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Employment

As early as 1912 the Central Trades and Labor Council (CTLC) had responded to an invitation from the United Charities of Rochester to join them in opening an employment agency. In 1917 the CTLC helped the Chamber of Commerce found a free Employment Bureau, which chose as its president CTLC leader Emanuel Koveleski. A year later this group was busy working out how Rochester employers would cooperate with the Federal Employment Office and its new Community Labor Board to implement federal plans for allocating labor resources to priority war industries. To make such plans effective, Koveleski advised “that the employment managers get in closer touch with the employees in the factories.”

Following World War I, as unemployment idled 40% of Rochester’s wage workers, the CTLC publicized the issue and appointed a committee “to devise ways and means to relieve the present unemployed distress in the city,” including taking the matter up with city authorities and working with fraternal organizations such as the American Legion.

But the Council’s greatest efforts on this issue came, of course, during the Depression. In January 1932, 10,000 unemployed workers registered with Rochester’s emergency relief committee. With 8,000,000 Americans out of work, including 30% of trade union members, the AFL joined with President Hoover, the American Legion and others to declare war on Depression and to obtain a million jobs.

That year a CTLC committee formed an unemployed workers’ council and Rochester staged its largest unemployment demonstration when 1000 workers marched to the Court House to protest a reduction in county work relief wages. Soon the CTLC had established a Welfare and Relief Committee that operated an “unemployed kitchen” at Carpenters Hall, organized benefit shows and concerts, and held public meetings to hear complaints from members who were not receiving “just relief.”

The CTLC sought in 1932 to amend the City Charter to prescribe that local labor be employed “on all work in which the city has an interest” and in 1933 fought for prevailing wages to be paid for welfare labor. In 1933 the CTLC urged the City Council to approve a $60 million unemployment relief bond and the following year, as 32,000 unemployed workers in Monroe County looked for work, the CTLC requested the federal government to increase by 33% the county’s allotment of jobs.

In 1933 the CTLC appointed a committee “to work for unemployed insurance,” an AFL priority which was realized in 1935 when Congress passed the Social Security Act. In signing the bill President Roosevelt noted that “the measure will afford some degree of protection to 30,000,000 people subject to the hazards of unemployment and old-age indigency, and an increase in services for children and the sick.”

Another failure at board resolution of local employment issues resulted from biased implementation of the National Recovery Act. Though labor participation was mandated on the local boards established to monitor compliance with industrial codes, labor was excluded from Rochester’s board. In 1933 the CTLC complained to General Johnson of the NRA in Washington “that there was no representative of Labor appointed on the Local Compliance Board.” A telegram affirmed that labor was entitled to representation. A CTLC committee, appointed “with full power to act to defend the council and secure members of labor on this board,” then met with the local NRA administrator. Charging that the board was dominated by the Chamber of Commerce, the committee demanded appointment of 5 labor men — men who would have the time and not lose wages while on board business: they first proposed business agents for the board, but the NRA administrator ruled these men were not workers and thus not eligible; the committee then suggested five unemployed union members, but they too were rejected as not workers. The administrator then discharged the entire Board and appointed another. The Board’s treatment of workers was so bad that Rochester compliance cases had to be heard before the Buffalo Board and the CTLC considered establishing a board of its own “to hear and review complaints of employer violations” of NRA codes.

The 1960s and 1970s were a time of low unemployment in Rochester. In July, 1966 the unemployment rate in Rochester was just 1.5%. The Building Trades Council (BTC) offered 9 hour days to contractors to ease the labor shortage. The Amalgamated Transit Union, asked to lengthen the work day for drivers, responded that the bus company should eliminate the requirement that drivers have a high school diploma in order to increase the pool of potential applicants.

In February of 1969 employment in Rochester was at an all-time high, with 135,000 factory jobs and 195,000 non-manufacturing jobs for a total of 330,000 employed.

By January of 1971, however, Rochester Labor Council (RLC) President Jack Cicotte was chastising city leaders for not doing more to stop runaway plants; unemployment had tripled. Throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980s, many factories closed as the clothing, printing, and other industries moved to low-wage regions. Even those that stayed here, like Xerox, laid off thousands.

By 1975, unemployment in the Rochester building trades stood at about 40% while unemployment generally in Rochester was 7.7%. In 1982, Bruce Popper of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees 1199 proposed that the RLC, working with allied organizations, form an Unemployment Council to help the unemployed identify their needs and rights and gain access to benefits and services. In approving the proposal, RLC President DelVecchio stated that such a move “will demonstrate to all workers out of jobs, organized or unorganized, that unions care about their problems and are doing something about it.”

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