This week in labor history: January 25-31, 2021

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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.

JANUARY 27
1734 New York City maids organize to improve working conditions.
1891 Mine explosion in Mount Pleasant, Pa., leaves more than 100 dead.
1920 First meeting of the Int’l Labor Organization (ILO).
1920 Kansas miners strike against compulsory arbitration.
1950 A three-cent postage stamp is issued, honoring AFL founder Samuel Gompers.
1969 A group of Detroit African-American auto workers known as the Eldon Avenue Axle Plant Revolutionary Union Movement leads a wildcat strike against racism and bad working conditions. They are critical of both automakers and the UAW, condemning the seniority system and grievance procedures as racist.
2014 Pete Seeger dies in New York at age 94. A musician and activist, he was a revered figure on the American left, persecuted during the McCarthy era for his support of progressive, Labor and civil rights causes. A prolific songwriter, he is generally credited with popularizing the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” He actively participated in demonstrations until shortly before his death.
2014 Members of the Northwestern University football team announce they are seeking union recognition. A majority signed cards, later delivered to the National Labor Relations Board office in Chicago, asking for representation by the College Athletes Players Association.

JANUARY 28
1861 American Miners’ Association formed.
1932 First U.S. unemployment compensation law enacted, in Wisconsin.

JANUARY 29
1834 Responding to unrest among Irish laborers building the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, President Andrew Jackson orders first use of American troops to suppress a Labor dispute.
1889 Six thousand railway workers strike for a union and the end of the 18-hour workday.
1936 Sit-down strike helps establish United Rubber Workers as a national union, Akron, Ohio.
1957 American Train Dispatchers Department granted a charter by the AFL-CIO.
1981 Dolly Parton hits number one on the record charts with “9 to 5,” her anthem to the daily grind.
2009 The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is signed into law by President Obama. Ledbetter worked for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. at a wage rate much less than men doing the same job; the statute of limitations for filing a claim of discrimination expired by the time she learned of the unequal treatment. The Fair Pay Act stipulates that the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination resets with each new paycheck affected by that discriminatory action.

JANUARY 30
1882 Franklin Delano Roosevelt is born in Hyde Park, N.Y. He was elected president of the United States four times starting in 1932. His New Deal programs helped America survive the Great Depression. His legislative achievements included the creation of the National Labor Relations Act, which allows workers to organize unions, bargain collectively and strike.

JANUARY 31
1938 Some 12,000 pecan shellers in San Antonio, Texas — mostly Latino women — walk off their jobs at 400 factories in what was to become a three-month strike against wage cuts. Strike leader Emma Tenayuca was eventually hounded out of the state.
1940 Ida M. Fuller is the first retiree to receive an old-age monthly benefit check under the new Social Security law. She paid in $24.75 between 1937 and 1939 on an income of $2,484; her first check was for $22.54.
1978 After scoring successes with representation elections conducted under the protective oversight of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, the United Farm Workers of America officially ends its historic table grape, lettuce and wine boycotts.
2002 Union and student pressure forces Harvard University to adopt new Labor policies raising wages for lowest-paid workers.
2005 Five months after Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans school board fires every teacher in the district in what the United Teachers of New Orleans sees as an effort to break the union and privatize the school system.

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

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