This week in labor history: February 1-7, 2021

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FEBRUARY 2
1917 Three hundred newsboys organize to protest a cut in pay by the Minneapolis Tribune.
1977 Legal secretary Iris Rivera fired for refusing to make coffee; secretaries across Chicago protest.
1987 The 170-day lockout (although management called it a strike) of 22,000 steelworkers by USX Corp. ends with a pay cut but greater job security. It was the longest work stoppage in the history of the U.S. steel industry.

FEBRUARY 3
1908 The U.S. Supreme Court rules the United Hatters Union violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by organizing a nationwide boycott of Danbury Hatters of Connecticut.
1941 U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Wages and Hours (later Fair Labor Standards) Act banning child labor and establishing the 40-hour work week.
1971 An explosion at a Thiokol chemical plant near Woodbine, Georgia kills 29 workers, seriously injures 50.  An investigation found that contributing factors to the explosion were mislabeled chemicals, poor storage procedures and insufficient fire protection

FEBRUARY 4
1825 The Ohio legislature authorizes construction of the 249-mile Miami and Erie Canal, to connect Toledo to Cincinnati.  Local historians say “Irish immigrants, convicts and local farmers used picks, shovels and wheelbarrows,” at 30 cents per day, to construct the 249-mile-long waterway.
1869 “Big Bill” Haywood born in Salt Lake City, Utah: Leader of Western Federation of Miners, Wobblies (IWW) founder.
1913 Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a White man launched the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott and the birth of the civil rights movement, is born in Tuskegee, Ala.
1932 Unemployment demonstrations take place in major U.S. cities.
1937 Thirty-seven thousand maritime workers on the West Coast strike for wage increases.
2009 President Barack Obama imposes $500,000 caps on senior executive pay for the most distressed financial institutions receiving federal bailout money, saying Americans are upset with “executives being rewarded for failure.”

FEBRUARY 5
1830 First daily Labor newspaper, N.Y. Daily Sentinel, begins publication.
1937 The movie “Modern Times” premieres. The tale of the tramp (Charlie Chaplin) and his paramour (Paulette Goddard) mixed slapstick comedy and social satire, as the couple struggled to overcome the difficulties of the machine age including unemployment and nerve-wracking factory work, and get along in modern times.

1993 President Bill Clinton signs the Family and Medical Leave Act.  The law requires most employers of 50 or more workers to grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a family or medical emergency.
2003 In what turns out to be a bad business decision, Circuit City fires 3,900 experienced salespeople because they’re making too much in commissions. Sales plummet. Six years later it declares bankruptcy.

FEBRUARY 6
1896 Ironworkers from six cities meet in Pittsburgh to form the Int’l Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers of America. Their pay in Pittsburgh at the time: $2.75 for a nine-hour day.
1910 Philadelphia shirtwaist makers vote to accept arbitration offer and end walkout as Triangle Shirtwaist strike winds down. One year later 146 workers, mostly young girls aged 13 to 23, were to die in a devastating fire at Triangle’s New York City sweatshop.
1919 Seattle General Strike begins. The city was run by a General Strike Committee for six days as tens of thousands of union members stopped work in support of 32,000 striking longshoremen.

FEBRUARY 7
1894 Union miners in Cripple Creek, Colo., begin what is to become a five-month strike that started when mine owners cut wages to $2.50 a day, from $3. The state militia was called out in support of the strikers — the only time in U.S. history that a militia was directed to side with the workers.  The strike ended in victory for the union.
1904 It took 1,231 fire fighters 30 hours to put down The Great Baltimore Fire, which started on this day and destroyed 1,500 buildings over an area of some 140 acres.
1957 Hockey players formed the NHL Players Association in New York City after owners refuse to release pension plan financial information. The union was busted when owners transferred key activists, but it successfully re-formed 10 years later.
2008 Thirteen workers are killed, 42 injured in a dust explosion at an Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia. Investigators found that the company had been aware of dangers for years but had not acted on them.

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

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