Albin J. Gruhn, Former California Labor Federation President Emeritus, 1915-2009
Labor Salutes Longtime Leader
Unionists were saddened to learn of the passing of Albin J. Gruhn, former president emeritus of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. He was 94.
Gruhn had served 36 years as president of the California Labor Federation before retiring in 1996. He amassed a remarkable record through his dedication to working people for over 60 years.
“Few can match Al Gruhn’s devotion to working men and women,” said Art Pulaski, the State Federation’s executive secretary-treasurer. “Driven by his passion for justice in the workplace, Al’s career has been an inspiration for all of us. He never backed down from a fight.”
Gruhn went to work in the lumber mills of Samoa on Humboldt Bay fresh out of high school as a member of Sawmill and Loggers Federal Union, Local 19576. He quickly became embroiled in a strike against the lumber barons of the redwood forests that resulted in the deaths of three picketers. The strike was a life-changing event for him. Blacklisted, he would devote the rest of his days to the labor movement.
Along the way, he worked in construction as a member of Laborers Local 181 at Eureka and Local 139 in Santa Rosa. He was a member of the Laborers union for more than six decades. For much of that time he was a delegate to the Northern California District Council of Laborers and a member of its Executive Board.
In 1937 Gruhn was elected secretary of the Central Labor Council of Humboldt and Del Norte Counties at age 22. He led the council until 1960 when he was elected president of the California Labor Federation.
He knew the value of political action at an early age. At 17 he campaigned for Franklin Roosevelt in his first run for the presidency in 1932. In 1944, as secretary of the labor council, he founded the Northern California AFL Political League, and was an Adlai Stevenson delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1956.
Five California governors appointed Gruhn to an array of state boards, commissions and task forces. Governors Earl Warren, Goodwin Knight, Edmund “Pat” Brown, George Deukmejian and Jerry Brown called on him to grapple with the issues of air pollution, shoreline planning, recreation, fair housing, apprenticeship, employment training, and children and youth.
He was most proud of his role as a founding member of the Association of California Consumers, the state’s first consumer group, as well as his work on the California Apprenticeship Council from 1960 to 1996. During that same time span, he was an advisor to the California Constitution Revision Commission.
Gruhn’s stewardship of the California Labor Federation’s annual scholarship program benefited hundreds of graduating high school seniors throughout the state.
He gave to others, and life gave him the great gift of family. Al Gruhn was married for 68 years to the former Dorothy Coon who predeceased him in 2005. Together, they had eight children, 14 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren.
His career, born in some measure by the violence and killing of union members who picketed the unscrupulous lumber kings of Humboldt County in 1935, proved again that good things can emerge from adversity and struggle. Al Gruhn’s contribution to the betterment of working men and women was huge.
Thousands of delegates to State Federation conventions and conferences heard the bang of his gavel and his familiar conclusion to every speech—“In unity there is strength. United we stand, divided we fall. An injury to one is an injury to all.”