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Former New Jersey Commissioner of Labor and Industry Carl Holderman. (Photo: New Jersey State Library.)

Labor Leader: Carl Holderman was a founder of the CIO

Ex-textile union leader became president of N.J. CIO and Meyner’s labor commissoner

By David Wildstein, September 07 2020 12:11 am

New Jerseyan Carl Holderman (1894-1959) was one of the founders of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1934 and spent more than five years in Gov. Robert Meyner’s cabinet.

Among Holderman’s lasting legacies in New Jersey: he was among the first to establish collective bargaining agreements during labor negotiations.

Holderman had been a longtime trade unionist and president of the New Jersey CIO when the newly-elected Meyner picked him as his Commissioner of Labor and Industry in 1936.

He joined the labor movement in 1925 as an organizer for the Hosiery Workers of America in Paterson.  He became the New Jersey organizing director of the Textile Workers of America.

In 1936, Holderman helped set up labor’s Non-Partisan League of New Jersey, working with United Mine Workers of American president John L. Lewis.

Holderman help found the New Jersey Industrial Council in 1937 and served as secretary-treasurer before becoming president in 1945.

He was known as a staunch anti-communist and was known to purge communist sympathizers quietly but forcefully from New Jersey’s organized labor movement.

Holderman could also hold a grudge.

In 1953, he used his influence with the New Jersey State Senate to block lame-duck Gov. Alfred Driscoll’s nomination of Elizabeth Van Dine Smith as the Passaic County Superintendent of Elections because she had once purged him from the voter rolls.   Holderman had missed voting in four consecutive elections.

The New Jersey CIO endorsed Meyner, the former senate minority leader from Phillipsburg, in what started as an uphill battle to become governor of New Jersey.

Meyner first had to beat former Rep. Elmer Wene (D-Vineland), a Cumberland County chicken farmer who had won 49% of the vote in his 1944 U.S. Senate race and 47% as the Democratic gubernatorial candidate against Driscoll in 1949.  Meyner won that race by 1,585 votes statewide, 465-45%.

Republican Paul Troast, a construction executive who built the New Jersey Turnpike as its first commissioner, won the GOP primary against publisher Malcolm Forbes by a 52%-39% margin.

The New Jersey American Federation of Labor (AFL) backed Troast.

Troast had been the favorite to win the general election against former State Sen. Robert Meyner (D-Phillipsburg) until The New York Times broke a story that Troast wrote a letter New York Gov. Thomas Dewey seeking clemency for Joseph F. Fay, the head of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825 who had been convicted of extortion.

The Fay letter sent the Troast campaign into a tailspin and he wound up losing by 153,642 votes, 53%-45%.

During the 1953 campaign, Holderman headed the CIO political action committee that helped Meyner and Democratic legislative candidates.

Holderman had initially turned down Meyner’s offer of a cabinet post, saying he didn’t want to launch a precedent where the governor felt obligated to pick a union leader for the labor commissioner post.

The governor-elect was facing an early political dilemma: Jersey City Mayor John V. Kenny, the Hudson County political boss, wanted Rep. Edward Hart (D-Jersey City) to serve as labor commissioner.  Camden Mayor George Brunner also weighed in as a Hart supporter.

Meyner didn’t want to cede the Department of Labor and Industry to Kenny, and he convinced Holderman to reconsider.  Hudson and Camden weren’t willing to pick a fight with the CIO.

Holderman was in his sixth year as labor commissioner when he died on heart attack in his Nutley home in 1959. He was 65.

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