Our History

Unions are only as strong as the vigilance of their members. As we say during contract negotiations with management: United we bargain; divided we beg.

Three forward-thinking Jewish professionals understood this fact of working life back in the 1960s. Lenny Potash, a social work associate of the Westside Jewish Community Center; Ethel McClatchy (nee Lipsin) and Paul Green, vocational rehabilitation counselors of Jewish Vocational Service sought to improve compensation and working conditions by spearheading a movement to organize their work sites through collective bargaining.

These visionaries were fiercely committed to serving the community. They saw that conditions would not improve, and were likely to get worse, if they did not organize for power on the job.

"I hadn't been working full-time at WJCC very long but it quickly became clear that we needed to build a union if we were to have secure and decent jobs," Potash said in a 2023 interview.

Word got out. The labor-focused trio were soon approached by professionals from other Jewish Community Centers (JCA), as well as Jewish Family Service, Jewish Community Foundation, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters, Bureau of Jewish Education, and The Jewish Federation. Just like Potash, McClatchy, and Green, employees of these organization recognized the urgent need for union representation.

Workers from these various agencies formed an organizing committee that affiliated itself with AFSCME after meeting with Henry Fiering, the Executive Director of AFSCME District Council 36. By 1962, Local 800 was born.

For 60 years AFSCME Local 800 has been working to improve the lives of Jewish communal and social agency employees.

But the union’s elected officers cannot do it alone. Our union functions best when all of our members are involved, voicing their thoughts, and providing suggestions. The mantra – as true now as it was in the 1960s – bears repeating: United we bargain; divided we beg.