This week in labor history: January 20-26

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JANUARY 20
1909 – Chicago Crib Disaster – A fire breaks out during construction of a water tunnel for the city of Chicago, burning the wooden dormitory housing the tunnel workers. While 46 survive the fire by jumping into the frigid lake and climbing onto ice floes, approximately 60 men die, 29 burned beyond recognition and the others drowned.
1961 – Hardworking Mickey Mantle signs a new contract with the New York Yankees making him the highest paid player in baseball: $75,000 for the entire 1961 season. It should be noted that because there were no long-term contracts, salaries fluctuated every year. In 1947, for example, Hank Greenberg signed a contract for a record $85,000. The Major League Baseball Players Association was created in 1953 and in 1968 negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with team owners, raising the minimum salary from $6,000 to $10,000 per year.
1986 – Bruce Springsteen’s “My Hometown,” a eulogy for dying industrial cities, is the country’s most listened-to song. The lyrics, in part: “Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores / Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more / They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks / Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to your hometown…”
2018 – Naomi Parker Fraley, a California waitress who worked a Navy machine shop during World War II and who has been identified as the “real” Rosie the Riveter, dies at age 96 in Longview, Wash. Although the Rosie title had been ascribed to other women over the years, it was Fraley whose image, complete with worksheet and polka-dot bandanna, was shown on the iconic “We can do it!” posters displayed in Westinghouse Electric Corp. plants during the war.

JANUARY 21
1946 – Some 750,000 steel workers walk out in 30 states, largest strike in U.S. history to that time.
1974 – Postal workers begin four-day strike at the Jersey City, N.J., bulk and foreign mail center, protesting an involuntary shift change. The wildcat was led by a group of young workers who identified themselves as “The Outlaws.”
2000 – Six hundred police attack picketing longshoremen in Charleston, S.C.

JANUARY 22
1826 – Indian field hands at San Juan Capistrano mission refused to work, engaging in what was probably the first farm worker strike in California.
1849 – Birth of Terence V. Powderly, leader of the Knights of Labor.
1890 – The United Mine Workers of America is founded in Columbus, Ohio, with the merger of the Knights of Labor Trade Assembly No. 135 and the National Progressive Miners Union.
JANUARY 23
1913 – Some 10,000 clothing workers strike in Rochester, N.Y., for the eight-hour day, a 10 percent wage increase, union recognition, and extra pay for overtime and holidays. Daily parades were held throughout the clothing district and there was at least one instance of mounted police charging the crowd of strikers and arresting 25 picketers. Six people were wounded over the course of the strike and one worker, 18-year-old Ida Breiman, was shot to death by a sweatshop contractor. The strike was called off in April after manufacturers agreed not to discriminate against workers for joining a union.
1936 – In Allegany County, MD, workers with the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal era public works program employing unmarried men aged 18-25, are snowbound at Fifteen Mile Creek Camp S-53 when they receive a distress call about a woman in labor who needs to get to a hospital. Twenty courageous CCC volunteers dig through miles of snow drifts until the woman is successfully able to be transported.

JANUARY 24
1935 – Krueger’s Cream Ale, the first canned beer, goes on sale in Richmond, Va. Pabst was the second brewer in the same year to sell beer in cans, which came with opening instructions and the suggestion: “cool before serving.”

JANUARY 25
1851 – Sojourner Truth addresses first Black Women’s Rights convention.
1888 – The Sheet Metal Workers Int’l Association (SMWIA) is founded in Toledo, Ohio, as the Tin, Sheet Iron and Cornice Workers’ Int’l Association.
1904 – Two hundred miners are killed in a horrific explosion at the Harwick mine in Cheswick, Pa., Allegheny County. Many of the dead lie entombed in the sealed mine to this day.
1915 – The Supreme Court upholds “Yellow Dog” employment contracts, which forbid membership in labor unions. Yellow Dog contracts remained legal until 1932.
1926 – Some 16,000 textile workers strike in Passaic, N.J.
1950 – The federal minimum wage rate rises to 75 cents an hour.

JANUARY 26
1695 – In what could be considered the first workers’ compensation agreement in America, pirate Henry Morgan pledges his underlings 600 pieces of eight or six slaves to compensate for a lost arm or leg. Also part of the pirate’s code, reports Roger Newell: shares of the booty were equal regardless of race or sex, and shipboard decisions were made collectively.
1850 – Samuel Gompers, first AFL president, born in London, England. He emigrated to the U.S. as a youth.
1897 – The Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America is chartered by the American Federation of Labor to organize “every wage earner from the man who takes the bullock at the house until it goes into the hands of the consumer.”
1937 – Workers win a two-day sit-down strike at the Brooklyn electric plant that powers the city’s entire subway system.
2009 – A handful of American companies announce nearly 60,000 layoffs today, as the recession that began during the George W. Bush presidency charges full-tilt toward what became known as the Great Recession.

(Compiled by David Prosten, founder Union Communication Services)

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