New Jersey State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Laurel Brennan was honored Thursday, March 20, with the Sol Stetin Award, which was presented during the American Labor Museum’s annual benefit gala.
The award is named for Stetin, a Polish emigree who successfully unionized J.P. Stevens textile workers after a 17-year organizing drive. The struggle formed the basis of the1979 movie, “Norma Rae.” Stetin also played a pivotal role in creating the American Labor Museum, the first museum in the country dedicated solely to the labor movement.
“Laurel and Sol are both from the same union, the International Lady Garment Workers, and they are very much alike,” said New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech in introducing his union partner of 18 years. “Sol was a fierce organizer, he took on the toughest companies, but he always gave of himself for the betterment of his union and for workers in general. That’s something that is very, very true about Laurel. She is tremendously passionate about workers’ rights and about the labor movement.”
Wowkanech is a past Stetin Award recipient.
Brennan, of Cherry Hill, has served as secretary-treasurer of the 1 million-member State AFL-CIO since 1997, and is the first woman to hold the position. She founded Women in Leadership Development (WILD) to explore broad questions of how unions help women, and how women help unions, and to ensure that union women have opportunities to be educated, develop leadership skills and build diversity within the labor movement. The annual WILD conference has grown to be a preeminent event for union women across the country.
“I am proud to stand with the labor movement on the principles I have stood for all my life _ equality, inclusion, fairness, hard work and solidarity,” said Brennan. “When a younger generation of workers and women enters the workplace with an expectation of fair and equal treatment, we know our advocacy is being rewarded with success, which drives us to continue to fight the battles not yet won.”
Brennan’s career in labor is rich in scope and filled with many firsts. She began her union career in 1976 with a yearlong internship with the New Jersey State Federation of Teachers under the auspices of the Rutgers University Labor Center, where she assisted with negotiations, collective bargaining campaigns and grievances. She was an organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in Pennsylvania, then business agent and assistant manager for the Philadelphia-South Jersey District Council, where she advocated for job development and job security.
She was the first woman elected secretary-treasurer of the Southern New Jersey Central Labor Council and trustee of the Camden County Union Organization of Social Services. She is a member off the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) and past president of its Southern New Jersey chapter. She is a trustee of the Police and Fire Pension System (PFRS), and a member of the State Employment & Training Commission Council on Gender Parity in Labor and Education. Brennan is also a trustee of Working Families United for New Jersey (WFUNJ), a nonpartisan coalition of 250-plus partners that successfully advocated to raise the minimum wage and tie future increases to inflation markers. The New Jersey State AFL-CIO is a founding partner of the coalition.