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Biography of Jack Bigel (1913-2002)

Jack Bigel was born Jacob Bernard Bigel in Brooklyn on April 22, 1913, but later became known as Jack. He attended Boys High School and earned a degree from City College in 1934. Among his fondest memories were the years he competed as a member of the City College wrestling team.

Jack Bigel's reputation as a labor leader began when he organized the United Public Workers,which represented the Sanitation Department, city hospitals and the Welfare Department and was New York City's first powerful union.

In the late 1950’s Bigel established Professional Plan Associates, a consulting firm that eventually specialized in providing services to the municipal unions and the health care industry. In 1966, he changed the firm's name to Program Planners. With a staff of more than fifty statisticians and economists, he was able to collect, analyze and store data from New York and other cities that he used to craft negotiating strategies for the unions he represented on such issues as pay and benefits. He is probably best known for his work as an advisor to John J. DeLury, head of the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association, for whose members he helped win increases in pay and benefits during the 1960's.

In addition to providing advice to the unions regarding bargaining priorities with the city government, he negotiated personally with city officials on behalf of many of his clients. At the same time, he was the confidante of successive mayors and New York governors.

In the depths of the financial crisis in 1976 Mr. Bigel was able to convince union leaders to apply billions of dollars from their pension funds to purchase city bonds and help prevent New York City from defaulting on its debts and progressing toward bankruptcy.

In 1999, while reflecting on the role of the unions during the city’s fiscal crisis, Jack Bigel pointed out that in 1976 the assets of the city's municipal union pension funds totaled $8 billion. Twenty-two percent of that amount, or $1.8 billion, was invested in city bonds. By 1978, the investments of the union pension funds in city bonds reached almost $3.4 billion.

Mr. Bigel credited the trustees of the union plans with enabling New York City to recover from its desperate financial situation.

He was active on a number of boards, including the School of Public Affairs’ Advisory Board.

Adapted from an article by Paul Lewis (New York Times, November 30, 2002)

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