That Union Thing

Origins of the Labor Movement…Part 3: 19th Century Unrest

The early 1800’s saw the first developments of the labor movement in the United States. In 1827 in Philadelphia, an organization of workers of more than one craft created citywide concerted action and in the 1830’s organizations were fighting for free education and against monopolies. However, it was in 1834 that the movement really began with the formation of the National Trades Union, as they tried to battle market competition (which drove down wages and drove up work) and immigration (that brought competition from cheap labor.)

There were some gains in the 1800’s, but most were short-lived. Laws creating 10-hour workdays were passed by many states in the mid-1800’s, but there were so many loopholes that the laws accomplished little. Businesses continued to "import" labor as if it was a commodity.

In 1866 in Baltimore, labor united in the form of the National Labor Congress to put political pressure for the creation of a department of labor, an 8-hour workday, and immigration restrictions, but it was not a success. However, things would pick up steam in the 20th century thanks to organizations born just before the turn of the century, such as the American Federation of Labor, under the leadership of people such as Samuel Gompers.

Union News From AFL-CIO Work in Progress

DIPLOMATIC VOICE—The 800 employees at the Westin Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, Fla., gained a voice on the job Feb. 14 through Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Local 355. Management agreed to recognize the union after a majority of workers signed union authorization cards.

CHOPPER WON—About 3,600 Teamsters overwhelmingly approved a new four-year contract with helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. last week. The new pact boosts wages, improves pensions and enhances the workers' 401(k) plan. In addition to 3,500 workers at the company's Stratford, Conn., manufacturing plant, the contract covers about 100 workers at Sikorsky's West Palm Beach flight operations site.

Unions Sue Florida to Maintain Contract

Three teachers’ unions are challenging the constitutionality of a law enacted last year that allows public agencies to change contracts without negotiations during financial crises. Despite a union contract in place, the Miami-Dade School Board wants to force employees to take 2 days of unpaid leave in order to cut $13 million from their budget. Attorney Ronald Meyer states that if public agencies can disregard salary commitments in contracts, the collective bargaining process becomes meaningless. The unions are relying on a 1993 Supreme Court decision that forced the legislature to abide by a negotiated pay raise for public university faculties.


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