Today in labor history, May 18, 1979: An Oklahoma jury finds for the estate of atomic worker and OCAW member Karen Silkwood, ordering Kerr-McGee Nuclear Co. to pay $505,000 in actual damages and $10 million in punitive damages for negligence leading to Silkwood’s plutonium contamination.
Today in labor history, May 17, 2004: Starbucks baristas in New York City sign cards demanding representation by the Industrial Workers of the World. The Starbucks Workers Union, affiliated with the IWW, continues to fight for higher wages, better working conditions, regular hours of work, and health coverage for Starbucks workers.
Today in labor history, May 16, 1938: The U.S. Supreme Court issues its decision in the case of NLRB v. Mackay Radio & Telegraph Co., permitting employers to permanently replace striking workers. The court said that management could not fire strikers, but could “permanently replace” them. The United States remains one of the few countries in the world where it is legal for strikers to lose their jobs.
Today in labor history, May 15, 1917: The Library Employees’ Union of Greater New York, composed mainly of New York Public Library employees, is chartered by the American Federation of Labor. A major focus of the union was the inferior status of women library workers and their low salaries.
Today in labor history, May 14, 1931: Striking sawmill workers in Adalen, Sweden, march to the mills to protest the fact that scabs were brought in to break their strike. Soldiers sent to protect the strikebreakers opened fire on the workers, killing five people. The next day, a general strike was called in Adalen and 80,000 people demonstrated in Stockholm to protest the shootings.
Today in labor history, May 12, 1902: Nearly 150,000 anthracite coal miners go on strike in Eastern Pennsylvania for higher wages, better working conditions, and recognition of their union: the United Mine Workers of America. After months of an extreme coal shortage, President Teddy Roosevelt intervened, a commission was set up, and the strike was called off after 163 days.
Today in labor history, May 11, 1894: With their wages slashed and no reduction in rent at the company housing, Pullman Palace Car Company factory workers walk off the job. The workers sought the support of the American Railway Union, which gave notice in June that its members would no longer work trains that included Pullman cars. The strike and boycott crippled railway traffic nationwide and at its peak involved 250,000+ workers in 27 states.
Today in labor history, May 10, 1869: Six years after the groundbreaking, workers complete the First Transcontinental Railroad, which joined the Union Pacific Railroad (built east from Sacramento) and the Central Pacific Railroad (built west from Omaha). The railroad was built primarily by Irish and Chinese immigrant laborers.
Today in labor history, May 9, 1992: A methane explosion in the Westray coal mine near Plymouth, Nova Scotia, kills all 26 miners working there at the time. In 2003, the Criminal Code of Canada was amended with the passage of Bill C-45 — “The Westray Bill” — to hold corporations, directors, and executives accountable for their criminally negligent acts in the workplace.
Today in labor history, May 7, 1907: Two die and twenty are injured on “Bloody Tuesday” in San Francisco when company strikebreakers open fire on striking streetcar operators. Over the course of the strike, two dozen people died in accidents on the system while it was run by scab labor and an estimated 900+ others were injured.