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Local Union Affiliation

Over the past 150 years more than 500 distinct local unions joined Rochester’s central labor bodies, representing nearly a half million Rochester workers in hundreds of occupations in the construction, manufacturing, transportation, communications, and service sectors.

These unions are listed in the Affiliates section, grouped chronologically in the central labor bodies to which they were affiliated. These lists record both the emergence of unions in new occupations and the disappearance of unions in obsolete occupations, thus tracing Rochester’s economic transformation.

It is important to note that while the very existence of central labor bodies depended on the affiliation and dues payments of individual local unions, affiliation was never mandatory. Writing on The History of Labor Councils in the Labor Movement, Stuart Eimer identifies voluntary affiliation as a central contradiction which permitted national organizations like the AFL, the CIO and the AFL-CIO to assign responsibilities to Central Labor Councils (and recently to Area Labor Federations) without mandating the payment of commensurate dues (Sources: Ness/Eimer, 2001).

Eligibility

To be eligible to affiliate with the central labor body, a local union had first to be in good standing in its own international and its international had to be in good standing in the national labor organization. (In 1940, for example, when the AFL suspended the typographers international for refusing to pay a special anti-CIO assessment, it ordered Rochester’s Central Trades and Labor Council to disassociate Typographical Local 15).

While local unions were the backbone of central labor bodies, they were not the only organizations eligible to affiliate:

  • Local and regional trade districts might join. For example, Rochester’s Knights of Labor shoemakers worked within District Assembly 44 for several years before forming their own DA (later National Trades Assembly) 66. The Central Trades and Labor Council (CTLC) admitted the district councils of several trades including the Building Trades, Metal Trades, Printing Trades, etc.
  • The CTLC also admitted Federal Labor Unions — locals attached directly to the AFL; likewise, the Industrial Union Council admitted local unions attached directly to the CIO.
  • In addition, central bodies affiliated certain labor-based groups which were not unions (e.g., the Labor Temple Association, the Card & Label League, women’s auxiliaries), as well as fraternal and sympathetic organizations that were not unions (e.g., Labor and Religion Coalition, MetroJustice). Groups which were not unions generally had a voice but no vote at Council.

Dues

Per capita dues provide the operating capital of central labor bodies and their payment has been a condition of affiliation. CTLC dues were 1 cent per member per month until 1911, when they were doubled to 2 cents. During the Depression dues were reduced to 1.5 cents. When the CTLC launched a campaign to resist the CIO “invasion,” they had to approve a special national AFL assessment of $1 per member. A proposed CTLC per capita increase to 2.5 cents was voted down in 1941 and as late as 1946 Rochester’s per capita was the lowest in New York State at 1.5 cents. But soon the CTLC doubled its per capita to 3 cents.

Meanwhile, the CIO’s Industrial Union Council was collecting only 1 cent/member/month, so when the AFL and CIO councils merged in 1959 they compromised on a per capita of 1.5 cents. However, to fund its programs the Rochester Labor Council eventually found it necessary to increase per capita, raising dues to 3 cents by 1972, 5 cents in 1973, 8 cents in 1983, 10 cents in 1984, 15 cents in 1989, and 25 cents by 2002.

Of course the per capita level was one matter, the collection rate another! When unions got behind in their per capita payments the Financial Secretary would read their names at Council meetings (1924), letters would be sent to delinquent locals and to their internationals (1926), or arrangements would be made for locals to pay back indebtedness as they went along (1933). At a 1978 Executive Board meeting, RLC treasurer Robert Flavin (CWA 1170) identified local affiliates whose per capita was in arrears. In 2000 the RLC Executive Board suspended five affiliates who had paid no per capita for two years.

If Council funds were depleted locals might be requested (1923) to pay per capita three months in advance, “to build up the Council’s treasury.”

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