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United States Labor History
Dec 11, 2023

Information Provided by the Center for Labor Education & Research - University of Hawaii

U.S. Labor History Timeline

Seven major national unions, representing six million workers, disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO and, in September, form a new coalition called "Change to Win", devoted to organizing.

70,000 Southern California grocery workers strike Safeway to protect their health benefits and stop imposition of a vicious two-tier wage system.

March 29, the 500,000-member United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners announced that it was disaffiliating with the national AFL-CIO because of differences in the direction of the labor movement.

April 5, 10,000 Public school teachers and 3000 state university faculty in Hawaii shut down all public education in the State in the nation's first state-wide education strike.

In a big win for their members and all of organized labor, the Teamsters reach a new five-year agreement with United Parcel Service (UPS) on Aug. 18, ending a two-week strike over abuse of part-time workers and health care for retirees.

The 123,000-member I.L.G.W.U. and the 129,000-member A.C.T.W.U. merge to form the new Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE).

The longest players' strike in sports history (232 days) is conducted by the Major League Players Association against National and American League owners.

a five day strike of 21,000 American Airlines' flight attendants, virtually shutting the airline down is ended when Pres. Clinton persuades the owners to arbirate the dispute.

The Family and Medical leave Act is passed.

The founding convention of the AFL-CIO's Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) is held from April 30 to May 2 in Washington D.C.

On September 3rd the Imperial Food Products fire in Hamlet, North Carolina where, despite a federally approved state OSHA program, 25 poultry processing workers are killed, 49 injured.

7500 hotel worker and members of HERE, Local 5 strike 11 major hotels from March 3 to March 24 to protect their pension benefits.

June 15, LAPD officers attacked a group of 400 non-violent demonstrators in the SEIU "Justice for Janitors" campaign in the Century City strike against that high-rise commercial office area of Los Angeles.

The United Mine Workers of America wildcat strike of the Pittston Coal Group in Virginia spreads across the eastern coalfields involving up to 50,000 miners in 11 states. Using non-violence and civil disobedience, the miners win a contract after a bitter nine-month struggle.

The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association struck in defiance of the law. Newly elected President Ronald Reagan fired all the strikers and broke the union, sanctioning the practice of hiring "permanent replacements" for striking workers. Solidarity day labor rally draws 400,000 to the Mall in Washington D.C.

Douglas Fraser becomes first labor leader elected to board of directors of a major corporation (Chrysler).

The Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute [p.l. 95-454, 5 U.S.C. §7101 et seq.], also known as Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, grants by statute collective bargaining to federal workers which had been subject to executive order.

January 2, President Ford vetoes Common Situs Picketing Bill; in aftermath Dunlop issues statement of resignation.

July 1, Cesar Chavez and sixty supporters of the UFW embarked on a thousand-mile march across California to rally the state's farm workers.

July 30, former Teamsters union president Jimmy Hoffa disappears from the parking lot of the Machus Red fox Restaurant in suburban Detroit. Although presumed dead, his remains have never been found.

March 22, the founding convention of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) in Chicago elects Olga Madar its first president.

September 2, Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

November 13, Karen Gay Silkwood, a lab tech at the Cimeron plutonium plant and officer of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union local in Oklahoma City dies mysteriously en route to a union meeting with a newspaper reporter.

May 30, Crystal Lee Jordan (aka "Norma Rae") is fired for trying to organize a union at the J.P. Stevens plant in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina.

In Harlan County, Kentucky Coal operators again try to break the United Mine Workers and a bloody coal-field war erupts.

April 28, Occupational Safety and Health Act.

December 23, Jimmy Hoffa's prison sentence is commuted by President Richard Nixon on the condition he not participate in union activities for ten years.

U.S. Postal Workers' strike affects mail service in major cities.

Under the leadership of Cesar Chavez, United Farm Workers start boycott of 25 major growers in California.

Mary Moultrie organizes the successful strike of 550 black women hospital workers for union representation in Charleston, South Carolina.

During an AFSCME Sanitation Workers' strike, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated at his motel in Memphis.

November 20th, a gas explosion at Consolidated Coal Company's No. 9 mine at Farmington, West Virginia trap 81 men, 78 of whom are killed in the mine.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act makes it illegal to discriminate against people 40 to 65 years old.

December 15, Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

September 8, Delano Grape Strike began when the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, mostly Filipino farm workers in Delano, California, walked off the farms of area table grape growers demanding wages on level with the federal minimum wage. One week after the strike began, the predominantly Mexican-American National Farmworkers Association led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta joined the strike, and eventually the two groups merged, forming the United Farm Workers of America. Quickly, the strike spread to over 2,000 workers

October 22, Service Contracts Act.

July 2, President Johnson signs Civil Rights Act of 1964; Title VII bans discrimination in the workplace.

Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa succeeds in bringing virtually all North American over-the-road truck drivers under a single national master freight agreement.

June 10, Equal Pay Act.

President Kennedy issues Executive Order 10988 giving federal workers the right to join unions and bargain for wages and working conditions.

ILWU signs Mechanization and Modernization Agreement, which pioneers the tradeoff of members' job security for the employers' right to introduce labor-saving equipment.

Longest steel strike in U.S. history, shut down 90% of US steel production for 116 days.

September 14, Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (aka Landrum-Griffin) regulating union elections and finances.

Jimmy Hoffa is elected president of the Teamsters.

AFL-CIO expels the Teamsters, Bakery Workers, and Laundry Workers for "unethical conduct."

The American Federation of Labor merges with the Congress of Industrial Organizations, to form the AFL-CIO, the world's largest labor federation.

AFL expels the International Longshoremen's Association for corruption

Louisiana Sugar Cane Workers' Strike

55 day steel workers strike is ended by Federal Government intervention authorized by Pres. Truman.

UAW president Walter Reuther elected president of CIO

ILWU leaves CIO rather than be ejected for "Communist domination." Ten other CIO unions are kicked out.

Child labor is finally prohibited through an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act. Previous attempts had not been successful.

June 23, The Taft-Hartley Act passed over President Truman's veto, drastically amending the Wagner Act of 1935 reducing rights of workers to organize labor unions. State "right-to-work" laws appear..

A national railway strike stops all trains. President Harry S. Truman takes over railways and settles the dispute.

Congress passes the Smith-Connally Act to restrict labor bargaining and organizing. It would have required 30 day "cooling off" before strike, criminal penalties for encouraging strikes, Presidential seizure of struck plants, prohibitions against union campaign contributions. It is vetoed by President Roosevelt.

National War Labor Board established with labor representation on the board

President Franklin Roosevelt announces a no-strike pledge by AFL and CIO for duration of World War II.

5-week animators' strike at Walt Disney Studios to end the paternalistic relation between Disney and his animation staff, cemented the studio's derogatory nickname of "the mouse factory."

June 25, Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); established Wage and Hour Division in DOL.

John L. Lewis, seeking to organize steelworkers, secures a labor contract with the president of the world's largest steel company, United States Steel, but the smaller companies that collectively were known as "Little Steel" brutally fought steelworkers. Scores of deaths and injuries occurred as the United Steelworkers of America struck at Little Steel plants across the industrial northeast.

May 26, The Battle of the Overpass: United Auto Workers bloody confontation with Ford security forces. Published pictures of badly beaten UAW organizers Walter Reuther and Richard Frankensteen swayed public opinion in favor of the UAW.

The Memorial Day Massacre: Chicago police attack three hundred men picketing Republic Steel, killing ten and brutally maiming many others.

In Harlan County, Kentucky, Sheriff Deputies in the pay of the coal operators shoot unionists in a violent effort to break the United Mine Workers.

December 28th, a "sitdown strike" of auto workers (UAW) supported by the Women's Emergency Brigade at the General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan.

June 30, the Walsh-Healey Act sets safety standards, minimum wage, overtime pay and child labor provisions on all federal contracts.

The Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor votes to expel all labor members who claim affiliation with the Congress of Industrial Organizations, or CIO, which was being led by the UMW president John L. Lewis.

July 5, National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act), establishing the National Labor Relations Board.

Six affiliated unions of the AFL form a Committee for Industrial Organizing to expand the scope of the AFL beyond its craft-union orientation.

August 14, the Social Security act is approved.

San Francisco General Strike: the key event of modern west coast industrial unionism, led by longshoremen and sailors; Alameda County workers go out too, including streetcar drivers, calling for the municipalization of the privately-held streetcar company; general strikes in other cities. On July 5 (Bloody Thursday) two pickets are killed by the police.

The strike of 400,000 textile workers from New England, the Mid-Atlantic states and all over the southeastern United States and lasting twenty-two days. The strike's ultimate failure and the union's defeat left the southeastern portion of the United States an unorganized and anti-union region for the next 50 years.

July 16, Minneapolis Truckers Strike, 5000 men go out in a strike that established the Teamsters as a nationally significant labor union. Four men are killed--two on each side--and martial law is declared before an agreement is reached.

Section 7(a) of the National Recovery Act (NRA) is passed by Congress to give most private sector workers the right to join a union and bargain collectively with their employers. Shortly thereafter the Supreme Court holds Title I of the Act unconstitutional.

Workers at George A. Hormel and Company stage the first sit-down strike in the U.S., taking over the Austin meat-packing plant for three days. The tactic works: Hormel agrees to submit wage demands to binding arbitration

March 23, Norris-LaGuardia Act (Anti-Injunction Act) passes, prohibiting some federal injunctions in labor disputes and outlawing "yellow-dog" contracts - agreements where an employee agrees not to join a union.

Wisconsin enacts the nation's first unemployment insurance law.

March 3, Davis-Bacon Act, providing for payment of prevailing wage rates to laborers and mechanics employed by contractors and subcontractors on public construction.

September 1, Clara Holden, National Textile Workers' Union organizer is abducted and beaten by vigilantes in Greenville, South Carolina.

November 21, the Columbine Mine Massacre of striking coal miners in Colorado who were attacked with machine guns.

May 20, Railway Labor Act; required employers to bargain collectively and not discriminate against their employees for joining a union and outlawing "yellow-dog" contracts.

July 1 to September 1, nationwide railroad strike of 400,000 shop workers caused by the Railroad Labor Board's wage cut. The railroads hired strikebreakers, increasing hostilities between the railroads and striking workers. On September 1 federal judge James H. Wilkerson issued a sweeping injunction against striking, assembling, picketing, and a variety of other union activities, colloquially known as the "Daugherty Injunction."

January 21, national conference of state Manufacturers' associations in Chicago develop the "American Plan" to combat union oganizing.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that nothing in the Clayton Anti-trust Act protected unions from injunctions brought against them for conspiracy in constraint of trade. (Duplex Printing Press v. Deering)

Palmer Raids, part II: on January 2 Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer ordered another round of raids by the Federal Department of Justice to arrest and deport suspected 'anarchists' many of whom were labor union activists and leaders. This time about 6,000 were rounded up, arrested and whnever possible, deported.

Baldwin-Felts guards invade Matewan, West Virginia to break up a coal miners strike. The mayor, a small boy, a miner and four guards were killed in a show-down.

John L. Lewis is elected president of the United Mine Workers of America, at the age of 40, taking control of the largest labor union in the nation.

The Seattle General Strike of February 6 to February 11, 1919 by over 65,000 workers in several unions, dissatisfied after two years of World War I wage controls.

August 26, United Mine Workers' organizer Fannie Sellins, a widowed mother of four, is shot to death by coal company guards while leading strikers in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania.

September 9, A strike by 1,100 police in Boston is the first ever by public safety workers. It was broken when Governor Calvin Coolidge summoned the entire Massachusetts Guard.

The Great Steel Strike against U.S. Steel Corp. led by the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers. Starting in Chicago, it spread to 350,000 workers throughout Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia and lasted from September 1919 to January 1920. It was broken by massive use of scabs.

Palmer Raids: on November 7 Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer ordered raids by the Federal Department of Justice in 30 cities across the United States to arrest and deport suspicious immigrants (so called "alien reds") many of whom were involved in US labor unions. The raids were coordinated by a young J. Edgar Hoover, Palmer's chief investigating officer. In all, he rounded up about 10,000 and deported many as foreign agitators, anarchists, communists.

Leadership of the Industrial Workers of the World sentenced to federal prison on charges of disloyalty to the United States.

Joe Hill, IWW organizer and "labor's troubador" was executed by firing squad in Utah on November 19, 1915 for a robbery and murder it is most unlikely he had anything to do with.

The Clayton Anti-trust Act, described by Sam Gompers as "Labor's Magna Carta", limits the use of injunctions in labor disputes and providing that picketing and other union activities are not illegal conspiracies or trusts.

Ludlow Massacre: on April 20th a small army of goons hired from the Baldwin-Felts agency backed up by the National Guard lay down a barrage of machine gun fire on a strikers' tent village at Ludlow, Colorado, killing men, women and children.

The United States Department of Labor (separate from Commerce) is established by law.

In Lawrence, Massachusetts the IWW leads a strike of 23,000 men, women and children to organize the Lawrence Textile Mills: The "Bread & Roses" Strike, hailed as the first successful multi-ethnic strike (see History Matters).

The Triangle Waist Co. fire in New York on March 25, causes the death of 146 workers.

The wives of striking miners arrested in Greensburg, Pennsylvania sing their way out of jail under the leadership of Mother Jones.

"Uprising of the 20,000" female shirtwaist workers in New York State strike against sweatshop conditions.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down section 10 of the Erdman Act of 1898, which had outlawed "yellow-dog" contracts. (U.S. v. Adair)

Connecticut Supreme Court holds that a boycott by hatters' union is a restraint of trade. Union and strikers are sued.

Nation's worst mining disaster at Monongah, West Virginia. 361 coal miners known dead.

The IWW pioneers the Sit-Down Strike. Employees at General Electric fold their arms on the job for 65 hours.

The International Typographical Union successfully strikes for an 8-hour day.

In Chicago, Eugene Debs and Big Bill Haywood combine efforts to found the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies as they were called) to bring all American workers into "One Big Union."

The Department of Labor and Commerce is created by an act of Congress, and its Secretary is made a member of the President's Cabinet.

Mary Harris "Mother" Jones leads a protest march of mill children, many of whom were victims of industrial accidents, from Philadelphia to New York.

November 14, at the AFL convention in Boston, women unionists unite to form the National Women's Trade Union League and elect Mary Morton Kehew president and Jane Addams vice-president.

May 12 - Oct 23, The Great Anthracite Coal Strike; 147,000 miners strike over union recognition. Pres. Roosevelt mediated.

Big Bill Haywood leads the Western Federation of Miners (WMF) through a terrible and bloody series of conflicts spanning two years in what became known as the Colorado Labor Wars.

Congress passes the Erdman Act, a more detailed version of the 1888 Railroad workers legislation, adding sections to make it illegal to fire workers for their union membership.

Eugene V. Debs leads the newly formed American Railway Union in a national strike against the Pullman Company. The strike and the union were finally broken by a court injunction and the intervention of federal troops.

In the Cripple Creek Strike, Colorado gold miners, represented by the Western Federation of Miners are able to negotiate a peaceful end to a pitched battle between unionists and the state militia.

The Great Homestead Lockout at the Carnegie Steel Works outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania against the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel & Tin Workers. Carnegie directs his manager, Frick, not to renew the union contract. Frick turns mills into "Fort Frick," hires Pinkertons to protect scabs and locks out union laborers. Strikers battle arriving Pinkertons (9 strikers and 7 Pinkertons killed).

Integrated general strike of 42 unions in New Orleans, broken when Governor Foster sends in the State Militia to use military force against the strikers.

Mary Kenney O'Sullivan of the Bindery Workers is appointed the AFL's first female national organizer.

The first federal labor relations law was enacted, applying to Railroad workers. It provided arbitration and Presidential boards of investigation.

March, Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 200,000 workers against the Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific railroads owned by Jay Gould, one of the more flamboyant of the 'robber baron' industrialists of the day. The failure of the strike led directly to the collapse of the Knights of Labor and the formation of the American Federation of Labor.

Haymarket Tragedy: May 1, in Chicago's Haymarket Square a bomb went off in the middle of a protest rally against the killing of 4 strikers who had been on strike for the 8-hour day.

December 28, The American Federation of Labor is formed at a convention in Columbus, Ohio, representing 140,000 workers grouped in 25 national unions. Sam Gompers is elected President.

Knights of Labor Strike of South West System (J. Gould): The Missouri Pacific, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas; and the Wabash.

The Foran Act bans immigration of laborers brought in under contract to break strikes.

Pendleton Act established the United States Civil Service Commission, which placed most federal employees on the merit system and marked the end of the spoils or patronage system.

September, First Labor Day Celebration takes place in New York City.

Atlanta, Georgia: 3,000 Black women laundry workers stage one of the largest and most effective strikes in the history of the south.

July 14, National Uprising of Railroad Workers cripples the nation in response to the cutting of wages for the second time in a year by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The governor of West Virginia sends in state militia, but they refused to use force against the strikers and the governor called for federal troops. President Hayes sent federal troops from city to city. These troops suppressed strike after strike, until at last, approximately 45 days after it had started, the strike was over.

On June 21, "Rope Day" ten leaders of the Molly Maguires were hanged.

Trials of the "Molly Maguires", a secret society of Irish coal miners in Pennsylvania that had been infiltrated by a Pinkerton detective, surrendered state sovereignty. A private corporation initiated the investigation through a private detective agency. A private police force arrested the alleged defenders, and private attorneys for the coal companies prosecuted them. The state provided only the courtroom and the gallows.

A five-month long labor war in Pennsylvania between mostly Irish Coal Miners and the Reading Coal and Iron Company.

The union label is used for the first time by the Cigar Makers International Union.

The Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, a secret society, is organized in Philadelphia.

July 28, women shoemakers form the Daughters of St. Crispin, the first national union of women workers, at Lynn, Massachusetts.

The first 8-hour day for federal workers takes effect.

The Knights of St. Crispin was organized on March 7 to protect journeymen shoemakers against the competition of "green hands."

The National Labor Union formed, the first national association of unions to succeed for any length of time.

13th Amendment to the US Constitution abolishes slavery.

Great shoemakers strike in New England.

The Typographical Union, the first national union to last through to the present day, was formed. (now merged with Communications Workers of America).

The Female Labor Reform Association is formed in Lowell, Massachusetts by Sarah Bagley and other women cotton mill workers to reduce the work day from 12 or 13 hours a day to 10, and to improve sanitation and safety in the mills where they worked.

The Massachusetts State Supreme Court ruled in Commonwealth v. Hunt that labor unions were not necessarily illegal conspiracies.

President Martin Van Buren signs an executive order establishing a 10-hour workday without a decrease in pay.

Andrew Jackson declares a 10-hour workday in Philadelphia Navy Yard.

General strike in Philadelphia for 10 hour day.

February, 1600 women members of the United Tailoresses of New York, strike for "a just price for our labor."

First workingmen's parties formed to try to elect candidates favoring the 10-hour day, free public education, and ending the practice of imprisoning people in debt.

In Philadelphia, several unions of skilled craftsmen combined to form the first trade association.

The first union for women only formed: The United Tailoresses of New York.

Women workers strike for the first time, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. 102 women workers strike in support of brother weavers protesting the simultaneous reduction in wages and extension of the workday.

The invention of the power loom makes weaving a factory occupation.

Employers start taking labor groups to court for "criminal conspiracies in constraint of trade". The shoemakers, found guilty and fined, went bankrupt and disbanded.

Members of the Philadelphia Journeyman Cordwainers were tried for criminal conspiracy after a strike for higher wages.

The Philadelphia shoemakers in a "sympathy strike" to support a local toolmakers' strike.

The Philadelphia shoemakers reorganized as the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers.

The Typographical Society was formed by printers in New York City.

The first local craft union formed for collective bargaining was organized by shoemakers in Philadelphia.

First Building Trades Strike: Philadelphia carpenters strike for a 10-hour day and overtime pay.

First textile mill, built in Pawtucket, RI, is staffed entirely by children under the age of 12.

Philadelphia printers strike.

New York printers combine temporarily to ask for a wage increase, disband after winning it.

Declaration of Independence signed in Carpenter's Hall.

A strike in Boston harbor, more commonly known as the "Boston Tea Party." Local citizens dressed as Indians throw British tea overboard.

Boston Massacre set off by a conflict between rope workers and British soldiers.

New York tailors strike to protest a wage cut.

The first society of working women, the Daughters of Liberty, is organized as an auxiliary of the Sons of Liberty, a workingman's association.

New York bakers quit work to protest local government setting the price of bread-possibly the first work stoppage in America.

Shoemakers and coopers (barrel-makers) guilds organize in Boston.

IATSE Local No. 8
2401 S. Swanson Street
Philadelphia, PA 19148
  (215) 952-2106

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