For immediate release
May 23, 2005
Sol Stetin during the
J.P. Stevens campaign.
Former President of the Textile Workers Union of America and dedicated pioneer labor leader for more than 70 years, Sol Stetin died in St. Louis on May 21 of complications of leukemia. Born on April 2, 1910 in Pabianice, Poland, near the silk center of Lodz, to Fanny and Hymen Stetin, he arrived at Ellis Island in 1921 at the age of ten and settled with his family in the silk city of Paterson NJ. During the turbulent years of the Great Depression, he worked in a dye shop, and soon joined a union. He became an organizer, leading strikes and organizing campaigns.
Elected Secretary-Treasurer of the Textile Workers Union of America in 1968 and President in 1972, he immediately took on the textile workers’ rights campaign in the South, including the J.P. Stevens Company effort on which the film “Norma Rae” starring Sally Field was based. His deep commitment to the cause of organizing southern textiles mills led him to give up his position as President of one of the country’s most prominent unions in 1976 to lead a merger with the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, in order to form a stronger union.
He served on the Executive Council of the AFL/CIO and as Executive Vice-President of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, now known as UNITE HERE, until his retirement. He then helped found the American Labor Museum / Botto House National Landmark in Haledon, NJ, near his beloved Paterson. As President and then President Emeritus, his dedication to union members and his strong devotion to labor education were instrumental in creating and developing a learning center that has grown into a model for labor education, receiving national and international recognition. The Sol Stetin Award, named in his honor, is presented annually to labor leaders who have made a significant contribution to workers’ advancement.
He was the recipient of several awards including an honorary doctorate from Rutgers University in 1961, the Puffin Foundation’s Heroes and Heroines of Social Conscience Award in 1999 and the 2003 UNITE Officer’s award from the Sidney Hillman Foundation. The Sol Stetin wing of the Labor Education Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J. is named for him.
In 2001, after 80 years in Paterson, he moved with his wife to St Louis, Missouri, where he became an active member of the St. Louis Chapter of Jobs With Justice and a member of the St. Louis Worker Rights Board. When the National Worker Rights Board was formed by JWJ in 2004, Sol was nominated to a position on that Board by the local JWJ chapter.
He is survived by his wife of 71 years, Frieda; two daughters, Sondra Gash of Lebanon, NJ, and Myra Levine of St. Louis, Mo.; a sister, Sophie Sitnick of New York City; two sons-in-law, Ira Gash and Robert Levine; five grandchildren, Lauren Beth Gash, Amy Gash, Lisa Levine, Michael Levine, and Scott Levine; and, five great grandchildren.
He has requested that contributions be made to the American Labor Museum/Botto House, 83 Norwood Street, Haledon, NJ 07508 Phone (973)595-7953, and/or to Jobs With Justice to fund an annual Sol Stetin Fellowship.