Interview Transcription Professor Carl Lane

CL: Hi, my name is Carl Lane, and I am a Professor of History at Felecia College. Today is Thursday, February the 27th, 2014, and we are in the boardroom at the Castle on our Rutherford campus in order to conduct an oral history interview of Mr. Ray Bramucci. Mr. Bramucci is a long time labor leader and public servant both at the state and national levels. We are here engaged in this project in the expectation that future scholars of American labor, United States history and New Jersey history will find Mr. Bramucci’s testimony about his life experiences an important resource for their research.

RB: Hi, I’m Ray Bramucci, and I hope to be able to put on a film and in person of a lifetime that’s been very unusual and I think interesting if I may be so bold. The future people who would like to have a first-hand account, at least by my version of what was going on in our state and our country during these benchmark times.

(00:01:46) I think the best way to begin this is that my beginnings were very, very normal in that I came from a household where nobody ever went to high school, or went to college, for instance. And my father and mother were both working class people and had no expectation that I would be an interesting and useful part of the governance of our state and our country. I grew up in Massachusetts, but I quickly moved on to the United States Air Force at the age of 17. And went through four years of service there where I was a photographer, allegedly, and then when I, when that didn’t prove to be feasible because I couldn’t fly and take pictures at the same time I was assigned to a photo lab where I did gun film development and other tasks that that stemmed from the cameras carried in fighter planes and turned on to the machine guns.

And from there I came home to Massachusetts only to show my father I could get up in the morning. And my first job was as a power miller in a shotgun factory. I worked there for three or four months making shotguns and heard about a job at the United States Rubber Company, in the second shift, and I took that and that sudden shift in our wage increase, my father was appalled that I left my original job, and I made truck tires, or I helped make truck tires.

From there, I stayed there until my friend who I had been in the Air Force with called me to come to New York with him to attend college, possibly. He was going to NYU. I got to New York, and of course, I didn’t have any money, and I never had graduated from high school, so I couldn’t go to college. But from there I became a rug salesman in New York City selling rugs to B. Altman Company, which is now out of business.

I worked there until I got fired for speaking to a union organizer that was standing near the store at quitting time giving out bills, leaflets, to join the union. And the company was obviously look at me from the (00:05:00) building and saw that I stopped and spoke to this fellow. And I was fired. And about the same time I was reading an ad in the New Republic magazine, which I subscribed to. And it spoke about careers for young people interested in representing lower paid, hardworking – mostly women – in the garment industry.

And I thought that was very interesting and, I applied by telephone. And they told me to come to New York, 1710 Broadway, which ironically was the headquarters of Edsel Ford for many years when the union bought this building. And I faced a number of old men with heavy accents, they spoke Yiddish and Italian.

And there wasn’t one red blooded American there, these were all naturalized citizens who had been through the first World War and the left right battles of communism, socialism, and democracy. I can remember one question that I got that – did I like John F. Kennedy, because I was from Massachusetts. And I said; no, I didn’t like him, okay, but my hero was Hubert Humphrey, who at that time was the stalwart of the civil rights movement, and was, in fact, a labor farmer party representative from Minnesota.

And I quickly went to school; it was three months on the job, three months at school, where they brought in all kinds of people, Philip Taft, who was an imminent historian of the labor movement in America. He was one of our leading lecturers, John Roach, from Brandeis, who went off to be Lyndon Johnson’s intellectual representative in the White House, and many others that were well known scholars in the field. And during that time we also learned what the nomenclature of the garment industry was.

And after three months we were sent out into the field to get experience with people who were on the staff. And my first field trip was to Virginia, where we unsuccessfully tried to organize a knit goods factory in Roanoke. And it was uneventful in that. We were not welcomed by the workers who were afraid that we were coming in to take their jobs away, to keep the factory from flourishing.

So after three months I came back to school. And we shared our experiences. And the classroom was made up of a bunch of young people, men and women, and it was an attempt really of the union to integrate the leadership, the leadership was almost 100% white. And ethically either Italian Americans or Jews. And this was an attempt to bring African-Americans and Hispanics into the leadership of the union.

And ironically we were cited, LIGW was, for requiring a photograph in the application to come to the school, which the New York State Division of Civil Rights viewed as racist. And it was ironic because the very reason we had a photograph was to be able to know that the candidate was, in fact, a minority. And we would give that person preference. But according to the law that was written we were cited for discrimination, which ironically we were discriminating, but in favor of those minorities because we have so few of them leading the union.

(00:10:00) But the second field trip was far more interesting because I went down to, originally it was Georgia, but then I got a call to come to Mississippi. And we were trying to organize a factory in, somewhere near Laurel, Mississippi I recall. And it was, it was still the formant of the early stirrings of the civil rights movement, which probably came to Mississippi last. It was a fearfully segregated and viably prone society. And we were the enemies of the community, because we were, here I am, Ray Bramucci, and I was called a New York Jew.

And they followed me repeatedly. And I thought I had kind of a neutral license plate on my car. It was Virginia. But Virginia, to Mississippi, was like saying Latvia. We were totally out of step. And they followed me repeatedly. And one day I pulled into angle parking on the main street of this town. And I had my back wheel; my back tire was on the line separating the lanes. And I was arrested on the spot and taken to jail.

I was charged for disorderly conduct and a whole bunch of stuff I’ve forgotten now, but I was in one of the real dank jails of Southern Mississippi. And I asked to speak to my lawyer. And whenever he would get close to the jail, or to the courthouse, they would move me to another jail. So I spent, I was the ripe old age of I guess maybe 22 years old, and I was frightened because there are a lot of menacing people walking around and a lot of people had guns.

And we were the chosen enemy of the community because we were trying to steal jobs back to New York. And I finally got out of jail. And came back to New York with some very colorful stories about my experiences. When in the South I took part in a strike, or in an action, a job action, against a sportswear factory in North Carolina. And there were two beatings on the picket line. We were forced to stand with about 100 yards between us at the head of two driveways on the state highway. And my friend was beaten up by two men who jumped out of a trailer truck. And I couldn’t get to him to help him.

I escaped being beaten then, but one day when I was trying to get a haircut in town I saw the same group that had beaten up my friend coming in close to the barber shop. And I was in the chair at the time and I threw off the garb that was on me, the clothe garb that catch the falling hair, if I had hair then, and I bolted for the men’s room.

And luckily there was a small window. And at that time I was also a little more reasonably sized, and I stuffed myself through the window. And then ran and found a payphone and called one of my colleagues, of course, we didn’t have cellphones then. And he met me on the outskirts of town and picked me up.

While that was going on, in between, I met a young lady who had just come up from Annapolis, Maryland as an office worker. (00:15:00) And that woman is today my wife of 56 years, Susan, who I met in the ILGW headquarters. And during this hectic time on the road we carried on our romance. And while on my fieldtrip I took time off and went off to Annapolis, Maryland and married her. It was a romance that was lightening like in its time. I think we were courting for about a month, maybe a little bit more.

And that was a very important move in my life. Having done all the educational parts, and learning the nomenclature of the industry, what is the garment industry? How does it produce goods? And what does it do with value and how does it get paid? I then became the education political director of Local 91, of the Children’s Dressmakers, in Manhattan. The building that housed Local 91 was, we purchased it from (inaudible). It was formally the headquarters of that venerable organization; it is now a community theater. When we were there it was a very solid building of stone and had an auditorium that seated probably 1500. And I was the Education Political Director, which mean that I managed a slick paper, a newspaper, about 12, 14 pages. And also organized people into political action groups.

To be an officer of the ILGWU it was not just a job, it was a movement, staffers were expected to be members of the liberal party in New York, which had grown out of the American Workers Party in New York City, well, our leader, David Dubinsky and the leadership of the union thought that the American labor party was becoming very pro-Soviet. And while the leadership of the union was very socialist. It was of the democratic socialist brand. We were, the officers, whether they were Italian Americans, or Jews from various parts of Europe, were democratic socialists. If they were Russians they would be Mensheviks. And for historical purposes the Mensheviks and the communists vied for early power after the revolution. And because the communists had guns the Mensheviks were idealistic.

And I think people that had tendencies which were, which would be closely aligned with our, the liberal wing of our democratic party in the country, in our country. But they lost. And the communists won.

Q: Mr. Bramucci, may I interrupt for a moment and ask a question about the ILGWU? You did an extensive interview with Mr. Christopher Swenson and in that, in the transcripts I read that you had pointed out that the ILGWU did more than just labor of management relationships, but helped members with rent issues, and with unemployment insurance issues. And that kind of thing. Was that unique to the ILGWU?

RB: Oh, yes. Most of the unions, and I, even our companion union, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, which represented the people who make men’s clothes, not lady’s clothes, had (00:20:00) such function. But basically when I took this first job at Local 91 I spent most of my time representing workers who were getting eviction notices form their landlord, or who were facing rent increases, all of these apartment centered disputes. And these are people that didn’t have funds to go and hire a lawyer.

And I thought it would be an excellent thing that I could do to help them. So I don’t think they had a service helping tenants before I got there but they certainly had one while I was there, and it the truth it’s worth is that I was the most popular guy in the building. People would come to me to get their rent looked at and represent them against their landlord before they went to a business decision to ask him for help on the job.

And I always felt good about it. And I knew I was filling a real need. And the workers thought I was a lawyer. And I got many, many letters back from the rent board, or from the landlords, and it would always begin with; Raymond L. Bramucci, Esq. And I always thought that was very ironic since I didn’t finish high school.

Q: (Chuckle) So how many years did you do that kind of work?

RB: I did that for a couple of years until the man who was the manager of the local was probably the most egotistical human being I had ever come in contact with. And I finally went to the current office in Manhattan and I said; you got to get me out of there, or I’m going to kill him, or he’ll kill me. And I was reassigned. So I did that for about two and a half years. But it was, it was a sign of what we did, how we viewed being members of the union. We were going to help our people, and not even to cope with life, but to bring them – speakers would come into the union to talk about the latest issues of justice and the controversy in the worker versus management, but besides that we would bring in people who were experts at art, and sculpture. And we would have regular classes for them. And it was an important part of trying to raise the level of the lives of working people who had any interest at all in it.

Q: Just another question or two about the ILGWU and your involvement. In the transcripts of your interview with Mr. Swenson you mentioned that strikes tended to “unleash hatred and intolerance.” So you really were not happy with going on strikes. But you also said that there were times when under certain circumstances strike action was necessary. What kinds of certain circumstances warranted a job action?

RB: Well, every, every union had both administrative staff, which I was, and they had a special group of organizers, much like a politician has if he’s a, let’s say he’s a senator. He has his day to day staff. And then when he has to run for office he hires different people to come in to help him with the reelection.

Well, I always found in politics that the reelection people I didn’t like because they were total partisans. And I never saw life that way. It used to bother me because whenever we had a – well, I’ll give you an example.

We had a strike in New Jersey against a company, Con-Air, which makes hair dryers and whatnot. What were we doing in there? I don’t know. But we were there. And (00:25:00) while we were close to a settlement one of my organizers decided to be mean and began slashing tires and breaking windows, and as much as I wanted to win that strike, I didn’t want us to get off on that foot. We were nearing a position where the employer was beginning to see that he couldn’t win, and we were paid strike benefits and an enormous amount of money was being spent that came from member’s dues. And I knew we were coming to an end. And we had a chance to settle it. And on the day I was meeting with the employer to iron out the message we were going to settle, a major series of acts of violence occurred.

And unfortunately it happened on both sides, it usually does. And that’s why I knew that when a strike was carried on for any length of time, either side would resort to some form of antisocial behavior. And yet I knew that you had to have that in your repetirore or the employer actually wouldn’t respect you. You had to show strength.

And the kind of strength you had to show sometimes was antisocial. And I was uncomfortable. There were those in the union who loved having a fight on the strike, on the picket line. I didn’t. Although I got into them, I didn’t enjoy them. It was not – because I always saw that the issues that we were complaining about were complicated. There was a lot of equity on the employer side. We may have had the moral background but in reality the numbers, that is what it took to run a business that made money may have been in direct conflict to what we were trying to do.

And I understood that. And we had to bridge that gap. But many of our, zealots especially, who were organizers didn’t see it that way. The boss was the enemy and I knew that I was going to be the guy to sit with the boss when the strike was settled. They were going to be somewhere else.

Q: Would you say that that’s the most important thing that you learned from your experience in the ILGWU?

A: Well, I think, yes, in a way, but I learned that much earlier. Because the union was the single strongest thing in the industry. The industry was made up of a whole bunch of small contractors. And they sewed the garments. And the basic nomenclature were: manufacturers, who made the garments and sold them. And they may use contractors, but may not. Then the jobbers, who only design the clothes and arrange to have them sold. And the world was made in the contracting shops.

And so the contractor had more in common with the workers than he did with the employer . So when Roosevelt said at the beginning of the new deal that if he was a worker he would join the union. Well, the contractors brought their workers to the union hall to sign them up. Because they saw the union as their protector also. And as a matter of fact, very uniquely, I don’t know of another entity of the labor movement that had this fact. The union hired a group of people who were industrial engineers.

And they were experts in production. And when there was a dispute between the union and management about the fairness of the piece rate, that (00:30:00) the industry was mostly on piece work, the union would call in the industrial engineers. And the employer could call them in too. And his word, or her word, was law. And frequently the workers did not like what that price was, or what that settlement was. But it was what we understood had to be in effect. We were the umpires.

While we advocated for the workers we understood that collectively we were the only entity that could preside over fairness, that would allow employers to compete, because frequently they’re competing with the very workers we represented. So we were the central guiding force of the industry.

And I think even more interesting, we had a system throughout the various trades; dressmaking, coat making, miscellaneous, which was underwear and children’s wear, we had what was called an impartial chairman who was put into place by both sides to handle disputes that were either, that rose to either a strike, a stoppage, or a firing. That impartial chairman, (inaudible) and the upkeep of the office was paid equally by the employers and by the union.

And in case of a dispute, like a firing, a worker had the right to get a hearing within 24 hours. So that the employer, if there was a stoppage – now I don’t know of any entity or a unit in the organized labor field that has such as a provision. And I spent three or four of my years representing the union in all of those cases which appeared in New York, whether it went from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, or New York City. And it was all very informal. If you got a call from the impartial chairman’s office; get here at 10 o’clock tomorrow, we want to hear about this stoppage in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

And you would have a hearing and you would have a ruling right there on the spot. And his word was law. And we both agreed, union management, that that was the way the situation would run. Because any disruption in the garment industry could be lethal to the entity facing it.

Q: Now you may have mentioned it, if you did, I’ve already forgot. How many years were you working with the ILGWU?

A: Twenty-two and a half years.

Q: Twenty-two and a half years. And then there was a change in the substance of your career, wasn’t there? I recall in the transcript of the interview that you did with Mr. Swenson that when Jerry Breslin, and you might want to mention who he was at the time, told you at some point that Bill Bradley, former Knicks player, was going to give you a telephone call. Who was Jerry Breslin and how did all of that happen?

A: Well, we had moved soon I had moved to Bergen County by then. And we went to a Huffman-Koo’s store. And we got into an argument over an end table. And I was getting more and more frustrated on the job because, I mean, this may sound self-serving, but it is true.

And I was willing to make deals with employees on difficult matters and not try to sweep them under the rug, or do an unofficial handshake. I tried to do the right thing and to acknowledge. I’ll give you an example. A company that we represented had a garment that had a lot of beading in the jacket. You know, this fancy stuff they put (00:35:00) on the garment. And there was nowhere in New York, or anywhere in the country where you could get this work done.

And the contract said you cannot go to foreign countries. And I knew if you’re going to sell this garment you would have to make it in the east, the near east, or the far east. And I simply put it in writing that this was an agreement that we had.

So people were beginning to criticize me for this and I, and being a glutton for punishment I would continue to go into tough situations. And I was becoming very saddened by this. And we’re in this store, and Jerry Breslin was the County Chairman of the Bergen County Democratic Party. His uncle had been the District Attorney during the Boss Haag days. He was also an original trustee here at Felicia(ph). When Felicia was not, it didn’t welcome boys and girls or men and women. It was strictly women. And he was very much against, by the way, admitting them into the school.

But Jerry was very close to Bill Bradley’s election campaign in 1978. And this was 1979. And as we were leaving and we ran into him, I knew him because I was the Coat Director, by then I was working in Hudson and Bergen Counties. I was a local badger of garment factories from the George Washington Bridge down to (inaudible). And we had, well, a combination of two locals, we had nearly 10,000 workers. I don’t think they’re 100 now, maybe 100.

And he said; you’re the guy. I said; I’m the guy for what? He’s; well, Bill Bradley is looking for a State Director, and he was just elected, of course, and I’m going to tell him you’re my man and he’s going to give you a call. I said; Jerry, I’m a Celtic fan. You know, Bradley was a Knick and that’s all right, he said he’ll call you.

So at the end we, on the way home, I told Sue what was going on, and I thought, well, yeah, sure, he’s going to call. And he did. And he said I’d like to meet you. And so I met him down in Union, uh, and we hit it off pretty well. He took a couple of blows for me because I had told him the circumstances of Bradley’s election were he ran against and original supply side republican called Jeff Bell. And that election featured a dozen or more debates on issues like solid waste, reliable, renewable energy, all kinds of things that were around the cutting edge of issues that were going to hit us years later. And there was never a name called, there was never any kinds of charge that somebody wasn’t fair. They had an honest debate around the state.

And Bradley won. And Jeff Bell was only the candidate because the longtime republican, Clifford Case, was defeated in the primary. He didn’t see it coming, but as in so many primaries now where you have the growth of the tea party especially, they have power during times of low turnout. So this was the republican primary and I mean you could count the people who voted on two hands. And Clifford Case, a person of great integrity, that who I knew, I said to Bradley when we were interviewing I said; you know, I like you, I heard you speak at the FALCIO convention, and I liked what you said. But if Clifford Case had been your opponent I would’ve voted for Clifford Case. He says; why? (00:40:00) Well, I told him that Clifford Case was an honest pro-labor, pro worker guy and that there was no reason for him not to be in Washington.

And secondly, I said to him; I’m a Celtic fan. And I have been one for many years. And he says; Celtic fan?!? And we had a colorful conversation, I said to myself, well, I probably blew it. And the phone call came, well, he first said to Breslin, when they talked about me being there and interviewing, he said he was pretty good, but if you found him the first time you looked go back to Huffman-Koo’s maybe somebody else would be better than I was.

And Breslin told him he didn’t think he could do much better than that and Bradley hired me. The job was State Director, which meant I managed an office, a main office, that was in the union, that employed about 12 or 13 staffers, another office in Maple Shade down in Burlington County, I think, that ran with five. And I just launched into a career that I had no idea what it was going to be and how it was going to work out. And he didn’t neither, because he was a new senator.

And so it evolved into a wonderful job that I loved every moment of it because, as I said to Bradley many times; you were my officer, you were my college, because while I was well informed I have no idea about the subtleties of many of the global issues that were besetting us. And we were at the beginning of this crisis with where our oil came from, who controlled it, and who especially controlled the price.

And I was totally naïve about supply and demand. And I saw conspiracies and all of that. And he persuaded me from it. I will give you an example. We were touring the Exxon refinery in Edison. It’s on the turnpike, that big ugly thing that’s sitting there, no longer Esso. But I remember saying to the plant manager; okay, if unleaded gas cost $1 a gallon why should it cost $1.15 if it’s leaded?

And I couldn’t, I couldn’t get it. And the plant manager, the refinery manager said to me; well, regular gasoline is not refined to the level that we need to refine it, the ‘50s cars we’re now building, and we have to add – excuse me, it’s the opposite – why if it was leaded it cost one thing and you took the lead out, why wasn’t it cheaper?

And so he showed me in the refinery the length of time in addition they had to refine the fuel in order to make up for the lead that wasn’t in there. That’s an example. But I learned about the oil supply. I learned about toxic waste disposal. We were just now, the State of New Jersey was just coming out with a very, very open and public admittance of the number of toxic waste sites that were in New Jersey.

And I remember, because the legislation had passed, which made those toxic waste dumps a facility that was eligible for help from the federal government. And Brenan Burne was the governor then. And we met together on staffs and we decided we were going to come clean and (00:45:00) just tell everybody how many bad places where in New Jersey. And we had a lot of advice, uh, not to do that. It would, it would damage the reputation of the state and of the many manufacturing units that we had. But we decided to come clean. And then spent a lot of time on getting federal aid to clean up these sites. And they were horrendous. All over New Jersey we had a, we had a fire in one of them on the Passaic River, new Newark, which it burned for about a week. And it was a disgusting place where barrel after barrel of toxic waste was stored without any idea of how to dispose of it safely.

And it ignited and went into flames. And it was, it was a turning point in the American environmental law because we were the first to actually admit that we had these places throughout our state. And we began cleaning up a good third of them while we were in office. Some of them are still lingering, but most of them have been cleaned up.

Q: That’s a very dramatic kind of example of what you were doing, but how, as State Director for Senator Bradley, what was your day to day routine like? Regarding your office what would take up your workday?

RB: Well, I’d go to the office and make sure that the administrative things we had to do were done. For instance: when Bradley took over in Washington he thought that he could sign every letter, to answer the mail he got. It was totally undoable. When he took over on the day he got his office I think there were 35,000, 36,000 pieces of mail waiting to be answered.

And if I remember correctly we used to get 8,000 piece of mail a week. And he quickly had to settle into the auto signature. And then I had to hire a whole bunch of bright young people coming out of school to be expert in this field, in that field, and that field, and draft the replies that would be a reasonable response to a general question.

Well, I used to see a lot of those people who wrote those letters. And they’d want to see Senator Bradley, and Senator Bradley was busy being Senator Bradley in Washington. So I became the alter ego. We would get a lot of the mail that came into Washington that ended up being state concerned; my son is in the Navy, and he was beaten up, and he’s in the hospital, and blah, blah, blah. And we would find a way to service that person. And if that person needed to be talked to, in the beginning especially, I did it. I’d either visit or have the person come in.

We had a lively business in immigration issues. And I thought we did a very good job of being honest about prospects and about getting people the right kind of advice to get their loved ones into the United States. Then we had the issue, for instance, of ever year making recommendations to the Naval Academy, to the Military Academy and to the Merchant Marine and Air Force. And I put together a citizens group for each of those academies and we convened regularly and made recommendations to the Senator as to who was number one and number two. A United States Senator has the right to name at least one person to each of the academies. But because of the quality of ours we would get seven or eight to each academy.

(00:50:00) That doesn’t mean that seven or eight would go, because they would change their mind and want to go somewhere else, but that’s another thing we did. We put together the citizens groups that could do that. We regularly, every year, ran a student athlete conference at Rutgers where we would invite all the kids who were seniors that were going to college, who were expected to take part in athletics; either on a scholarship or not. The theory being that those kids would have a double dose of pull on their time to successfully negotiate that issue of being an active athlete and a good student, Bradley, his life as a student and as an athlete at Princeton was a pretty good lesson on how it was done.

And every year we would bring in, oh, five or six hundred kids, and we’d bring in all kinds of luminaries in the sports field. The players for the Nets would come in. We had Julius Irving and all kinds of famous people who would share their experiences.

Not only them but we would have the coaches of some of the college teams who were especially articulate come in and give people an idea of what awaited them in school. We also had, under our office, what we called the Young Citizen’s Award. And every year we would contact the schools, but public and parochial, to designate kids in school, their students, who were serving other people in the community. And to reward them with a young citizens award, which was a medallion, much like an Olympic medallion. And that the senator would award to them.

But we always had, all of the governors that were available, would be on the Dias, and we would read out the, with the citizens committee again, we would read out the outstanding students who were doing the best work out of all of the four or five hundred nominees. And they would get this award. And it was done in the director’s comments. And it was highly inspirational.

And I thought a good example of the kinds of public persona Bill Bradley brought to surface in politics. I was in, and my staff was involved in all of the, in the state, airplane noise over Westfield. A toxic waste dump in Burlington County, the bus routes between New Brunswick and New York. All kinds of stuff.

Q: So you were a very, very busy man working for Senator Bradley. Of all of these things, during the years with Senator Bradley, what are you most proud of? What do you think was your most important contribution?

RB: I think leadership with integrity. I don’t think we ever kidded anybody. And I didn’t patronize them. And I tried to tell them what the truth was, even if it was uncomfortable. It was easier for me because I wasn’t elected, but I certainly wanted to be a good signal for Bill, and to reflect his positions, because more and more he was unable to get involved in all of this, local badgering, and so I had an obligation to do it right, and to not leave a bad taste in peoples’ mouth.

(00:55:00) I think the biggest thing is to represent someone like Bradley who was so far a superior person, morally. As I got to know him I couldn’t imagine him ever doing anything cockeyed. Ever. It just didn’t fit in.

And it was a time when Bradley was first elected that we had ABSCAM, which was that notorious happening where oh, five or six congressmen and a senator and all types of, mayors and local officials, got snared in this bogus attempt by so called Arab millionaires, to entice members of congress to do favors in exchange for cash.

As a matter of fact I was going to be on New Jersey public television the day that that story broke. And ABSCAM was a good example. Most of the people that were snared were from New Jersey. And, you know, in terms of the integrity of our government that stood high with Bradley and it stood high with me. And I don’t think we took a backwards step there. I think that we did what was right and didn’t play games with people.

Q: It was Senator Harrison Williams, if I got his name right, if I remember him correctly.

A: You did.

Q: Who got caught up in that.

RB: Yeah. He was actually a friend of mine. I knew Pete for a good while. And ironically Pete was the, Pete Williams as he was known, was the head of the Senate Labor Committee. And I remember lobbying him. This is a little foray into a side road, but I remember lobbying him for ARISA, the law that covers pensions. And pension benefits. Largely in response to reports of teamster members who spent all times driving a truck only to find out that they weren’t eligible for the benefits because of some rule, or some dishonest practice by their union.

And so we fought for ARISA. And he got it passed. And ironically ARISA was the main reason for the demise, the early demise of the garment industry. Because it had this complicated formula, which was called unfunded liability. You have to have money in the fund to cover all of the benefits of the theoretical maximum benefits of the participants in the fund. So the garment industry, these individual contractors, could not sell their business, because nobody would want to buy the unfunded liability.

So the very thing we were fighting for ended up being an inspire of our demise. But It was, we were involved in everything possible in the community. And I had to know all of the locals. And whenever they were running for their offices. And I clashed sometimes with the local democrats because if we were going into a town in Ocean County, we’re going to have a town meeting there, I would invite the local mayor, who would be a republican. And, so I’d say to these guy at the Democratic Party, you know, Bill Bradley isn’t the democratic senator, he is the senator, for everybody.

You don’t have to endorse people, but you have to acknowledge that they’re part of the organizational structure of the state. And we did that. Always. Minimizing the political party differences. And frankly, sometimes, no matter how skillfully we handled it, local really hardcore democrats would get kind of annoyed with (01:00:00) with us because we weren’t as partisan as they wanted us to be. But I didn’t think we could do our job if we were that way.

Q: Okay. Now correct me if I’m wrong, in 1990 you went to work for Governor Florio, Jim Florio.

RB: Yes.

Q: How did that happen? In what capacity did you serve the Florio administration?

A: Well, I remember I was sitting at Newark Airport. And Bradley was returning to Washington and I was getting a little shell shocked doing this work. And I had wanted him to run for President in 1986. I thought he was ready. And he said; no, it’s not my time. I said; well, you know, I’m starting to get a little nervous, and I think I’m getting ready to move on if I can, to find something really that I enjoy doing. I mean I love working for you, but it’s getting stale now. I’m doing the same thing for this amount of time.

And we talked about it from time to time. And when Florio was elected I got a call from the Governor who said; I’d like you to come in and see me. I went to see him and he asked me if I would be the Commissioner or Labor. And I, of course, eagerly accepted, with some heartache about leaving a whole bunch of people that I had come to love, working with them in respect, and, but I took that job and it revitalized my life. There I was in this building that was I was the Chief of. We had 3500 employees. And I managed the State Unemployment Insurance Fund. I subscribed to the Worker’s Compensation Fund, the Disability Fund, all the training programs of the state.

And at the time my son was working for New Jersey Bell. And he decided to move out of the house, get his own life going. And she got laid off. And the first time he got his check, his unemployment check, my name was on it. And he said; dad, I can’t get away from, not even when I move out of your house. And it was just a comical part. I signed all those, it was an awesome job, and the governor did not, in any way, involve me in any, any kind of behavior that was not right. I was allowed to do what I thought was right. That’s what I said to him. I said; I hope to do what’s right, I know you, and I hope to do it without a lot of interference.

I left out that last part there because you don’t say that to a governor, but he never bothered me. I mean he never really asked me to do anything. And we did some remarkable things because at the time, the head of the most important employer’s group, in New Jersey, was the Business and Industry Association. And at the head of that was a man named Bruce Cole. And he was a Republican, as a matter of fact he ran for congress against Jim Howard, now his mind was cocky. But he was a reasonable, progressive employer representative.

And we did some, we did the precursor to the Workforce Investment Act. We reformed Worker’s Compensation. We changed the setup with the judges. We modernized it. We made them subject to review by their peers. And we standardized salaries. We had a benchmark program on retraining (01:05:00) it was designed to keep companies functioning here. As an example, I remember I was criticized by the Bergen Record because we gave a grant to General Motors, to retrain its workforce, because they were going from automobiles to the earlier SUVs.

And I knew that there were 15 or 20 stakes that were vying with New Jersey to lure them away from Linden, to go to wherever, usually it was a southern state, to break the work laws, and where viewing contracts are illegal. And I saw that we have to use everything at our command to keep them here, to protect that workforce. Now, you know, their provisions in that contract, that the workers wouldn’t suffer that much because the union had negotiated an incredible package that protected the workforce for years on end.

And they got the antique pay for two years and a whole bunch of stuff. It was for the future. It was for jobs for the sons and daughters of those members who weren’t going to be intellectuals, who weren’t going to be going off to college, who needed a job that was sustainable.

So we gave them a grant to pay for retraining the workforce on a different method of production. And I was severely criticized. But we used the money we had available in our labor funds to encourage companies to reinvest in New Jersey. And we would help them. If they had jobs that paid sustainable wages, we would help them, we helped the bakery trained the nightshift, I think the investment stood well for about ten years, and they went out and moved somewhere where they didn’t have a union or whatever I don’t know. But we actively engaged these employers to encourage them to invest in their workers and their workforce. And it was a job I loved every minute because it put me in a position of representing the government in an important long term decisions on promoting cooperation between the government, the workers and management. To build a workforce that was paid decently in New Jersey.

Q: The brief description that you gave verifies what I was assuming about your job as your job as Commissioner of Labor, but it entailed enormous responsibility. I mean you had a workforce of what employees under you, several thousand people, right?

RB: Thirty-five hundred.

Q: And a multimillion dollar budget, $350 million. What would you count as your greatest success as Commissioner of Labor?

RB: Building a relationship with the employers that allowed us to do things. For instance. We were in a recession. And this is ironic because the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund at that time was $2.6 billion. That is the money – New Jersey is one of the few states where the employee pays in something along with the employers. We had a recession. And I began thinking about the school year coming and how many of our workers had exhausted their benefits.

And we did a looksee and it turns out that the average age of these workers was about 42 or 43. They were likely to be fathers with younger children. And I went to the employers association and I said, you (01:10:00) know, I’d like to do something since George Bush, the father, denied that there was an industrial or a worker problem with unemployment and refused to extend unemployment insurance benefits.

So we did it on our own. Out of our own funds, and I worked with the employers association that we would pay eight weeks of special benefits for workers that were eligible, and that, you know, I pledged that if the feds passed a law it would be reimbursed and the employers agreed. In 100 years they wouldn’t do it today because of the leadership of that organization and the way the political process is solid. But we ended up paying out $775 million dollars to workers.

And I can recall riding around Trenton and seeing people opening their mail and opening the check that came, for them, out of the blue. And I tried to get one check done, the whole benefit in one check, because a lot of these people had been out of work for a long time. There were a number of plant closings that were pretty severe. And I was proud that the state told me that they’d have to cut two checks. But we not only paid it out but we replenished the funds and nobody else in the country did it. No one else. We’re the only state that paid out an extended benefit paid from our own funds.

RB: That’s an extraordinary achievement. And it came about because we had built up credibility with the employer association who knew that we didn’t speak with a forked tongue.

Q: And then you left state government in 1994. Is that right?

RB: Yeah.

Q: Did you then become then the Executive Director of the Seton Hall Institute of Labor and …

RB: Institute on Work.

Q: Institute on Work, sorry.

RB: Well, I was looking around for things to do. I still had the mortgage, and I began to teach, I spent two years as a special assistant to the President of Montclair. I did arbitrations, a lot of them, but you can’t make a living on arbitrations. They’re through the state office. The fees are limited and the usual one, two, three you’re gone. So it’s not a two week deal.

And a couple of friends of mine, one of them, a Protestant, and one a Catholic from Seton Hall came to me at the time and said they wanted to form an entity that would speak for workers. I always felt, when I was Commission of Labor, I would’ve liked to change the name of the Department of Labor to the Department of Work. Because what else? Commissioner of Labor in the business world in New Jersey they thought, and they still think, that the Labor Department is to protect the unions. Not the workforce, the unions. And largely that’s who has the weight and the strength. And I always thought that my constituents were working people, wherever they are.

And we had a little meeting at the new building down in Newark and put together a group of people including some employer representatives, to form this group called the Seton Hall Institute on Work. And it was designed to speak for (01:15:00) working people. What were their needs? How should they be defended? How can we advocate on their behalf? And set a tone, not to offset the Chamber of Commerce, but to have a consistent, intelligent voice on matters in the public specter. And I did that for a couple of years and Seton Hall was very helpful, they gave us space in the school.

And when I left to go to Washington I remember the keynote speaker at my little banquet was archbishop, who is now a retired cardinal in Washington, and he was behind the whole thing. And there’s a little history there. He was, at first, when I first took office, he was the bishop of Metuchen(ph). And I thought that Bradley should meet him, because it was an important resource in the Catholic church.

And Bradley had a lot of positions that conservative Catholics especially didn’t admire. You know, he was for the right of abortion, all that baggage. And I introduced him to the bishop early in Bradley’s tenure. And he would see him once or twice a month just to chat about the state of the world and what was happening in the Roman Catholic community. And then the bishop became the archbishop, and he would convene a conference with all of the bishops in the dioceses down in Long Branch.

And Bradley would come in a couple of times a year and just share governmental concerns with the Catholics from their point of view. So the bishop, the archbishop knew me pretty well. And so he was enthusiastic about this, as a matter of fact when I left he was the keynote speaker. And it was useful and it floundered because the people that succeeded didn’t quite have the same width of their concern for working people. I mean it sounds egomaniacal, but they didn’t have the balance, I think, of understanding the employer’s point of view, yet advocating for workers. And only lately in the (inaudible) started by President Bush and really pushed by President Obama, there would’ve been no GM, and surely no Chrysler without the workers. As a matter of fact Chrysler just bought a controlling share of the Chrysler company from the Union because the union health and oil funds, the resources of those funds, owned Chrysler.

But what happened was all the lessons that I knew from ILGWU have seen the long term benefits of the union as being the health of the company, instead of just being a ramrod pro-worker right or wrong, or right, it was understanding that the future of that job had to do with the future of the company. So the trick was how do you do that and not become dishonest about your responsibilities? But that’s something that the ILGWU always wrestled with. And we maintained a pretty good record. And without the union in that equation there wouldn’t have been any bailout because the union would’ve stuck its head in the sand said we can’t do anything about it. Because we have these standards and we’re not going to vary from them.

Well, they didn’t say that. And they used the capital that they had to invest in companies and they worked with the company on items that would be cost savings that would be traditionally looked at steps backwards. For instance, a different wage for new workers. Well, that was the only way out, to make the plane tenable. And so as long as there was a consistent step up and up till you reached the right plane, but they were admirable. They actually practiced the German model. The German model is for the union to be involved in the management of the company.

And the Germans, notwithstanding, the cost of building something in Germany I think the total package for a worker at BMW is somewhere over $90 and yet the employment does not exist. The companies are well known for the quality of their product. And they are run cooperatively by the company and the union. And that’s the way I see unions having to develop. And they certainly did in the bailout. And the country is better off because of it. All that had to happen was for somebody, I’ll give you an example, the United Steelworkers of America, they feasted(ph) both management and labor and refused to see the change of technology that was alive in the Far East especially, where steelmaking changed from the open ovens and the building of steel from coal and iron ore and all that business; blast furnaces. Well, people make steel in Taiwan with scrap metal that comes from the port down in South Jersey. We load up our old cars and motors onto a scout, send them over to Taiwan and they beat the hell out of us with steel. That’s because the leadership of the union was not on its toes. It didn’t see the future of the industry. And so well-paying jobs.

Q: You’ve gotten into an area I was going to ask you about a little bit later, but since you’re touching on it maybe I will ask you now. The condition of American labor, the union labor, nowadays seems to be suffering. The last time I checked only 11.3% of the American workforce is unionized, and of course it’s under, the public sector unions are under attack in Wisconsin, and in Michigan, in Illinois, and in Ohio. What do you perceive as the future of American labor?

RB: Well, I don’t – unless there are new approaches to the issue I’m not very optimistic. And I think frequently public employees have simply not understood that they are partners with the state. For instance, they are, their salaries come about at the expense of the citizens of the state. And I know that when I was in New Jersey and I had, I negotiated one contract, or I hired the people to negotiate them on a day to day basis, but I was involved in it. And I always noticed that the rhetoric of the public employees in New Jersey was much like government officials and their supervisors were some kind of monsters. It wasn’t that they were clerical people trying to serve the general welfare of the state. They never understood that they had to be careful not to get too far ahead of the rights and benefits of regular workers in New Jersey.

I can remember – I was an arbitrator in a strike involving a group of teachers in Monmouth County. And to make a long story short they were demanding a benefit from the Board of Education that no one that lived in that district who paid the taxes enjoyed.

And I said; do you realize that what you’re asking for is a benefit, a workplace benefit, that doesn’t exist for the people who live in this district, who pay to have their children educated. Aren’t you concerned about that? No. And so often there is a bad case which ends up with anti-labor governor like Walker in Wisconsin able to push through and write the work log, which will hurt everybody. And most of the (inaudible) involving unions today are with the public sector. I always felt uncomfortable because I did not feel that they were my brothers and sisters because they had a one sided view of how to represent their workers. And, to me, the balance of understanding your position as a citizen, how this works in the ‘60s, the middle to late ‘60s I became the national chairman of a group called the American Veterans Committee, a small group. It became really small after WWII because a group that was leftwing and procommunist they split from us.

I became the chairman in ’68 or so, and it was during that time we were discussing the draft. There was this reaction to Vietnam and all of that, and I wasn’t able to go to Washington, but I proofed the testimony, testified before the house armed services committee. And we were the only veterans group in the whole country that was against the ending of the draft. Our position and our motto was citizens first. You may be a veteran but you’re a citizen first. We would allow one time for veteran’s preference. So your first job after you’re out of the military you had a veterans preference. After that you’re on equal footing with everybody. So it put us at odds with the whole veterans movement. But that was our position. And that should be the position of labor. That what you seek is justice and equity while understanding that not only do you not kill the goose that laid the golden egg, you don’t kill the goose, even if it’s not laying golden eggs.

Q: Do you think, and I know that you’ve spoken at Delfine University? Yes? And at Montclair? Rutgers?

RB: Yep.

Q: In those experiences did you have the sense that American students are not up to the kind of knowledge that they should have about the condition of American labor from the industrial revolution period up till this time. Do you think American students are aware of the condition and the problems that American labor faces today?

RB: No.

Q: What does that mean then?

RB: I don’t know. It’s – my experience, I taught mostly graduate courses, although at Rutgers I had a class that met once a week for two and a half hours for 270 students.

Q: Wow.

RB: And I remember vividly the leader of the local group, John Birch, or whatever the group that was in vogue then, said I was going to get a failing mark from you. And I said; why? And he said; because you’re so (inaudible). I said; oh, really? Meaning I’m some kind of a whacko? I don’t recognize quality? Well, he ended up being my favorite student at the end because he was smart and while I thought misguided he was full of information and knowledge. But I found a dreary lack of both understanding and the knowledge of what a workplace is. Never mind a union. What’s a workplace?

I pushed when I was assistant secretary a basic approach and the business community favored me doing this, of having a certificate in work readiness. What do I mean by work readiness? What do you, what is a job, I mean, elemtary, what is a job? How do you go to work? What does the employer want from you? I was convinced that the American business community wanted willingness to work workers. Yeah, they’d like to have a Cadillac, they’d like to have a guy or a gal who was perfectly in tuned with production and whatever. But that doesn’t work that way. My experience is that what’s lacking is knowledge of what constitutes a job and what is work about?

I remember I was in Oakland and the tree guys that were school drop outs, they were in some kind of program, I asked them, years ago, and I asked them, what do you think is a fair wage for you? And they said $18 an hour. I said; well, what do you know? They shrugged their shoulders. And I said; you mean you think that this employer that is going to give you a job is going to give you $18 an hour for what? Well, I’m going to go there. I said, well, the work week is five days a week. How many days do you think you can promise this employer to be there?

He said, oh, three days I guess. Three days out of the five. Yeah, he said, things may come up, I may have things to do. And the group that was there really agreed with him. And I told them my particular area of concern over my life, to this day, is out of school and out of work youth. We’ve got millions of them in the country. Clueless. They are no more part of the workforce, the potential workforce, as the man in the moon. They don’t know how to present themselves for work. And one of the porters is looking at me. And I told kids, look, I don’t know what you hear around the corner, but I’m telling you this, I don’t care where you go to work, even if the boss is a bigot, and you work hard, and you’ve got the can do attitude, you will get it. I promise you. I don’t care where you are or what you’re doing. If you get to work and have an attitude that says; yes, I can do this, and are willing to do it, I met with employers all across this country and I said; what would you rather have? Somebody who has some knowledge of your job requirements, but who’s not an enthusiastic person? Or somebody who comes to work, gets here early and says; what do you want me to do? And then does it. Ninety-five percent.

And so our working people are not ready to go to work. And that is a tragedy. And I don’t see it changing very much because we are still dominated by steps that say we have jobs that are being unmet because of lack of skills. I think there are a few, not many, and I’m going to digress for a minute because it’s a major issue.

When the computer issue hit the country, employers all over the country said we don’t have people to do these jobs. And so we’ve got a special immigration policy. The employer who wants to import a worker from Pakistan or India or wherever has to pay the federal government $1000 per worker. And they get a temporary visa. I think it’s called the HIB program. We got two thirds of that money to the labor department. And it was a obstentially made available so that we can set a program to train Americans to do the jobs that were being done by the importers, the Philippines or whatever. And I have nothing against Pilipino or Pakistanis. Many of them who have come to the country have been a real addition to the country. But they’re there not because they had the skill, it’s important that they have the skill, but the most important thing was they worked cheaper. And they were willing to work overtime and do all kinds of things the American workers wouldn’t do.

So I tried dutifully to find places to use that money to train American workers to do the work that the Pakistanis and the Indians were doing. But there were no jobs at the end. Because the American employers found it easier to import people and pay the premium than to entertain American workers, because American workers are not willing to unquestioned the nature of devoting your life to the job.

And these foreign workers were because very few less problems and they were willing to work. And even when the wages were fairly close, but most of the time they weren’t. The American employers would rather have foreign workers. And that, to me, is a statement about attitudes that have to change that I don’t think are going to change too readily.

Q: You’re speaking very broadly about our labor difficulties, and that gets me to the fact that in 1998 you became Assistant Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. What an achievement. Can you talk about that?

RB: Well, it was amazing because I was at home, we lived in Bergenfield at the time, and the phone rang, and I think my wife answered and said this is so and so from the White House. She said; sure, it’s Santa Claus calling about a job over the holidays. But it turned out it was somebody from the White House and they wanted me to interview for the job of Assistant Secretary of Labor, which is the most important assistant job because it’s an employee in training. So the discretionary budget that I had was, the first year was $8.7 billion, and it came about for an odd reason. The person I hired to be my Deputy Secretary in the State Department of Labor went on to be the Assistant Solicitor General of the Labor Department in Washington. And the Secretary, the new Secretary, Lexus Herman, wanted him to become the solicitor, and he lived in Jersey, Plainfield, and he said, no, I can’t, I’m trying to rebuild my family and all that stuff.

As he was walking out she said, by the way, do you know anybody that could be the Assistant Secretary for an Employee in Training? And she said, sure, Ray Bramucci. And told her about me and blah, blah, blah. Gave her my number. And the background was the IFO CIO was pushing a certain guy to be the guy. And he thought he was, and made a statement from the steps of the state house in Albany that he was the new guy. And then there was a group, a Hispanic coalition that had a candidate from New Jersey. And they didn’t understand that the secretary didn’t want anybody to be given to her for that job because that was the biggest pot of money in the Department of Labor, and she wanted somebody that was her person.

So I interviewed, and a couple of weeks later the President appointed me. And then I had to wait because there was a hold on my nomination because of Vidalia onion growers in Georgia, bipartisan, were angry at the secretary because she didn’t approve temporary visa for Vidalia onion pickers.

So there I was losing clients and I was consulting here and there and getting increasingly frustrated. And we were at my daughter’s house and we got a call from Frank Lautenberg’s AA. She said; get home, you’re going to be nominated tonight. You’re going to be approved tonight by the senate. But I even thought the whole thing was just a myth. Maybe I dreamt it. We go home, turn on CSPAN. And the man who became a good friend of mine, Senator Jeffers from Vermont, got up and said; Mr. Chairman I move to the immediate adoption of the following. And I said to Sue; this is it. This is it. He said; I move approval of #36, #121, #552, and #806.

So that was it. She said, what number were you? I said, I don’t know. But I was one of those numbers. And I called the Washington staff and asked; what number was I? He said, I don’t know, I’ll find out tomorrow. But that was, see, I thought they were going to have maybe a band and fanfare. But I was some number.

So I told the staff, I was introduced to them, if you can’t remember my name, remember old #807. I thought that was the number. But that was three years of, if I could’ve written down my dreams as to what I wanted to be doing, and I told the staff at the first meeting, don’t expect me to be the bureaucrat running this department, because I’m not going to do that. I’m interested especially in out of work, out of school youth. And that’s what I’m going to spend my time finding. I always wanted to know when you make a grant, when the government makes a grant to somebody for $5 million dollars to take care of youth, unemployed, out of work youth in their district, and we have big $250 million program called YO, Youth Opportunity. And we gave grants around the country; 38 of them. I visited at least 25 of them to see what happened to somebody if you gave him $5 million dollars, what would they do with it?

And I found a wide variety of responses. Some of it was admirable, and even inspiring, and other parts of it were just dreary. I remember I went to the capital of one of the cities, and I went into the hall that they have, the office they hired, and I saw several paneled trucks with the name of the YO from the city. I went into this room and the first thing I smelled was marijuana. And then I couldn’t tell the difference between the staff and the clients. And what this all boiled down to was they were taking pregnant girls to their OB/GYNs, to their meetings. And obviously the mayor of this town got the money, he thought it was a bonanza and didn’t take it seriously. And believe me I did not remain silent about it when I got back to the ranch.

On the other hand, there was a program, and this went so far in what this was designed to do, but it did the work of the Lord, to use a phrase. It was in the Imperial Valley of California where most of the Iceberg lettuce comes from. No jobs there. And this grant was used in cooperation with the local sheriff and the school authorities to involve this young man who had enormous leadership tendencies. And this kid lived in a facility that was made from cardboard boxes. He and his two sisters lived there in an old area that had been a military base. And they set up these boxes, maybe an old crate where a refrigerator would be, fashioned into homes.

And the school bus used to pick him up and take him to the firehouse first where he’d take off his clothes and he wash them down with the hoses they were so filthy. This kid emerges as a leader. And what he did was he would figure out who wasn’t coming to school, and he would go to their house and get them out of bed and bring them to school. And he had brought dozens, hundreds of kids who would be in danger of dropping out and not having any alternative for them. And that’s what the money was used for. And they set up special tutoring programs for these kids. And although with the writing of the grant, he had very little to do with the application, but the work he was doing and the way the community had seen the responsibilities, I was gratified to see it. And they had a lot of those, and a lot of families had been better off because we had invested that money in them. I brought my wife to one in Brockton, Mass where there had been a huge, well, for that town, explosion of immigrants from a Portuguese island off of Africa, the name fails me now.

These people were very black and they spoke Portuguese. When they got to America all of the girls, so many of the girls, starting at 14 years old, got themselves pregnant. And usually got themselves hooked up with a local petty criminal, somebody either playing games with drugs or whatever. And this was a program to get them off kicks and into adulthood. And they did a fantastic job of diverting these girls from the second childbirth, to a third one, and I’m talking little girls, 14, 15, with their tummies hanging out.

And I’m not sure that the grant was ever satisfied, but I was. Because I saw the honesty and the integrity of trying to help people cope with their circumstances of them being lost. These were lost people. So those were some of the things I did. And I spent a lot of time in airplanes. One last story, I went to a grantee in Denver, and I got to the building and I was impressed because there wasn’t a lot of graffiti on it. Some. We had given this company, it was a grant made to a national Hispanic organization.

When I walked in there, there were three people in the room, a meeting room. I said to the director, who are those people? Who’s that? This guy’s the director, three people in the room, yeah, I knew who they are. Not only does he not know who they are, he doesn’t know their story. I said; what are you guys doing here? So I did my favorite action, which is to show a lack of respect, the Bramucci theory that became known in the Labor Department, that I visited a facility that I suspected, I walked into the ladies’ room and sure enough it was a catastrophe. A dirty, filthy girls’ room. I put on my hat, picked up my bag and went home.

And they wrote a letter to Al Gore complaining about me. And I said; well, if I find that again the next time I’m there I’m going to do it again. Because they were a disgrace. Not spending money properly to take care of a huge population that needed them.

Q: What was the Job Training Partnership Act?

RB: Well, there’s a theory that weakness in the job training issue, program in America, is the resources of various parts of the constituency, the workplace, the unions, the employer associations, the educational institutions and all of the groups that are attached to human capital, like health and human services. Well, the theory was you’re going to bring all these people together into one stop. So a person in need of services, in five or six different offices, so I was good. Labor had to lead in setting up the facilities for these one stops.

And the theory was all of those agencies, education, health and human resource services, labor, voc rehab, all those agencies present in the federal bag of tricks should be put into one building, i.e., a one stop. And those buildings should have the rents shared by all the entities in fair distribution. Never happened.

I found places where it did. And they were admirable in its idealism. But throughout the country it didn’t nearly come close to what was intended by the framers. And we had passed a version of that law in New Jersey. And it was with the help of Carl Van Moore who had been a professor at Rutgers and who now runs the (inaudible) school there. He was an advisor to Florio and a very forward looking guy in that field


But the interesting thing is my first day on the job was the day the bill was signed in the Rose Garden by President Clinton. And I couldn’t get in the White House. I got to my door, they didn’t have my social security number, I got here, I didn’t have that, I got here, I got there, and finally Bauls, who is the Chief of Staff came out, and said; son, I hope your career is as illustrious as this day. So we went out there, and the ceremony was almost over, but I was deflated to say the least.

Q: You testified before two joint subcommittees on matters concerning waivers from provisions of the (inaudible) act. Why had waivers become an issue?

RB: It was a bureaucratic issue. I didn’t have my heart in that. I didn’t matter, really. I went to (inaudible) because I knew that this was the way bureaucrats give reason for the program not working. That there’s some technical thing that has to be adjusted.

Well, the big technical thing for me was we figured out that in this building your share of the rent is 12%. Where’s the check? Couldn’t get the check. So you couldn’t get anybody to move. It was a technical argument that is not my highest thing in the field.

There were hearings that I testified in that were, I was very proud of the fact that the Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee was a crotchety old guy from York, Pennsylvania. And he and I used to have some heated discussions about Head Start. He didn’t like Head Start because he was a school principal. And Head Start was outside of the jurisdiction of the local schools.

So he didn’t like it. And he didn’t like Clinton. He was a bipartisan democrat, but he and I got along great because he was the guy who was going to say no to my budget. Well, I made it my business to get to know him very well. And he once came to the meetings committee, my own congressman from NJ is sitting there and he introduces me to the chairperson, and he said, and this is my pretty bold egotism, he said; this guy Bramucci is the only guy that Clinton ever made that knew what he was doing. (Laughter) A little embarrassing, but it made me feel pretty good.

Q: What kind of budget did you have as Assistant Secretary?

A: Well, there was barely $9 billion discretionary spending, but a lot of that money was attached, that is congressmen would provide a program that they would want funded from that fund. And at the beginning I’m told that the set aside for it, what do you call it? A word that Congress has just done something about, which I’m ambivalent about, because I think sometimes a congressman’s only chance to speak for his district is to find something to spend money on.

Q: The term is escaping me too, but I know what you’re saying. Earmarked.

A: Earmarked. And Bradley never had an earmark in his three terms in Congress. Never. Well, I got to know the chairman of the committee very well because he put in an earmark, and although he was powerful, I made it more powerful because I moved it, because it made sense. He had a plant in York that made York air conditioners. It was UAW organized and the company was at a crossroads; expansion or retooling. And that grant gave him reason to retool with newer workers. They were going to keep the old workers working, but they were going to do new products and new things with a new workforce and we’re going to use that money to train them.

Well, the UAW guys, who were all in their high 50s, early 60s, ready to step out, they wanted to be trained, which is exactly what the grant wasn’t going to do. So I first have to have a meeting with them to tell them what the federal government is trying to do here. They’re trying to expand the capacity of the plant with a new workforce that you guys will organize, no doubt about it. So we have to have this argument with the workers first. So the chairman grew respectful when I took the line and argued vigorously for this cooperating for their future.

And that was one of the set asides I said with the local chamber of commerce. I said, I don’t like earmarks, but I love this earmark. My chairman was the one who put the earmark in.

Q: What do you count as your most significant achievement as Assistant Secretary?

RB: I think it was bringing respect to the Department of Labor and re-stoking the spirit of those who are the doers and the feelers. People who had the same title as someone else but they actually worked. And it isn’t that they’re corrupt or anything, it’s just that people fall into habits in a big organization of blaming the organization. I used to hear all the time, I talked at dozens of these regional meetings, that there was a shortage of money.

And I would ask the question; who thinks that there is a shortage of money. And all these hands go up. Well, how about me telling you I don’t agree with you. The only problem we have is there’s a crisis in caring. If you want to do something you can do it. So here’s an explanation. I have a program, there’s a program with the Methodist Church in San Diego, and San Diego was a beautiful city, but it has a tough area. And it’s like the United Nations in there. Burkas and Durkas and all kinds of things with the women. We were trying to get people to work who were largely heads of families but not men. And I toured the area and the grantees are great people. You could just see it and sense it by the way they interacted with their staff and their clients.

And there was a brand new spanking ladies’ room, a girls’ room, that was built there on the ground, what would happen is these women would come in with their children and the church would watch the children, no fee, just to encourage everyone to go to work. And I think there was a couple of buses in that component. It was a wonderful program. But there was this separate building where people went to the bathroom. And I said to the local person on my staff; who pays for this? Because the grant says no bricks and mortar. And she said; we did. And I said; why? She said; because these children have to go to the bathroom somewhere. And what I did was I told them to do build it and they could use the money from the grant and meanwhile I would file, I would send a letter to the home office in Washington for permission. The waiver.

And I said; well, when did you send the letter. She said; two years ago. Did you get an answer? She said; no. I said; well you know what? I’m promoting you here right now. You’re going to be my assistant for taking that initiative. Here’s a woman that just decided to be sensible even though it was technically against the rules. That’s the kind of person I was trying to encourage.

Q: And did you retire when the Clinton administration came to an end?

A: I got kicked out. The gratifying part of that was the chairman of the senate committee on education and training and house (inaudible) because I lived in republican control in both houses. They both asked me to stay. And I got a call from the White house. And this is totally ridiculous, but the job was wired to Senator McConnell’s wife was going to be the new Secretary of Labor. She knew as much about labor as I know about astrophysics. And she didn’t know any more than when she left than when she got there.

I naïvely felt good about it and I felt, well you know, maybe. I got a call from the White House the day before I was supposed to leave. And they said the two chairman would like you to stay. What are your terms for staying? I said; well, if I don’t like you, I leave. And if you don’t like me, I’ll leave. Okay, we’ll let you know. Good bye. (Laughter)

Q: All right. I’d like to just move on a little bit to your relationship with Felecia College and a question or two regarding your views on current matters effecting American labor. When did you become a trustee of Felecia College?

RB: Pretty recently. I think about ten years ago, but I’ve been in region for 35 years. Senator Bradley and I came to Felecia because Jeremy Pretzen, his uncle was a trustee and he was active also. And he was trying to help the school. And at the time it was a little school of 400 ladies, girls, who were going for an associate’s degree in some field in nursing. And they were having their first fundraiser. And Bradley agreed to be the honorary whatever and that’s when I met all these people at Felecia. It was pretty early in Bradley’s term. I would say this happened around 1980.

Q: Who invited you to become a trustee?

RB: Well, my assistant, Theresa, had become the President and I was in and out, but I always maintained my connection to Felecia as a regent. But probably when I came back from Washington, which is when I became a trustee, which was 2000, I hadn’t been a trustee that long, but when I came home for good Theresa asked me to become a trustee.

Q: Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you receive an honorary degree?

A: A high honor. I guess, well, I always felt at home here. And I’ve been at a number of schools besides teaching I was also for a brief period, a couple of years, the Prudential business ethics, director of the prudential business ethic center at Rutgers. And I’d seen what large plant educational mills do and how they conduct themselves. And I didn’t like it. I never liked it. Too impersonal. And unfortunately the best way to explain is I had an office, I don’t know, off a hallway, and there were ten offices, all professors. The only door that was open was mine. And students used to come in and ask me all kinds of questions and being willing to impart half-baked silly answers I answered them. And then told them to go to their professor, but this is what I thought. I didn’t admire it. I didn’t admire the connection between students and faculty and the administration and the faculty. It was way away from my ideal about interaction with people, to get people to do the right thing and to help them to do the right thing. There’s got to be some concern. And if that, there’s going to be a warm feeling about human possibilities. And it can’t be mechanized. I found that here.

Q: Those of us who have been here find that to be the essence of the college’s charm, the interaction between everybody, faculty, students and the administration. It’s the Franciscan tradition being played out in real life.

RB: And I’m nominally a catholic, but I must admit I was 100 miles from the conventional church, and the spirit I saw here, the Francisca, especially when Theresa was putting together the new Felicia College, it wasn’t an easy path. There are many nuns here, very conservative, and I wanted to help her. And she helped us, my wife and I, rediscover our Catholicism because of the way in which she expressed hers. And one of the things I admired was although many of the students are not from Catholic, they are not treated in any way different than anybody else. And that’s the democratic ideal with a small D. And I think that we’ve always wrestled here with the need for being the college of last resort for kids who are out on the cusp or a little bit below it. And it’s been a very difficult thing for me to not say, yeah, you’re in, but then you do a disservice to the school because the school becomes a remediation place. And you don’t want that because then parents who want the best for their kids are not going to want to send their kid who can get into Rutgers here. So we’ve been wrestling with that for 35 years.

Q: The matter of retraining the American workforce that you were dealing within in the 1990s and whatnot. In early February President Obama delivered his State of the Union. He did it the year before that. And in both of those messages he made an appeal essentially to the congress to appropriate money to improve the opportunities for people who are out of work or looking for retraining to go to community colleges and that kind of thing. And yet, as you know, the congress is reluctant to appropriate money for a program like that. Does this surprise you? Shock you? Disappoint you? If you were speaking to President Obama what advice would you give him?

RB: I’m ambivalent. I think there are programs that will help American workers mightily. And a lot of them is the apprenticeship model. There is a battle that goes on for funds between the traditional education apparatus, both from community colleges to regular colleges, to get a piece of the retraining money so to speak. And I don’t think that the future of our country is wrapped up in those kinds of programs. I do think money spent on out of school and out of work youth, when you have the right leadership, can reclaim a lot of people.

For instance I’m active in the Job Corp Association. One of the responsibilities I had in Washington was to oversee the Job Corp program which is a $1.4 billion program. It has not had its funds cut except during this sequestering thing. And as a matter of fact under George W. Bush’s administration increased the amount of money for Job Corp. And those are residential centers largely. And they give immediate help in getting a GED or a High School Diploma and then make connections with companies that have jobs that are sustainable.

For instance, there is a Job Corp center in Edison, NJ. There are about 400 … are we finished?

Q: I’m sorry, I couldn’t read what you’re …

F: It’s past 4 o’clock.

Q: Oh? It’s past 4 o’clock? What time do you have to leave?

F: A few minutes.

RB: I’ll wrap this up.

Q: Five more minutes.

RB: The American Job Corp movement was put into effect by Lyndon Johnson, an idea of Kennedy’s. And when Johnson became President he put it into effect. And the first group of Job Corp Centers were defense contractors. But now they’re individual companies that contract to remediate these kids, 3 to 4 year contract basis. Results were good. Some better than others, but the Job Corp Center in Edison, as an example, when you go through that, these are kids out of school, out of work, 10th, 8th, 6th grade, whatever. There is a franchise there with Mieneke Muffler that when a kid gets out of that school he’s got a job with Mieneke. They’ve got Roto Rotor, realistic, getting that group of people in the workforce and not on the sidewalks kicking over garbage cans and so on and so forth. Where the good ones operate there is a transition between being a resident, getting remediation academically and then hooking up with a job. It works. But there are other programs, there is no way to measure what happens if somebody goes to a community college.

For instance the dropout rates are high. No accountability. And people feel they’re just throwing stuff down the drain. And they’re right. Because it takes a certain kind of program to get people ready for work. And it’s not necessarily information. It’s (inaudible) mostly to get them thinking mostly in a way that says I’m here to help and I’m willing to do that instead of what are you paying me? Now when somebody enlists in a job then the employer is obligated to look out for that worker and to give that worker opportunities to improve. That’s why the apprentice system works in Germany, and Denmark, it will work here.

Q: Mr. Bramucci thank you very, very, very much. I want to add on that not only have I enjoyed the conversation, but I feel honored to be a part of it because it’s not every day that I speak down and speak with a distinguished public servant such as yourself.

RB: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

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