Veteran UE Organizer,
Dies at 84
Lou Kaplan (center, with glasses) is surrounded by Jerrold
Electronics workers celebrating the 1960 election victory which brought them
out of a do-nothing union and into UE. Jerrold Electronics was owned by Milton
Shapp, who as governor of Pennsylvania appointed Kaplan to the state workers’
compensation appeals board.
Louis L. Kaplan, an organizer with a reputation for
toughness, energy and fast-thinking, died May 6 at 84. He served on the UE
staff from 1946 to 1970 as a field organizer and international representative,
through years when the union both faced terrific attacks and experienced
Born in New York, Kaplan was raised in the Pleasantville Home
for Jewish Orphans following the murder of his father. He received a
scholarship to attend the University of California at Los Angeles, receiving a
BA in 1936 and a MA in 1938. Immediately following college he worked with
International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union on the West Coast.
Returning to the East Coast, Kaplan worked briefly as a New York City teacher
before joining the staff of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding
Workers of America.
Kaplan gained a reputation as "perhaps the union’s best
organizer," leading drives at shipyards in Massachusetts, New Jersey and
Joining the UE staff in 1946, Lou Kaplan was assigned to
assist National Cash Register and Univs Lens workers in Dayton, Ohio. The
Univis strike that year was broken by National Guardsmen; Kaplan was beaten on
the picket line. Red-baiting was used by the boss in that strike; as the Cold
War gripped the nation, Kaplan, like other union leaders was accused of being
a communist and interrogated by Congressional investigators as he fought to
defend the union.
"The main thing about Lou was an incredible vigor, he
would just keep going," recalls retired Intl. Rep. Ed Bloch.
"He had a dominating personality, and physically he was just
Bloch worked with Lou Kaplan in a hard-fought campaign for the
survival of the UE-RCA local in Lancaster, Pa. Despite the grueling pace, the
indefatigable Kaplan left Lancaster immediately for an arbitration in Elmira,
N.Y., Bloch recalls. With the same raw energy, Kaplan physically repulsed a
gang from a rival union bent on disrupting an early 1950s UE Convention, Bloch
"Lou could think fast," Bloch says. "And he had
a voice like a bullhorn. He didn’t need a PA system when he spoke. There was
no way anybody was going to shout him down."
Skillful in communicating to workers their common interests
beyond race and color, Kaplan was a staunch champion of civil rights. His son,
Steven Kaplan, recalls how Lou Kaplan "never compromised his major
beliefs," and proudly "stood up for civil rights and unions at the
same time." Kaplan was also an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War.
WORKED FOR WORKERS
Numerous workers in District One, where Kaplan served for many
years as international representative, benefited from his organizing and
negotiating skills. Stephen Sheller, a Philadelphia who worked with
Kaplan said his "most substantial accomplishment was his ability to
organize workers and then to make sure they received good contract. He did as
much as anyone in this area to improve workers’ pay and benefits."
Kaplan led campaigns at the then-General Electric plant in
Waynesboro, Va. (UE Local 124) and the Staunton, Va. Westinghouse (now McQuay,
UE Local 123) plant in the 1960s and Jerrold Electronics Corp. in Philadelphia
in 1960, among others. He assisted the 300 workers of the Wildman-Jacquard
Knitting Machine Co. in Norristown in returning to UE in 1957.
After 1970, Kaplan went to work for the American Federation of
State, County and Municipal Employees. As an AFSCME official, he was called
upon to serve as a negotiator in an effort to resolve the prison rebellion in
Attica in 1971.
Kaplan was appointed to the Pennsylvania Workers’
Compensation Board of Appeals by Gov. Milton Shapp (owner of Jerrold
Electronics), and served as secretary. "In this capacity, he continued to
fight for justice for workers injured in the workplace," says Steven
Kaplan. "He rewrote the book on Workmen’s Compensation to insure care,
especially for miners with black lung disease, and workers with
Kaplan is survived by his wife June, sons, Steven
Kaplan and Stuart Kaplan, daughters, Lynn Hollyn-Taub, Maxine
Ruhl, Roberta Puglisi and Joann Kaplan, as well as numerous
grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
UE News - 06/00