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Civil Rights & Justice

The 1960s were a period of dramatic change, and Rochester’s labor movement was a participant in the community’s efforts to adapt and be responsive to concerns being raised by citizens.

When the Rochester Labor Council (RLC) learned, in 1963, that the Eagles Club on North Washington Street refused to serve blacks, labor leaders joined members of the Congress on Racial Equality in picketing the club and the Council passed a resolution directing affiliates to move their meetings to other facilities.

In 1963, the RLC took the controversial position of supporting the formation of a Police Advisory Board as a mechanism for investigating allegations of racially motivated police brutality — a position it would champion again in the 1990s. At the delegates’ meeting where the Council voted 80 to 18 in favor of the Board, Abe Chatman, leader of the powerful Clothing Workers union, stated, “Labor, from its inception, has been for the underdog, the underprivileged, and for those people who can not effectively speak for themselves — that’s why labor unions were formed, and that’s why we have labor unions today; I want to go on record as saying that if the Democrats in City Hall do not create such a board I will personally oppose them in the elections next November, because you do not play politics with human misery.” RLC President Schneider was appointed to serve on the Police Advisory Board upon its formation.

The Monroe County Human Relations Commission provided a forum for discussion about civil rights: as RLC reps on the commission in 1963, Rose Carmody of the Teachers union and Dick Shewman of UAW 1097 heard from Black and Puerto Rican leaders about their dissatisfaction with county anti-discrimination progress. In 1964, five reps were added to the commission from building trades unions with apprentice programs and five contractors.

In November of 1964, City Manager Gordon Howe formed an anti-poverty committee to initiate local action. Norm Swanson of the Ironworkers was an original member of that committee, which soon thereafter formed a nine-member labor advisory committee composed of representatives of the RLC, the Printing Trades Council, the Building Trades, and the Independent Unions.

In 1977 the RLC participated in the formation of the Coalition for Justice for Working People, formed in part to promote passage of labor law reform, repeal section 14-b of the Taft-Hartley Act (allowing states to ban union shops), and increase the minimum wage. A Coalition rally was orchestrated by the RLC, Teamsters, Building Trades Council, UAW, Independent Workers, Genesee Ecumenical Ministries, Jewish Community Center, A. Philip Randolph Institute, and retiree groups.

In the wake of the police assault on Rodney King, which sparked riots in 1992 Los Angeles, RLC delegate Jim Bertolone (APWU) drafted a resolution in support of the formation of a Civilian Review Board similar to that formed in 1963. After considerable discussion and over the objections of the unaffiliated Police Locust Club, the resolution was approved 31-10.

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