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Labor Instruction

While Rochester’s central labor bodies did not themselves offer instructional programs, they supported and promoted a number of such initiatives in the Rochester community:

As early as 1882 Knights of Labor carriage makers considered founding a college for mechanics with a regular faculty to be paid by assessments on the local assemblies and the men who attended.

In 1924 the Central Trades & Labor Council (CTLC) played an important role in launching a night school for training apprentices in the Building Trades: the program provided free instruction through the City schools. In 1941 representatives of both AFL and CIO central bodies served on the local board of Vocational Education for National Defense, and the CTLC promoted the program, which offered free, all-night courses to potential national defense workers at nine Rochester high schools: “If you are a good American interested in the welfare and national safety, you should be back at work.”

In 2001 the Workforce Development Institute, based in New York City, established the Rochester and Vicinity Workforce Development Center to support technical retraining for under- or unemployed union members and their families in order to reduce unemployment. Under the leadership of its Chairman, Jim Bertolone (APWU), and its Secretary, Bob Trouskie (UAW), the Rochester Center proved to be one of the most effective centers in New York State, apportioning over $1 million in grant funds to area union and academic providers who delivered over 20,000 hours of training to some 10,000 workers.

The central bodies also promoted adult education offered by other groups such as the Labor Lyceum’s “Proletarian University” (which offered free classes evenings and Sunday mornings on history, economics and logic); a union-based Labor College (which ran from 1920-1926 and at one point had 1400 students); and the Catholic Labor College (which ran from 1939 through the 1940s, offering classes “to promote social justice by teaching the laboring man his rights to justice based on reason and moral principles.”)

In the 1950s the CTLC endorsed Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations School, urging members of affiliates to take workshops on subjects like “Current Trends in Labor Law” and “Unions and Community Relations.” In 1970, Cornell-ILR began offering a Rochester Labor Studies Certificate Program, composed of semester-long college courses in Arbitration, Collective Bargaining, Labor History, Labor Law, etc. The program has helped hundreds of area union activists build their effectiveness as both leaders and citizens.

workers memorial, rochester, ny
Workers Memorial Day, 1993, photo by Marilyn Anderson

The 1980 creation of the Rochester Council on Occupational Safety and Health represented a collaborative effort of local union activists, progressive doctors, and labor educators. For approximately twenty years ROCOSH provided training about the health consequences of occupational exposure to toxic substances, the legal obligations of employers to provide a workplace free from hazards, and the role of the union in ensuring that workers were safe and healthy on the job.

In 1989 the Rochester Labor Council dedicated a Workers Memorial marker in Highland Park, where workers assemble every April 28 as part of a national commemoration of those killed or injured on the job.

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