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Lou Kaplan,
Veteran UE Organizer,
Dies at 84


Veteran UE Organizer Lou Kaplan (center, with glasses) in 1960 ...
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 renewed growth.

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 Pennsylvania.

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 indestructible."

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 says.

"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.


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 asbestosis."

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.

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