Stephen Abrecht, a long-time labor activist, passed away on December 6, 2019, after a fierce battle with cancer. Steve devoted his life to promoting dignity and fairness in the workplace, and was a leader in the field of responsible investing. Over the span of twenty years, he served as Director of Research and Capital Strategies at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Chair of the union’s National Industry Pension Fund, and Chief Financial Officer. His research and keen sense of strategy helped fuel the union’s Justice for Janitors campaign, among others, raising wages and winning benefits for thousands of low-wage workers.
Steve believed that corporations benefiting from pension fund investments should be accountable to workers and their communities. He hired a dream team of community and labor organizations to flex the muscle of worker capital. Along the way, he mentored dozens of young researchers who now lead dynamic campaigns to rebalance power in society.
Born in New York City and raised in Geneva, Switzerland, Steve came from a family immersed in global issues of justice. His father, Rev. Paul Abrecht, led the Church and Society Department of the World Council of Churches. His mother, Audrey, worked for the World Student Christian Federation. The Abrecht home served as a way station and refuge for social activists from around the world.
Steve graduated from Yale University, where he played varsity soccer and spent a year abroad in Uruguay. He went on to research the role of U.S. corporations for the North American Congress on Latin America, and then co-founded Corporate Data Exchange to “follow the money.” He advised workers at Eastern airlines, in one of labor’s most bitter fights against corporate raiders, and worked with the Communications Workers of America before joining SEIU. Steve was there at the creation of Americans for Financial Reform and Vital Healthcare Capital, and served on both boards.
Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor & Working Poor has initiated an oral history and documentation project focused on Steve’s work and that of the many people he worked with and mentored.
Steve was a loving partner to his wife of 28 years, Janet Shenk, and an adoring father to his daughter, Olivia Abrecht. He shared an undying love of hiking, soccer, and chocolate with his siblings Susan Joyet of Lausanne, Switzerland, Gary Abrecht of Washington DC, and Rudy Abrecht of Normandy, France.