Ed’s first union experience was as a member of Local 99 of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) as a rank-and-file shipping clerk. He served in the US Air Force from 1966 to 1970 and was honorably discharged with the rank of Sgt, and later attended the Herbert H. Lehman College in the Bronx. In 1977, he joined the staff of ILGWU Local 23-25 as an organizer and became Director of Organizing in 1983. Politics and political action were always a major part of his work, which led to his appointment in 1992 as National Political Director of the ILGWU. In 1995, when the ILGWU merged with ACTWU and became UNITE, Ed was appointed head of the New York State Council. In 2001, UNITE’s new President, Bruce Raynor, tapped him to serve as Assistant to the President.
Remembering Labor Leader Ed Vargas
New York, NY – Heriberto (Ed) Vargas was a veteran labor leader in New York City with more than 40 years of commitment to economic, political, and social issues affecting working families in New York,nationally, and internationally. He started his career as an organizer for the ILGWU, Local 23-25, and held many positions in its successor unions. He most recently served as Director of Labor Relations at the New York State Department of Labor.
Ed served on the National Executive Board of the Latin Council on Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), as well as on the board of the New York City chapter. He was also the coordinator of the annual ceremony honoring the victims of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which has been commemorated at the Greenwich Village building site for several decades. He was also a founding member of the Working Families Party and served on the board of El Puente, a youth arts and education nonprofit in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
In 1988, he was selected by the AFL-CIO to be part of a U.S. election observer team during the constitutionally mandated plebiscite in Chile, in which voters overwhelmingly cast ballots against an additional eight-year term for General Pinochet, opening the way for the transition to democracy. In June 1990, he proudly served as Chief of Security for Nelson Mandela when the South African leader visited New York City for the first time after his release from Robbin Island prison. My dad was responsible for Mandela’s safety while in New York City, and in 1994, Ed served as an official observer of the first free and fair election in a democratic South Africa, in which Mandela became the nation’s first black president.
He served as an elected delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1988, 1992, 1996, and 2000, and he was Bronx Borough Coordinator for the New York City Central Labor Council’s Get-Out-The-Vote Election Day activity for more than a decade.
A proud Brooklyn native, with the accent to match, he lived for several decades in Manhattan with his wife, Liz Weiner, a remarkable woman left widowed way too soon. He had three children Greg, Ariane, Sofia, who were incredibly proud to call him “Papi,” and he was a phenomenal grandfather to his granddaughter, Caroline, and grandson, Levi. Papi was a passionate, generous, irresistible force, loved working people everywhere, and loved his large family, biological and chosen.
We are all heartbroken but determined to keep fighting for a better world, as he did. A memorial will be held on Tuesday, October 5th, 2021 at Riverside Memorial Chapel, 180 W. 76 St. at 3 pm. In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to the Triangle Fire Memorial at rememberthetrianglefire.org.