Today in labor history, August 20, 1910: Hurricane-force winds bring a smoldering fire back to life in the Northern Rockies. The ensuing firestorm burned more than 3 million acres for two days. Several towns were completely destroyed by the fire and at least 85 people were killed, most of them firefighters.
Today in labor history, August 18, 1932: The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) receives a charter from the American Federation of Labor. The union was born during the Great Depression, when wage cuts and furloughs were the rule in an economy that was steadily contracting. Today, AFGE is the larges federal employee union, representing 650,000 federal and D.C. government workers nationwide and overseas.
Today in labor history, August 16, 1937: Congress passes the National Apprenticeship Act, establishing the National Registered Apprenticeship system. The Act established a national advisory committee to research and draft regulations to establish minimum standards for apprenticeship program. The Act was later amended to allow the Department of Labor to issue regulations protecting the health, safety, and general welfare of apprentices, and to encourage the use of contracts in hiring and employing them.
Today in labor history, August 15, 1914: The 48-mile Panama Canal officially opens. According to hospital records, 5,609 workers died of diseases and accidents during the U.S. construction period between 1904 and 1914. Of these, 4,500 were West Indian workers. It is estimated that 22,000 workers died during the earlier French construction period.
Today in labor history, August 13, 1936: 35 journalists at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer walk off the job to protest the firing of two colleagues for joining the American Newspaper Guild. The P-I was forced to suspend publication and the striking employees began publishing their own newspaper, The Guild Daily, which reached a circulation of 60,000 copies a day. The strike was one of the first significant and successful strikes by white collar workers in the U.S. ended in a victory in late November when the newspaper settled with the Guild.
Today in labor history, August 12, 1892: After several railroad companies refuse to obey a recently-enacted New York state law mandating a 10-hour workday and increases in the minimum wage, switchmen in Buffalo go out on strike. When the local police refused to intervene, sheriff’s deputies, thousands of soldiers, and scabs were all brought in quickly to crush the Switchmen’s Mutual Association strike. The strike ended later that month.
[This photograph is being sold by Lorne Bair Rare Books, specializing in the history of American social movements. Visit http://www.lornebair.com/ for more information.]
Today in labor history, August 11, 1937: The membership of the Pacific Coast district of the International Longshoremen’s Association – with the exception of three locals in the Northwest – votes to disaffiliate and forms the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union. The ILWU today represents over 59,000 workers primarily on the West Coast of the United States, Hawaii, and Alaska.
Today in labor history, August 5, 1993: The Family and Medical Leave Act goes into effect, providing employees up to twelve weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for family and medical reasons. FMLA applies to all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees.
Today in labor history, August 4, 1919: Half of the police force in Liverpool, England, who had gone out on strike following the government’s ban on their union (the National Union of Police and Prison Officers), are replaced by scabs. Every single man who had gone out on strike was fired, lost their pension, and no one was reinstated.
Today in labor history, July 26, 1990: President George H.W. Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, like many business organizations, opposed the law, arguing that the costs of the ADA would be “enormous” and have a “disastrous impact on many small businesses struggling to survive.”