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Mutual Support

Rochester’s labor community frequently campaigned actively on behalf of workers’ struggles beyond Monroe County: fundraising for Chicago garment workers (1913), for steel workers (1919), Passaic silk workers (1926), United Mine Workers (1950). The Rochester labor Council (RLC) offered support for Steel Workers on strike at Carrier Corporation in Syracuse (1961), striking St. John’s University faculty (1966), copper mine strikers (1967), sanitation workers in Memphis on strike when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated (1968), Metropolitan Insurance workers (1968), and Los Angeles printing tradesmen on strike against the Hearst papers (1969). During the national General Electric strike of 1969, the RLC urged all union members to give at least one dollar. In 1989 the RLC sent truckloads of food and clothing to striking United Mine Workers members at Camp Solidarity.

But most of the Council’s mutual support was on behalf of local struggles. When Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 1170 struck Rochester Telephone in 1961 the RLC pledged its full support and offered both moral and financial assistance to the union’s 1000 members. Likewise, when radio announcers at station WRVM struck in 1961, the RLC sent letters to all area advertisers notifying them of the Council’s support for the strikers and encouraging the businesses to refrain from placing ads or risk being handbilled themselves.

The RLC was supportive of postal employees’ efforts to improve their lives, endorsing the rallies of letter carriers in 1962 for wage improvements and post office clerks opposing a speed-up in 1963. Support was given them again in 1967 when the letter carriers held another rally for wage increases and in 1970 during their one-day strike.

In 1962, at the request of the Retail Clerks union, the RLC urged City Council and the Monroe County Board of Supervisors to limit the number of hours retail stores should be open as some were considering staying open as late at 9:00 p.m. and even on Sundays.

The RLC, as well as the Building Trades Council, announced support for 1199’s strike against the Lakeshore Nursing Home in 1982 and the Amalgamated Transit Union in their strike against Greyhound Bus Lines in 1983.

With the addition of a full-time staff Coordinator, the RLC was able to actively support a number of rallies in 1989, including two for striking Doan Ford salesmen, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers striking against wage cuts; two for machinists on strike against the anti-worker policies of Eastern airlines; one for ACTWU members trying to negotiate a first contract with Kleen Brite Laboratories; one for Plumbers Local 13 against contractor John P. Bell’s demand for wage cuts; one for Newspaper Guild 17, three years without a contract; and one for the Pittston miners in southwestern Virginia.

Kleen-Brite picketers
Rally for Kleen-Brite workers, 1989, photo by Marilyn Anderson

The 1990 Greyhound bus strike brought local labor to its feet as picket lines were formed at the local terminal at Midtown Plaza. Threats of layoffs at Rochester Psychiatric Center caused labor to turn-out in both 1990 and 1991 at their facility on Elmwood Avenue.

Beginning in early 1996, the RLC actively supported CWA 1170 in their efforts to win a fair contract from Rochester Telephone/ Frontier Corporation. A number of rallies, each involving hundreds of demonstrators, were held at Washington Square Park and company headquarters. Pickets also disrupted the company’s country club golf tournament and Board of Directors’ meeting. The struggle ended victoriously, without a strike, in May 1997.

The RLC often provided financial assistance through donations to local union members on strike: to IUE 338 at Stromberg-Carlson (1964) and to air traffic controllers (PATCO) during their ill-fated strike (1981). The RLC raised funds for the legal battle of two MCC faculty fired for union activity (1967) and when CWA 1170 struck Rochester Telephone (1975) the RLC passed a resolution to cease all per capita payments to state and national AFL-CIO headquarters and contribute that sum to the strikers.

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