Little lady had big impact
Saturday, June 24, 2006
By SUZANNE TRAVERS
Evelyn Dubrow stood less than 5 feet tall, but she left a towering legacy in her decades of work on behalf of workers. Dubrow, who died Tuesday, was remembered this week by friends and the members of Congress she lobbied.
Dubrow, a native of Passaic County who in 40 years as a labor-rights lobbyist persuaded members of Congress to raise the minimum wage, assure safety and health protections for workers, and create provisions for family and medical leave, died at a hospital in Washington, D.C.
She was 95 and had been in failing health in a nursing home for the last year and a half, according to Chris Chafe, a friend and chief of staff for the labor union UNITE HERE, the successor to the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Dubrow lobbied on behalf of those unions.
"Virtually every piece of legislation that impacted working people that was voted on between 1950 and 2002, Evy Dubrow had a hand in crafting it and lobbying for it," Chafe said.
"The bottom line was that Evy's great strength was her ability to relate as a friend to a garment worker on the shop floor as well as walk into any senator's office and at 4 foot 11, take them on and stand like a giant on behalf of those same garment workers."
The diminutive Dubrow earned respect, admiration, and friendships with presidents and members of Congress in the course of nine presidential administrations. In 1999, President Clinton awarded Dubrow the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, calling her a "tiny woman ... larger than life."
"Evy was that rare individual who had the passion of her convictions, yet never alienated anyone and was almost universally admired by all, truly a rare combination for a lobbyist in Washington," Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, said in a statement mourning her loss.
Dubrow's career spanned the growth and decline of the labor movement in the 20th century. Union contracts and federal legislation gained better wages and working conditions for workers, especially female textile workers in mills and sweatshops, but in recent years she acknowledged those conditions remain a challenge. Chafe said her work was instrumental in the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1970, and the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1991, which requires firms with more than 50 employees to provide up to 12 weeks of annual, unpaid, job-guaranteed leave to care for a newborn, adopted, or sick child or family member, or for one's own medical leave.
She was also a leader in the Vietnam-era campaign to lower the voting age to 18, and for campaigns to gain pay equity for women. She continued to push for legislation to protect workers even as union membership declined, opposing the North American Free Trade Agreement that took effect in 1994 on the grounds that U.S. textile jobs would be lost to Mexico. Chafe said she continued to lobby until 2002. [..]
Sen. Frank Lautenberg joined other members of Congress in entering statements mourning her loss into the Congressional Record.
"We must honor her memory by carrying on her fight for fair pay, better education and job training, and safer conditions for working people," said Lautenberg.
Dubrow's parents emigrated from Belarus, and her father worked as a carpenter and belonged to a trade union, Chafe said. She studied journalism at New York University and worked as a reporter for the Paterson Morning Call, one of four papers that later merged to form the Herald News. There she joined the Newspaper Guild, her first union, and in the 1930s, became an organizer in textile mills throughout northern New Jersey. She was tear-gassed at a Little Falls laundry strike in 1937, according to a report in The New York Sun. Chafe said she spoke with enthusiasm about the thrill and challenges of her early days organizing in New Jersey, dealing with police and politicians.
"It was clear that her gut and her charisma and confidence was in place when she first started her work when she was probably one of the only women organizing," he said.
In 1956, Dubrow joined the International Ladies Garment Workers Union as assistant political director and moved to Washington, where she became one of the first women lobbyists. She did not marry or have children. A memorial service for her will be held in September, Dubrow said.