Over the past 150 years more than 500 distinct local unions joined Rochester’s central labor bodies. These unions represented nearly a half million Rochester workers in hundreds of construction, manufacturing, transportation, communications, and service sector jobs.
Rochester’s earliest central labor bodies were formed prior to the emergence of national labor federations. Thus while their affiliates belonged to international unions of their respective trades, the central labor bodies themselves were unattached, isolated and short-lived.
This changed in the 1880s with the rise of national labor organizations such as the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor, which chartered not only local unions but central labor bodies. The KOL’s District Assembly 44 and the AFL’s Rochester Central Trades and Labor Council conducted their members’ business within the framework of their charters, as did the CIO’s Industrial Union Council of Rochester and Vicinity and the merged Rochester and Vicinity Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
While specific programs of these central labor bodies were for the most part locally driven, though subject to review at the national level, structural matters such as affiliation were largely determined by the national bodies.
It is important to note that affiliation of local unions to central labor bodies, while generally encouraged by the AFL, was quite deliberately made voluntary — a contradiction which permitted the AFL (and later the CIO and the AFL-CIO) to assign responsibilities to Central Labor Councils without mandating the payment of commensurate dues.
To be eligible to affiliate with the central labor body, local unions had to be in good standing in their own international which, in turn, had to be in good standing in the national labor organization.
Once affiliated, unions were required to pay per capita dues — the central labor body’s operating capital — which increased gradually from 1 cent per member per month (as late as 1911) to 25 cents (by 2002).
The unions which affiliated with Rochester’s central labor bodies are listed here, grouped according to the central bodies to which they were affiliated in each era. Merely to review these lists, noting the emergence of unions in new occupations and the disappearance of unions in obsolete occupations, is to trace Rochester’s transformation from an economy rooted in craft manufacture to one based on image and information technologies.