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Emanuel Koveleski
Emanuel Koveleski
Photographer unknown, 1918 NYS Federation of Labor convention program

Who’s Who » Biographical Sketches (1940-2005) »

Emanuel Koveleski

Emanuel Koveleski is one of Rochester’s major but unsung labor figures, who played important roles not only in his own union and in the city’s central labor body, but in the community, the state and the nation.

Like Samuel Gompers, Emanuel Koveleski was born in London, England. His family emigrated to the U.S. and he was educated in Rochester public schools. He learned tailoring and in 1900 joined the United Garment Workers Union. In 1904 he went into bartending and became active in Bartenders Union Local 171.

Koveleski’s career in organized labor was deeply rooted in service to the members of his trade. He quickly became Secretary and Business Agent of his Local, a position he held until he retired in 1948. By 1917 he had also become President of the New York State Culinary Alliance & Bartenders League, a post he held until his death in 1950. For many years he served as Executive Secretary of the Rochester Brewers Exchange and was legislative representative for the Hotel & Restaurant Employees Association. In 1932 prohibition issues led Koveleski to oppose Roosevelt’s presidential nomination.

Much of Koveleski’s recognition, however, came from his long and many-faceted service to the Rochester Central Trades and Labor Council, to which he was first elected President in 1912 and subsequently reelected for several six-month terms, retiring in 1917. He represented the CTLC at the 1916 dedication of the AFL’s new headquarters in Washington, DC.

Perhaps his greatest contribution to the Council was made through active participation on its committees. In 1917 he was appointed Chair of the Legislative Committee, where he would remain active for many years, and in 1921 he went to Albany to lobby for labor legislation, a role he continued to play until 1942. But Koveleski was also an active member of the Safety and Arbitration committees (which he established in 1916), the Labor Day Committee, and the Civic Affairs Committee; in 1921 he served on three committees — Compensation, Safety, and Board of Control (of the Labor Herald). As late as 1942 he was a member of the Committee on Arrrangements for the State Federation of Labor’s Rochester convention.

Another significant contribution was his 1927 compilation, an Illustrated History of the Central Trades and Labor Council, Rochester, N.Y., which provided valuable background on the membership and the role of the Council in which he would figure so prominently.

One of Koveleski’s great disappointments was Rochester’s failure to erect a Labor Temple, the inauguration of which AFL President Gompers was pledged to attend. A moving spirit of the Labor Temple Association, he was active on its Board throughout its existence, serving most of them as its President.

Other Rochester organizations on whose boards Koveleski served included the Free Employment Bureau, the Rochester Patriotic and Community Fund (precursor of the Community Chest), and the Board of Education’s Vocational Advisory Committee.

A delegate from the Council to the AFL since 1912, Koveleski became a Vice President of the New York State Federation of Labor in 1917 and was elected President in 1933. In that position in 1934 he fought for compulsory unemployment insurance and a 30-hour, 5-day week for public employees. He failed to win reelection to a second term, however, and was succeeded by George Meany, who went on to head the AFL.

Throughout his career Koveleski served the labor movement in roles outside local and state union structures: as an investigator of work practices in Sing Sing prison, appointed by Gompers in 1915; as a fraternal delegate to the 1917 Canadian Trades and Labor Congress convention; as examiner for the U.S. Employment Bureau, 1922-32; as planner for regional distribution in 1926 of the AFL film, Labor’s Reward; as general organizer and labor agent for the United States and Canada, appointed by AFL President Green in 1930; as labor representative on the New York Industrial Survey Commission, 1930-33; and as a labor representative to a 1934 conference called by Labor Secretary Perkins to develop uniform labor legislation throughout the United States.

When he died November 4, 1950 at age 74, large numbers of union and community dignitaries attended his funeral and Edward Burke, President of Rochester’s Central Trades and Labor Council, noted without hyperbole that “Manny’s death is a sad loss for labor throughout the nation. For fifty years, he has given his best efforts to raising the standards of organized labor, and has been recognized throughout the state and nation as a symbol of workers’ rights.”