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Delegate Representation

Local unions affiliated with the central labor body were entitled to send delegates to represent them at Council meetings, where much of the Council’s business was accomplished.

Meetings

For most of their history Rochester central labor bodies met bi-weekly. In 1869 the Monroe County Workingmen’s Assembly met on the second and fourth Friday each month; this was later changed to the first and third Thursday. The Central Trades and Labor Council (CTLC) met every other week as late as 1959, but in 1960 the newly-merged AFL-CIO council began holding monthly delegate meetings except in the months of July and August.

Although the CTLC tried for years to build a Labor Temple, Rochester’s central labor bodies never owned their own meeting place, always meeting in leased or rented facilities at various locations. The Monroe County Workingmen’s Assembly met at 120 State Street. In its early years the CTLC met in a city building on Front Street known as “Smoky Hollow,” then at Engler’s (Shoemakers) Hall on Andrews Street, and still later at McKay’s Saloon. From 1904 until 1932 the CTLC leased space at 101 Reynolds Arcade on Main Street near Four Corners and from 1927 to 1962 (except for an interlude at 16 State Street), rented space at Carpenters Hall at 113 North Fitzhugh Street. When the 110-year-old Carpenters’ building was sold in 1962 to the neighboring Brick Presbyterian Church, the Rochester Labor Council moved its delegate meetings to Laborers Hall, 509 North Goodman Street. The Laborers built a new hall at 22 Fourth Street in 1975 and meetings continued there until relocated to the IBEW Local 86 hall at 2300 East River Road in 1981, where they remained except for a few years when they were held at D’Andrea’s Party House on Lyell Avenue.

Following Samuel Gompers’ death in 1925 the AFL supplied a portrait of its founder to be displayed by the CTLC. In 1940 sound equipment was introduced at council meetings, eliminating cries of “Louder, please!” That same year a flag was donated to the Council and the delegates pledged their allegiance to it; in 1941 the Council approved opening all meetings with the pledge.

Credentials

Delegates were seated at the Council after their credentials were approved by the Trustees (or, when there was one, by the Credentials Committee). Credentials — notifications on union letterhead that an individual was authorized to represent a union, with the request to seat that person — were presented at the beginning of most CTLC meetings. Credentials had to be renewed annually.

The number of delegates to which a union was entitled depended on the number of its members on whom the union paid per capita to its national body. Determining this number and apportioning representation was therefore a constant and vital issue, requiring the central body to revise its schedules on several occasions.

In 1924 representation was allocated on the following basis: locals with 50 members or less were allowed two delegates; 100 or less, three; 250 or less, four; 500 or less, five; locals with over 500 members received an additional delegate for each additional 500. This schedule was defined more precisely in 1943.

In 1957 merger negotiations between the AFL and CIO councils produced a new schedule: locals with 100 members or less would be allowed two delegates; one more delegate would be allowed for each additional 100 members up to 500; locals with 500 to 750 members would have seven delegates; unions with 1000 members would be allotted eight delegates and would have one additional delegate for each 500 members over 1000; no local would have more than fifteen delegates, no matter what its size.

By 1964 the bylaws were changed to award locals with 100 members or fewer only one delegate.

But by 1972 representation had been revised yet again, to the schedule still in force, with locals of 50 members or less entitled to two delegates; 51-100, three; 101-200, four; 201-400, five; 401-700, six; 701-1100, seven; and one additional delegate allotted for each 500 members above 1100.

Voting

While delegate strength was a constant issue, voting at Council meetings became most contentious during merger discussions between the AFL and CIO councils, with the AFL demanding a count only of delegates present and the CIO council insisting that delegates be able to vote their unions’ entire membership. They compromised on a straight delegate count, excepting roll call votes in which a local might vote its full membership only if two-thirds of its delegates were present. A 1964 change required only half the delegates to be present, but in 1969 language was adopted specifying that if less than half of a local’s delegates were present only their individual votes were counted.

Attendance

Credentialed delegates were entitled to attend and participate in Council meetings. For years their attendance was monitored by the Council’s Sergeant-at-Arms, whose record of the number of delegates present and number of unions represented (as well as delegates absent and unions not represented) was reported in the minutes. Later, attendance was taken by a roll call at the outset of each meeting. This became so time-consuming that it was dropped in 1925 and the Organization Committee was tasked with reviewing punched delegate attendance cards.

From 1910 until at least 1932 delegates were inspected for the union label and were not seated if they were not wearing four union-made articles of apparel. Delegates absent from two consecutive meetings might lose their seat.

Attendance varied from meeting to meeting and year to year, but seldom met Council leaders’ expectations. In 1911 attendance reports show an average of 54 members per meeting, representing an average of 31 unions. By 1939 average attendance had increased to 150. Nevertheless, complaints about attendance and lack of interest in the Council, especially among younger workers, were regularly voiced. In 1954 veteran CTLC delegates warned “that failure to attend inter-union sessions such as the central body will result in a lack of unity which can only be ‘good news’ to the enemies of labor.” Machinist William Scheib, a delegate since 1910, “urged that unions here check on their delegates to see that they attend sessions of the AFL Central body: ‘Without unity, we will fall apart at the seams and all these years of effort come to nothing,’ he said.”

While 300 attended the first delegates meeting in 1959 of the newly merged Rochester & Vicinity Labor Council, AFL-CIO, attendance typically reached that level only when there were contested officer elections. By 1990 attendance generally fluctuated between 80 and 100.

RLC President Pettengill’s concern about attendance in 1995 led him to appoint Rebecca Bowman (ACTWU-3T) to activate the Credentials Committee and charged them with analyzing the decline in attendance and proposing changes to boost participation. Upon the realization that most delegates were not attending meetings, the committee recommended that educational programs be added to monthly delegate meetings, that an annual year-end delegates’ dinner be held, and that meetings begin and end promptly. These recommendations were adopted and implemented that year and received positive reviews.

An obstacle to full attendance was the time and length of meetings. Typically they started at 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays and continued until they were done. A committee to revise the Constitution & By-Laws was appointed in 1935 in response to a delegate petition that “the present By-Laws and Rules of Order do not permit us to function to the fullest measure of benefit to the affiliated unions. Also that greater efficiency and much shorter meetings are possible and necessary.” An amendment to the By-Laws in 1964 required meetings to end by 10:00 p.m. and in 1998 the starting time was moved back to 7:00 p.m.

In 1964 the By-Laws were amended to stipulate that Atwood’s or Robert’s Rules of Order would govern the body; and prescribed the Council’s order of business: Call to Order by the president; Pledge to flag; moment of silence for deceased; applications for new members; communications; minutes of Executive Board and actions thereon; financial secretary report; reports of officers and committees; unfinished business; new business; good and welfare; close at 10:00 unless vote held to continue.

Occasionally Council meetings would be cancelled (the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918; FDR’s death in 1945), cut short (a surprise blackout in 1942), or adjourned early to allow delegates and officers to attend calling hours for a deceased labor figure, such as when 50-year delegate Michael Mungovan of the Stage Hands union died in November 1965.

Minutes

Until 1944, when it was decided to no longer publish them, the minutes of CTLC meetings were recorded in the Council’s official journal. The level and clarity of detail reported varied with the Recording Secretary but generally provided readers a helpful account of the work of the Council. Until the appearance of the CIO in the 1930s, minutes were fairly extensive but the rivalry and, perhaps, organizational paranoia led to the records becoming increasingly terse before they ceased to be printed entirely. CTLC minutes through 1959 and Rochester Labor Council minutes from 1960 through 1970 have disappeared, as have minutes of Rochester’s Industrial Union Council. Labor Council minutes since 1970 tend to be less detailed and descriptive than those of the CTLC.

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