Home>Feature>Labor Leader: Arthur Quinn was a Middlesex senator, state AFL president

Former State Sen. Arthur Quinn (D-Perth Amboy) spent 20 years as president of the New Jersey AFL. (Photo: Quinn Family).

Labor Leader: Arthur Quinn was a Middlesex senator, state AFL president

Potential gubernatorial candidate authored law to give public employees 8-hour workdays

By David Wildstein, September 06 2021 12:04 am

Arthur A. Quinn (D-Perth Amboy) was a state senator from Middlesex County in the 1930s and wrote the law establishing eight-hour workdays for state, county and municipal employees.

Quinn had organized the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Local 65 in 1896.  It was among New Jersey’s earliest labor unions.  He became the second general vice president of the national Carpenters’ union in 1906 and moved up to the number two post in 1908.

From 1913 to 1933, Quinn served as president of the New Jersey Federation of Labor – the AFL.

Quinn was elected to the State Assembly in 1912 and served three one-year terms.

In 1929, Quinn became the Democratic nominee for State Senate in a special election.  The Senate seat had been vacant since Republican Morgan Larsen had resigned to become governor the previous January.

In November, Quinn defeated Republican Russell Watson by over 3,000 votes, 52.5%-47.5%.  Watson was the chief investigator for a state grand jury investigating Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague.

Quinn was sworn in later in November and immediately generated some statewide controversy.

In those days, legislators were paid $500 and received their annual salary in advance on the first session of the year.  Since Larsen was still the senator, he took the $500 and resigned one week later to become governor.

Senate President Thomas “Captain Tom” Mathis (R-Toms River), refused to pay Quinn a pro-rated salary for the final six weeks of the legislative session.  He said Middlesex had already received their Senate salary.

Quinn eventually prevailed, but the Assembly Republican majority retaliated in early 1930 by pulling $900 in legislative patronage jobs from Middlesex County.

He ran for a full three-year term in the Senate and defeated Assemblyman Irving Demarest (R-Woodbridge) by nearly 11,000, 59%-41%.

From his dual perches as a Middlesex senator and powerful labor leader, Quinn had gubernatorial ambitions.

In those days, New Jersey governors served a single three-year term and were term-limited from succeeding themselves.   With Larsen leaving, Quinn began to seek support for the 1931 Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Quinn and William Dill, a former state Motor Vehicles Director who had lot to Larsen in 1938, were considered the leading candidates until former Gov. A. Harry Moore, a close ally of Hague, announced that he would run and cleared the field.  Moore won the election.

In 1933, Quin became the minority leader of the New Jersey Senate.  He again sought support to run for governor when Moore would be term-limited in 1934, but Democratic county chairs rallied in support of Dill, now a judge.

Instead, Quinn resigned from the Senate in 1933 to become the comptroller of the Port of New York.

Quinn also retired from his post as state AFL president.   He backed his vice president, Thomas Eames, an organizer for the Glass Bottle Blowers Association of the United States.  Eames beat Marciante by 38 votes, 231 to 193.  In 1934, Marciante mounted a rematch and defeated Eames by sixteen votes, 238 to 222.

He spent 18 years in the post before his retirement.

After Quinn died in 1957 at age 90, former Attorney General David Wilentz, the Middlesex County Democratic boss, was a pallbearer at his funeral.

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