, and how women help unions, and to ensure that union women have every opportunity to be educated, develop leadership skills, and build diversity within the labor movement. WILD has grown to be the nation’s preeminent union women’s conference.
Laurel began her union career in 1976 with a one-year internship with the New Jersey State Federation of Teachers under the auspices of the Rutgers Labor Center where she worked with the teachers union on grievances, negotiations and collective bargaining campaigns. She subsequently served as an organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union in Pennsylvania. She became a business agent for the Philadelphia-South Jersey District Council and was later elected Assistant Manager, where she served as a vocal advocate for job development and job security on state and local labor-management committees. Under Laurel’s Leadership, the Philadelphia-South Jersey District created and financed the Garment Workers Education Center that provided literacy, language and computer skill training to immigrant garment workers and their families.
Laurel served as the first woman elected as Secretary-Treasurer of the Southern New Jersey Central Labor Council and as a trustee of the Camden County Union Organization of Social Services. She is a member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) and served as president of the Southern New Jersey CLUW. She is a trustee of the Police and Fire Pension System, and a member of the State Employment & Training Commission Council on Gender Parity in Labor and Education.
Laurel is also a trustee of Working Families United for New Jersey, a nonpartisan 250-plus member community coalition, of which the New Jersey State AFL-CIO is a founding partner.
“I joined a union because I saw organizing and solidarity as the surest way to promote equality in the workplace and create a better life for working women,” said Brennan. “I am deeply humbled by the Senator’s decision to present me with this award, and I am proud to accept it on behalf of all union women who are dedicating themselves today to making a difference in their workplace and in their communities.”