By: Charlie Sprang
Rich Tolson: Staying involved in every aspect of unionism
If you want to schedule a meeting with Rich Tolson, it would help to have some patience. He’s
in Atlantic City one day, in North Jersey the next, and well, he’ll be in his office in Bordentown
the day after that. Tolson’s calendar is eternally full, with not a wasted minute.
In addition to serving as the Director of the New Jersey Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers,
Tolson is also a board member of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, Vice
President of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, Vice President of the New Jersey Building &
Construction Trades Council, Chairman of the New Jersey State Labor Management
Committee, and Trustee of the BAC Local 4 Pension and Annuity Fund just to mention, oh, a
handful or so of his responsibilities.
Yes, he is a busy man, but when you get right down to it, he wouldn’t have it any other way. He
is a product of his upbringing and learned early what it means to be involved.
“This may sound like a cliché but that is how I was raised,” said Tolson, the youngest of six
children raised in Ocean City, NJ. “Our parents didn’t have a lot of time, but they were always
volunteering in the community, in politics and with the Catholic Church. The benefit to being
involved is you get to help a lot of people.”
Tolson graduated from Ocean City High School in 1976 and went to work for a local residential
contractor. Eight years later, he started his own company and joined the union in Atlantic City in
1988. Two years after that, he interviewed for a job with the international and became an
“I’ve been an organizer, Vice President, President, and Secretary/Treasurer. I’ve been Director
since 2006,” Tolson said. “I primarily have oversight of two locals in the state of New Jersey —
Local 4 in Fairfield and Local 5 in Bordentown. I chair the collective bargaining unit and the trust
funds and have full responsibility for the district council of two locals. It keeps me out of trouble.”
Tolson said he doesn’t miss working directly in the trade. The walls are bigger, he says, and the
material is much heavier. He does, however, miss organizing. “I was always interested in
effectuating change to help the people we represent,” he said. “It is where it all gets started.”
Now, as director for two locals in the state, and in his roles as a board member or officer in
several state labor organizations, he sees there is much that has been accomplished, yet still
much more to do. He says a lot of the work he does is marketing and talking to people who
make the decisions. The unions he represents have lost a lot of jobs over the years, he said, but
he is hopeful with a new Governor and a new Commissioner of Labor in New Jersey, there will
be positive changes for labor.
“There needs to be a change in focus,” he explained. “There are different products being used
and different techniques. A lot of adjustments must be made to stay relevant.
“There is a celebration this year. This is the 150 th year of our existence and the slogan for the
BAC is ‘Build … Adapt … Change.’ That is certainly true for New Jersey. In the 10 states that
make up the Northeast Region, most of those states have been quicker to change than New
Jersey. But we’re starting to see the turnaround now. Hours are back up. I can see the tide
turning. We’ve become more socially conscious. We’ve built more educational facilities, but we
still need to be build more.”
With all Tolson has accomplished and with all the work he is currently doing, there is one
accomplishment that makes him most proud – his Bachelor of Arts in Labor Studies from the
National Labor College in Silver Spring, MD.
“I finished in 2014,” he said proudly. “It is an AFL-CIO project. I started a long time ago and I
received life credits and credits from my apprenticeship. I completed a lot of online work and I
had to go down there for some classroom work. I wrote a lot of papers. It is something I am very
As well he should be. And through it all, he has managed to stay involved.