This week in labor history: April 11-17

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APRIL 11
1941 – Ford Motor Company signs first contract with United Auto Workers.
1947 – Jackie Robinson, first Black ballplayer hired by a major league team, plays his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbetts Field.
1974 – United Mine Workers President W. A. “Tony” Boyle is found guilty of first-degree murder, for ordering the 1969 assassination of union reformer Joseph A. “Jock” Yablonski. Yablonski, his wife and daughter were murdered on December 30, 1969. Boyle had defeated Yablonski in the UMW election earlier in the year — an election marred by intimidation and vote fraud. That election was set aside and a later vote was won by reformer Arnold Miller.
1980 – Some 34,000 New York City Transit Authority workers, 11 days into a strike for higher wages, end their walkout with agreement on a nine percent increase in the first year and eight percent in the second, along with cost-of-living protections.
1980 – The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issues regulations prohibiting sexual harassment of workers by supervisors in the workplace.
1986 – Police in Austin, Minn., tear-gas striking Hormel meatpacking workers. Seventeen strikers are arrested on felony riot charges.
1997 – Some 25,000 marchers in Watsonville, Calif., show support for United Farm Workers organizing campaign among strawberry workers, others.

APRIL 12
1858 – A group of “puddlers” — craftsmen who manipulated pig iron to create steel — meet in a Pittsburgh bar and form The Iron City Forge of the Sons of Vulcan. It was the strongest union in the U.S. in the 1870s, later merging with two other unions to form what was to be the forerunner of the United Steel Workers.
1900 – Birth of Florence Reece, active in Harlan County, Ky., coal strikes and author of famed labor song “Which Side Are You On?”
1909 – The Union Label and Service Trades Department is founded by the American Federation of Labor. Its mission: promote the products and services of union members.
1912 – Twenty “girl millworkers,” attempting to relieve striking pickets at the Garfield, New Jersey, mill of Forstmann and Huffmann, are beaten “when they did not move fast enough to suit” 30 special deputies who ordered them off the site, according to a news report.
1924 – Chris Turner is born in Floyd, Va. He went on to become a NASCAR driver and attempted, along with Fireball Roberts and Tim Flock, to organize the other drivers into a union in 1961 in the hope of better purses, a share in broadcasting rights and retirement benefits for the drivers. He was banned by NASCAR and was unsuccessful when he sued for reinstatement.  The court said he was an individual contractor, not an employee of NASCAR or any track.
1934 – The Toledo (Ohio) Auto-Lite strike begins with 6,000 workers demanding union recognition and higher pay. The strike is notable for a five-day running battle in late May between the strikers and 1,300 members of the Ohio National Guard. Known as the “Battle of Toledo,” the clash left two strikers dead and more than 200 injured. The two-month strike, a win for the workers’ union, is regarded by many Labor historians as one of the nation’s three most important strikes.

APRIL 13
1903 – Int’l Hod Carriers & Building Laborers’ Union (today’s Laborers’ Int’l Union) is founded, as 25 delegates from 23 local unions in 17 cities—representing 8,186 Laborers—meet in Washington, D.C.
1930 – A 17-year-old Jimmy Hoffa leads his co-workers at a Kroger warehouse in Clinton, Indiana, in a successful job action: by refusing to unload a shipment of perishable strawberries, they forced the company to give in to their demands.  Among other things: the “strawberry boys” had to report to work at 4:30 a.m., stay on the job for 12 hours, and were paid 32 cents an hour — only if growers arrived with berries to unload. Plus, they were required to spend three-fourths of any earnings buying goods from Kroger.
1919 – Labor leader and Socialist Party founder Eugene V. Debs is imprisoned for opposing American entry into World War I. While in jail he ran for president and received one million votes.

APRIL 14
1930 – More than 100 Mexican and Filipino farm workers are arrested for union activities, Imperial Valley, Calif. Eight were convicted of “criminal syndicalism.”
1939 – John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath published.
2005 – The United Steelworkers and the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers unions merge to form the largest industrial union in North America.

APRIL 15
1889 – A. Philip Randolph, civil rights leader and founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, born in Crescent City, Fla.
1912 – Eight members of the Musicians union die in the sinking of the Titanic. According to survivors, they played their instruments until nearly the end. Five weeks later a concert organized by the union to benefit the musicians’ families, held in a theater donated for the evening by impresario Flo Ziegfeld, featured the talents of 500 musicians. The evening ended with a rendering of “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” the hymn being played as the ship went down. The union at the time was called the Musical Mutual Protective Union Local 310, the New York affiliate of the American Federation of Musicians.
1915 – IWW union Agricultural Workers Organization formed in Kansas City, Mo.
1916 – Teacher unionists gather at the City Club on Plymouth Court in Chicago to form a new national union: the American Federation of Teachers.
1919 – Start of ultimately successful six-day strike across New England by one of the earliest women-led American unions, the Telephone Operators Department of IBEW.
1934 – Transport Workers Union founded.
1955 – The first McDonald’s restaurant opens, in Des Plaines, Ill., setting the stage years later for sociologist Amitai Etzioni to coin the term “McJob.” As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, a McJob is “an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, especially one created by the expansion of the service sector.”

APRIL 16
1916 – Employers lock out 25,000 New York City garment workers in a dispute over hiring practices. The Int’l Ladies’ Garment Workers Union calls a general strike; after 14 weeks, 60,000 strikers win union recognition and the contractual right to strike.
1947 – Five hundred workers in Texas City, Texas die in a series of huge oil refinery and chemical plant explosions and fires.
2000 – An estimated 20,000 global justice activists blockade Washington, D.C., meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

APRIL 17
1905 – The Supreme Court holds that a maximum-hours law for New York bakery workers is unconstitutional under the due process clause of the 14th amendment.
2013 – An explosion at a West Texas fertilizer plant kills 15 people and injures nearly 300 when 30 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate — stored in sheds without sprinkler systems — catch fire. Of those killed, ten were emergency responders.

(Compiled by David Prosten, founder of Union Communication Services)

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