Gotbaum was born in Brooklyn, New York. He married his first wife, Sarah, in August 1943. He fought in World War II, attended Brooklyn College and the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, and took his first union job as assistant director of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters in Chicago, in 1955.
Under Gotbaum's leadership, DC37 successfully organized thousands of municipal hospital workers in the 1960s and helped create New York City's Office of Collective Bargaining. During the New York City bankruptcy crisis in the mid-1970s, Gotbaum and DC37 agreed to major collective bargaining concessions, which set a pattern that forced other municipal unions to do the same. The action helped the city avoid default on its bonds.
Gotbaum was succeeded by Stanley Hill, who was removed in 1998 in the midst of a major scandal, some of which may have had its roots under Gotbaum. After a trusteeship by AFSCME, Hill was ultimately succeeded in 2002 by Lillian Roberts, who first started working with Gotbaum in 1959.
Gotbaum's daughter-in-law Carol Anne Gotbaum was found dead on September 28, 2007 at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Police reported that Gotbaum was yelling and screaming: "I am not a terrorist!" and running through the terminal on Friday. She was arrested for disorderly conduct. Initial reports indicate that Gotbaum may have accidentally strangled herself while trying to get out of her handcuffs. Carol Gotbaum was married to Noah Gotbaum, one son of Sarah and Victor Gotbaum.
- Bellush, Bernard and Jewel Bellush, Union Power and New York: Victor Gotbaum and District Council 37, (Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 1984). ISBN 0-03-001322-4.
- Rohatyn, Felix G., "From New York to Baghdad", New York Review of Books, (49:18) November 21, 2002.
- Fitch, Bob, "Union jacked: How DC 37 Became America's Most Indicted Municipal Union", Village Voice, August 24, 1999.
- Barton, Thomas, "New DC 37 Leaders Still Silent on Contract Showdown," Socialist Worker, April 5, 2002; Boehm, Ken, "The Scandals of AFSCME District Council 37. Part II: More Indictments, Unfinished Business," Labor Watch, October 2002.
- "Woman may have accidentally killed herself after airport bust", CNN, September 30, 2007 8:40 p.m. EDT. Retrieved 2011-07-29.
- "Joshua Gotbaum Wed in Brooklyn To Ms. Thornhill", The New York Times, September 25, 1989. Retrieved 2011-07-29.