Sol "Chick" Chaikin was born and raised in New York City. After graduating from Townsend Harris Hall High School (1934) and Brooklyn Law School (LL.B. '40), Chaikin began work with the ILGWU, which would be continuous except for his service in the U.S. Air Force during World War II.
Chaikin worked as an organizer (Local 178, Fall River, Massachusetts) and business agent (Local 228, Springfield, Massachusetts), before being appointed Manager of the Western Massachusetts District of the Northeast Department in 1946. He was later appointed Director of the Lower Southwest Region (1955), and returned as Assistant Director of the Northeast Department (1959). In 1965, he was elected as a Vice-President of the ILGWU. While Assistant Director of the Northeast Department, Chaikin also served as Chairman of the American Trade Union Council for Histadrut (1968) and Associate Trustee of the Long Island Jewish Hillsdale Medical Center (1969).
Chaikin served as General Secretary-Treasurer of the ILGWU (1973-1975), before being elected President of the union in 1975. During this period, Chaikin also served as Vice-President of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Department (1973), Vice President and member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council (1975), member of the Board of Directors of the New York Urban Coalition (1973) and member of the Governor's Task Force on Housing (1975).
During his tenure as President of the ILGWU, Chaikin was heavily involved in the union's role in the international labor movement. He was National Chairman of the Trade Union Council for Histadrut (1976), Labor Representative at the Belgrade Conference to Review Helsinki Accord on Human Rights (1977), head of the AFL-CIO Delegation to International Labor Summit in London (1977), member of the United States Delegation to attend the funeral of Prime Minister Golda Meir (1978), member of the United States Delegation to the International Labor Organization Session in Geneva (1980), head of the AFL-CIO Fact-Finding Mission to South Africa (1982), and host of the ZENSEN Delegation from Japan to discuss apparel and textile industries (1985).
Chaikin was also involved in city and national politics during his presidency of the union. He was a Delegate to the Democratic National Convention (1976), and the person to "second" Jimmy Carter's nomination at the Democratic National Convention in 1980. He served as Vice-Chair of the New York Convention Center Operating Corporation (1980) and was a member of the New York State Governor's Special Transit Advisory Panel (1982).
He was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Human Rights Award from the Jewish Labor Committee (1977) and Townsend Harris Award (1978). He received honorary degrees from Rutgers University and the City University of New York (1980). In 1983, the Sol C. Chaikin Chair was established at Brandeis University.