In Memoriam: Ralph Gerchak
It was just earlier this week when I emailed a question to AUD Director Ralph Gerchak, something I had done hundreds of times. It happened to be a question about the definition of “employer contributions” in union elections, raised by one of AUD’s callers for help. Ralph usually got back to me in a day or so. When I got no response for over two days, I was a little surprised, but then Ralph had just arrived in Florida where he often spent the coldest part of winter. He had other things to do in getting settled. Then the phone call today. It was one of Ralph’s longtime friends, retired police officer Harold Schiffer, whom I had met through Ralph.
Harold brought me the horrible news that, tragically, Ralph was killed in an auto accident the night before.
It seemed like just yesterday (two weeks ago) that Ralph drove from his Queens NY home, picked me up in Brooklyn, and drove us to AUD’s office, where we worked all day. Ralph had offered to help me reorganize the place after the contractors completed the repair work from the damage due to Hurricane Ida. It was a mess and a big job. On that day, I was amazed as Ralph did the bulk of the heavy work, lifting onto our dolly massive four drawer steel cabinets made in the early 20th century. He was in great shape for a man his age.
It was December 2020 when we elected Ralph an AUD Director. He quickly became my most frequent source, my “go-to-guy” for questions from union members about election rights, LMRDA compliance issues, countless other topics. Ralph was very attuned to AUD’s mission and strongly believed in it. This was why he offered to help AUD after retiring from OLMS, and why he joined the AUD Board after deciding to close his consulting firm, “Union Watch.”
Ralph came to AUD with great credentials. He was the District Director of the New York Office of the United States Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), from 1995 to 2011. Prior to working at OLMS, Ralph was a longtime officer in the NYPD, joining the force in 1964 and retiring in 1989. After becoming a Patrolman for the 10th Precinct, NYPD promoted him to Detective Sgt. Special Assignment, and he was assigned to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office Squad under D. A. Robert Morgenthau, where he worked until retirement. Ralph then went to work for OLMS as a Supervisory Investigator. He quickly rose to the position of District Director.
After leaving OLMS, Ralph formed Union Watch. It offered compliance services to various local and national unions. Union Watch helped unions comply with the LMRDA and OLMS regulations on LM-2,3 and 4 reporting requirements and union election procedures, and evaluated union constitutions and bylaws for their compliance with the LMRDA. It offered audits of union financial statements, and supervision of union elections. Ralph did a lot of compliance work with the ILA, and he worked with the various election services, helping the unions solicit proposals.
Ralph closed Union Watch in 2020 and then became a highly active member of the AUD Board. Besides regularly helping me, he frequently and at great length, offered suggestions, guidance, and expertise to other board members that were often representing rank-and-file members in LMRDA complaints.
I first met Ralph in 2010, when as District Director, he brought the newly appointed Director of the Federal OLMS, Dr. John Lund, to AUD to talk to Herman Benson, Judy Schneider, and the rest of our office. You see, Ralph as District Director, got to know AUD and Herman, and he wanted Lund to meet and talk to Benson and AUD, in person. At the meeting Dr. Lund asked us if we had any suggestions for how OLMS could be more helpful. Herman Benson led a long discussion about OLMS’ failure to enforce Section 610, the section of the LMRDA law that prohibits threats of violence (and actual violence) against union members. Director Lund was very attentive, Herman impressed upon him a need to do more. Lund immediately offered that AUD call him directly if any of us felt one of the OLMS field offices was not pursuing a Section 610 complaint as it should. Dr. Lund was good to his word; we did call him on more than one occasion. That could not have happened without Ralph bringing him to AUD.
Years before joining the board, Ralph became a volunteer expert advisor to AUD. He helped us review election and compliance issues and complaints, he pored over union LM-2s, using his broad experience, when a unionist called for help on financial matters.
I also had the opportunity to know Ralph as a friend. Last summer, he invited my spouse and I to his home, where he cooked a wonderful dinner. There Ralph talked at length about developing the union democracy projects that he had been hatching. One was to interest law students in the LMRDA, another was to help union members stuck in locals that were unions in name only, “racket unions,” Ralph called them. He was full of energy and optimism that we could succeed.
AUD and the labor movement lost a great resource and a strong believer in union democracy. I have lost a good friend and a mentor. I will sorely miss him. Rest in peace, my friend Ralph.