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October 23, 1989

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85,000 pounds of highly flammable gas released through an open valve ignites, resulting in a series of explosions and fire at the Phillips 66 plastics plant in Pasadena, Texas. Twenty-three workers were killed and 314 injured. OSHA’s investigation faulted the company for a host of health and safety violations and issued 566 willful and 9 serious violations with a combined total proposed penalty of over $5.5 million dollars.

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Today in labor history for the week of October 20, 2014

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October 20
Eugene V. Debs, U.S. labor leader and socialist, dies in Elmhurst, Ill. Among his radical ideas: an 8-hour workday, pensions, workman’s compensation, sick leave and social security. He ran for president from a jail cell in 1920 and got a million votes – 1926
(The Bending Cross: A Biography of Eugene V. Debs: Eugene V. Debs was a labor activist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who captured the heart and soul of the nation’s working people. He was brilliant, sincere, compassionate and scrupulously honest. A founder of one of the nation’s first industrial unions, the American Railway Union, he went on to help launch the Industrial Workers of the World—the Wobblies. A man of firm beliefs and dedication, he ran for President of the United States five times under the banner of the Socialist Party, in 1912 earning 6 percent of the popular vote.)

Hollywood came under scrutiny as the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) opened hearings into alleged Communist influence within the motion picture industry. Dozens of union members were among those blacklisted following as a result of HUAC’s activities – 1947

Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan writes to PATCO President Robert Poli with this promise: if the union endorses Reagan, “I will take whatever steps are necessary to provide our air traffic controllers with the most modern equipment available and to adjust staff levels and work days so that they are commensurate with achieving a maximum degree of public safety.” He got the endorsement. Nine months after the election, he fires the air traffic controllers for engaging in an illegal walkout over staffing levels and working conditions – 1980

2014.10.20history-merle.travisDeath of Merle Travis, songwriter and performer who wrote “Sixteen Tons” and “Dark as a Dungeon” – 1983

Two track workers are killed in a (San Francisco) Bay Area Rapid Transit train accident. Federal investigators said the train was run by a BART employee who was being trained as an operator as members of the Amalgamated Transit Union were participating in what was to be a four-day strike – 2013

October 21
Wisconsin dairy farmers begin their third strike of the year in an attempt to raise the price of milk paid to producers during the Great Depression. Several creameries were bombed before the strike ended a month later. The economy eventually improved, allowing the farmers to make more money – 1933

October 22
Bank robber Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd is killed by FBI agents near East Liverpool, Ohio. He was a hero to the people of Oklahoma who saw him as a “Sagebrush Robin Hood,” stealing from banks and sharing some of the proceeds with the poor – 1934

October 23
President Theodore Roosevelt establishes a fact-finding commission that suspends a nine-months-long strike by Western Pennsylvania coal miners fighting for better pay, shorter workdays and union recognition. The strikers ended up winning more pay for fewer hours, but failed to get union recognition. It was the first time that the federal government had intervened as a neutral arbitrator in a labor dispute – 1902

Explosion and fire at Phillips Petroleum refinery in Pasadena, Texas, kills 23 and injures 314 – 19892014.10.20history-phillips.petroleum

Postal workers Joseph Curseen and Thomas Morris die nearly a month after having inhaled anthrax at the Brentwood mail sorting center in Washington, D.C. Other postal workers had been made ill but survived. Letters containing the deadly spores had been addressed to U.S. Senate offices and media outlets – 2001

October 24
The 40-hour work week goes into effect under the Fair Labor Standards Act, signed by President Roosevelt two years earlier – 1940

U.S. minimum wage increases to 40¢ an hour – 1945

October 25
What many believe to be the first formal training on first aid in American history took place at the Windsor Hotel in Jermyn, Penn., when Dr. Matthew J. Shields instructed 25 coal miners on ways to help their fellow miners. Upon completion of the course each of the miners was prepared and able to render first aid. The training led to marked decreases in serious mining injuries and fatalities – 1899
2014.10.20history-educate(Back in 1899 workers were trained to help other workers. Education for Changing Unions is for those looking for new and better ways to educate workers and communities about unions and the principles for which they stand. It is filled with spirited new ideas, practical exercises and issues under debate. It’s written in a clear and accessible style that’s designed to stimulate working people and teachers in many settings and locations.)

Some 25,000 silk dye workers strike in Paterson, N.J. – 1934

In what becomes known as the Great Hawaiian Dock Strike, a 6-month struggle to win wage parity with mainland dock workers, ends in victory – 1949

The Tribune Co. begins a brutal 5-month-long lockout at the New York Daily News, part of an effort to bust the newspaper’s unions – 1990

John Sweeney, president of the Service Employees Int’l Union, elected president of AFL-CIO – 19952014.10.20history-bitter.pill.bookcover
(A Bitter Pill: A Lenny Moss Mystery: As president of SEIU, Sweeney represented hospital workers. In this entertaining mystery, hospital worker and union steward Lenny Moss and his friends at James Madison Hospital are in the fight of their lives. The new hospital president, Robert “Third Reich” Reichart, has turned the hospital into a for-profit facility and launched a campaign to decertify the union. If successful, the decertification drive will destroy the union and compromise patient care as staffing levels are slashed and departments get outsourced to private firms.)

After a two-year fight, workers at the Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica, Calif., win a union contract calling for pay increases, better breaks and other gains. “They didn’t treat us like people,” nine-year employee Oliverio Gomez told the Los Angeles Times – 2011

October 26
After eight years and at least 1,000 worker deaths—mostly Irish immigrants—the 350-mile Erie Canal opens, linking the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. Father John Raho wrote to his bishop Source Link

October 14, 1817

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Founder of the Norwegian labor movement Marcus Thrane is born. In 1848, Thrane began to organize local workingmen’s associations and two years later, the organizations presented the government with their demands. Fearing a revolution, Thrane and 132 other leaders were arrested. Thrane was convicted of sedition in 1851 and spent four years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, before emigrating to the United States.

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Today in labor history for the week of October 13, 2014

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October 13
American Federation of Labor votes to boycott all German-made products as a protest against Nazi antagonism to organized labor within Germany – 1934

More than 1,100 office workers strike Columbia University in New York City. The mostly female and minority workers win union recognition and pay increases – 1985

National Basketball Association cancels regular season games for the first time in its 51-year history, during a player lockout. Player salaries and pay caps are the primary issue. The lockout lasts 204 days – 1998

Hundreds of San Jose Mercury News newspaper carriers end 4-day walkout with victory – 2000

October 14
Int’l Working People’s Association founded in Pittsburgh, Pa. – 1883

The Seafarers Int’l Union (SIU) is founded as an AFL alternative to what was then the CIO’s National Maritime Union. SIU is an umbrella organization of 12 autonomous unions of mariners, fishermen and boatmen working on U.S.-flagged vessels – 1938

Formal construction began today on what is expected to be a five-year, $3.9 billion replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River. It’s estimated the project would be employing 8,000 building trades workers over the span of the job – 2013

October 15
President Woodrow Wilson signs the Clayton Antitrust Act—often referred to as “Labor’s Magna Carta”—establishing that unions are not “conspiracies” under the law. It for the first time freed unions to strike, picket and boycott employers. In 2014.10.13history-joelguide.bookcoverthe years that followed, however, numerous state measures and negative court interpretations weakened the law – 1914
(Every Employee’s Guide to the Law, 3rd edition: The Clayton Antitrust Act was liberating, but on a day-to-day basis you need to know about current laws. This book goes into solid, useful detail about the federal and state laws that, together with union contracts, are designed to assure fairness and justice in the workplace.)

October 16
Queen Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI, is beheaded during the French Revolution. When alerted that the peasants were suffering due to widespread bread shortages, lore has it that she replied, “Let them eat cake.” In fact she never said that, but workers were, justifiably, ready to believe anything bad about their cold-hearted royalty – 1793

Abolitionist John Brown leads 18 men, including five free blacks, in an attack on the Harper’s Ferry ammunition depot, the beginning of guerilla warfare against slavery – 1859

2014.10.13history-london.beer.floodOctober 17
A huge vat ruptures at a London brewery, setting off a domino effect of similar ruptures, and what was to become known as The London Beer Flood. Nearly 1.5 million liters of beer gushed into the streets drowning or otherwise causing the deaths of eight people, mostly poor people living in nearby basements – 1814

Labor activist Warren Billings is released from California’s Folsom Prison. Along with Thomas J. Mooney, Billings had been pardoned for a 1916 conviction stemming from a bomb explosion during a San Francisco Preparedness Day parade. He had always maintained his innocence – 1939

“Salt of the Earth” strike begins by the mostly Mexican-American members of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union Local 890 in Bayard, N.M. Strikers’ wives walked picket lines for seven months when their men were enjoined during the 14-month strike against the New Jersey Zinc Co. A great movie, see it! – 19502014.10.13history-workingstiffs.bookcover
(Working Stiffs, Union Maids, Reds, and Riffraff: An Expanded Guide to Films About Labor http://www.laborbooks.com/index.php?app=ecom&ns=prodshow&ref=movies: This wonderful book is an encyclopedic guide to 350 labor films from around the world, ranging from those you’ve heard of—Salt of the Earth, The Grapes of Wrath, Roger & Me—to those you’ve never heard of but will fall in love with once you see them.)

Twelve New York City firefighters die fighting a blaze in midtown Manhattan – 1966

Int’l Printing Pressmen’s & Assistants’ Union of North America merges with Int’l Stereotypers’, Electrotypers’ & Platemakers’ Union to become Printing & Graphic Communications Union – 1973

Industrial Union of Marine & Shipbuilding Workers of America merges with Int’l Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers – 1988

2014.10.13history-colonial.shoemakers.shopOctober 18
The “Shoemakers of Boston”—the first labor organization in what would later become the United States—was authorized by the Massachusetts Bay Colony – 1648

New York City agrees to pay women school teachers a rate equal to that of men – 1911

IWW Colorado Mine strike; first time all coal fields are out – 1927

Some 58,000 Chrysler Corp. workers strike for wage increases – 1939

The United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) was formed as a self-governing union, an outgrowth of the CIO’s Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee. UPWA merged with the Meatcutters union in 1968, which merged with the Retail Clerks in 1979 to form the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) – 1943

GM agrees to hire more women and minorities for five years as part of a settlement with the Equal Employment 2014.10.13history-gm.eeoc.settlementOpportunity Commission – 1983

October 19
The National Association of Letter Carriers achieves equalization of wages for all letter carriers, meaning city delivery carriers began receiving the same wages regardless of the size of the community in which they worked – 1949

The J.P. Stevens textile company is forced to sign its first union contract after a 17-year struggle in North Carolina and other southern states – 1980

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October 12, 1933

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Following a campaign by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union to organize in Los Angeles’ garment industry whose workforce is 75% Latina, 4,000 garment workers in Los Angeles walk off the job, demanding union recognition, a 35-hour work week, and the minimum wage. The strike ended on November 6 with the workers winning some of their demands.

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October 11, 1941

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1700 news dealers in New York go on strike against the World Telegram over the price of newspapers, delivery charges, and the return of unsold newspapers. The strike spread as other publishers refused to make deliveries to dealers who joined the strike. A judge issued an injunction against the strike, ruling that the news dealers were not employees.

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October 11, 1941

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news dealers

1700 news dealers in New York go on strike against the World Telegram over the price of newspapers, delivery charges, and the return of unsold newspapers. The strike spread as other publishers refused to make deliveries to dealers who joined the strike. A judge issued an injunction against the strike, ruling that the news dealers were not employees.

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