Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Tuesday, June 29, 2004


Bert Seidman 1919 - 2004

Bert Seidman died earlier this week at the age of 84. Some of you old time union health and safety staffers will remember Bert's benevalent directorship of the AFL-CIO's health and safety program in the 1980's after the retirement of George Taylor who founded the AFL-CIO's health and safety department. When Taylor retired, the powers-that-be couldn't face turning the department over to the his obvious successor, a very young woman named Peg Seminario, who only a few years before had started at the AFL-CIO as an intern.

So, the Occupational Safety and Health Department was folded into the Department of Health, Safety and Social Security which addressed the federation's health care, pensions, social welfare and occupational health issues. When Bert retired in 1990, the Occupational Safety and Health Department again emerged, with Peg as the Director. The rest is history.

I didn't know Bert well, and he was already pretty old when I met him. So I was interested to read a bit of his early life in the Washington Post obituary:
Mr. Seidman was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and enrolled in City College of New York, where he joined the Socialist Party. He transferred to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, from which he earned an undergraduate degree in economics in 1938.

After college he worked for the Works Progress Administration in New York on unemployment issues, then returned to Madison to obtain a master's degree in economics in 1941. While there, he was active in the Young People's Socialist League and the co-op movement and became associated with the two Socialist mayors of Milwaukee. He became a pacifist and an anti-communist. After leaving Madison, he worked for the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington.

Beginning in 1944, he performed alternative service as a conscientious objector. While clearing the path for the Blue Ridge Parkway, he held classes in industrial relations for his fellow workers. When the war ended and the government stopped paying conscientious objectors but would not release them from service, Mr. Seidman led a year-long strike against the federal government, working from Pasadena, Calif.

After the strike was settled, he moved back to New York, where he became the assistant executive secretary of the Workers' Defense League.

He joined the staff of the American Federation of Labor in Washington in 1948 and worked for the AFL, and then for the AFL-CIO, for more than four decades.
And even long after he retired, almost until the day he died, it was the rare demonstration that you didn't see Bert in the appropriate T-shirt carrying a sign and demanding justice.

We should all have such a life.

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