Joseph S. Fay (1892-1972) spent decades as one of New Jersey’s most politically influential labor leaders, but a scandal that landed him in prison also changed the outcome of a race for governor of New Jersey.
Fay was the business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825 from 1921 until 1948. After winning six one-year terms, Fay was re-elected “for life” in 1927.
He didn’t become a union man until he was in his late 20s. He moved to New Jersey from upstate New York in 1918 after being shot by a policeman during a barroom brawl.
As the story goes, he had a friend who knew legendary Newark mobster Long Zwillman and told Fay he could find a job in New Jersey.
Allegations that Fay was shaking down subway contractors in New York City led to the suspension of him and Local 825 from the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1932.
In 1934, a Fay critic was gunned down outside his home in Teaneck. Fay was investigated for the murder, but was never charged
When International Ladies Garment Workers president David Dubinsky introduced an anti-racketeering resolution in 1940, Fay punched him in the face.
In 1948, Fay was convicted of extorting over $700,000 from New York City contractors.
Former New Jersey Turnpike Authority Chairman Paul Troast had been the favorite to win the 1953 gubernatorial election against former State Sen. Robert Meyner (D-Phillipsburg) until The New York Times broke a story that Troast had written a letter to New York Gov. Thomas Dewey seeking clemency for Fay.
The AFL had endorsed Troast, while the CIO was backing Meyner.
The Fay letter sent the Troast campaign into a tailspin and he wound up losing by 153,642 votes, 53%-45%.
Federal prosecutors later tried Fay for tax evasion, but he was acquitted.
After his release from prison in 1958, Fay moved to the Jersey shore and sold cars. He died in 1972 at age 80.