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Key Roles

In 1954 Central Trades and Labor Council (CTLC) President Burke noted that “It is astounding the amount of business — financial, civic, legal and charitable — a central body such as ours completes in one year,” and went on to commend both the “work completed on behalf of the CTLC by the Council’s committees and members and the able and ready service tendered by the Executive Board.” Later the largely volunteer efforts of Council officers and the chairs and members of standing and special committees would be supplemented by the work of paid staff.

Executive Board

Until fairly recently, Rochester’s central labor bodies scheduled no regular meetings other than those of the delegates. While CTLC officers might meet, there was no CTLC executive board until 1923, when the CTLC amended its Constitution to establish an Executive Committee (defined in the 1972 Constitution & By-Laws as “officers and members-at-large”). Except for the summer months, however, this committee seems not to have held regular meetings. However, during the 1940s the presidents and business agents of CTLC affiliates did hold regular luncheon meetings “to coordinate their forces to present a united front in current labor problems facing them.” Regular monthly meetings of the Rochester Labor Council’s Executive Board began in 1959, shortly after the AFL-CIO merger, when they held their first meeting at the Amalgamated Clothing Workers on November 13. At about this time the delegates began to meet monthly rather than bi-weekly, establishing the continuing schedule of alternating E Board and Delegate meetings.

The Executive Board met at various locations including the Retail Clerks hall at 40 West Avenue, Laborers Hall, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers hall at 750 East Avenue, and the New York State United Teachers hall — first in the Medical Arts Building, 277 Alexander Street, and later at 30 North Union Street.

The Rochester central body mirrored the rest of the nation’s labor movement in the composition of its Executive Board. The few women on the board in its early years came primarily from teachers’ unions. Mae Yost of the Waitresses Union joined the Executive Board in 1948. She was followed by Dr. Catherine Sheehan and Rose Carmody of the Rochester Teachers, Mary Ann Benincasa of the Retail Clerks and Nancy Kleintop of the Rush-Henrietta Teachers. Subsequently, women were better-represented.


While officers were elected annually by delegates to the central body, Chairs and members of Standing Committees were appointed by the President, usually at the first meeting following the election. Special committees might be appointed at any time by the President, who named both Chair and members. While Standing Committees changed infrequently, special committees, created to address specific issues, disbanded once their recommendations and reports were made.

Over the years hundreds of delegates served on central body committees and, as Rochester & Vicinity Labor noted in 1941, “much of the important work carried on by the Council devolves upon these committeemen.”

To appreciate the work of the Council, then, we must recognize the work of its committees. To do so it may be useful to consider both Standing and Special Committees in terms of function: internal, communications, economic action, community action, education, organizing, and political action. While examples of committees serving each function are provided here, the actual work of these committees is detailed in the subsequent sections.

  • Standing Committees dealing with internal matters included Credentials, Entertainment, Finance, Resolutions and Retiree. Special CTLC committees were created to work on local logistics for the AFL national convention (1912) and the New York State Federation of Labor Convention (1917, 1921, 1942), to distribute Labor Temple Stock (1922) , to study the issue of compensating the Grievance Committee (1922), to draw up a resolution on Gompers’ death (1925), to deal with delinquent per capita payments (1926), to sell film tickets for a Tom Mooney benefit (1934), to visit new locals to encourage affiliation (1934), to combat the CIO (1939), to formulate a loyalty oath for delegates (1949), to study per capita increases (1961), to consider feasibility of hiring staff (1965), to identify unaffiliated local unions (1965), to study the Council’s financial status (1968). Difficult and important work was done by both AFL and CIO council Good Will Committees in the late 1950’s to negotiate the merger that moved Rochester from AFL & CIO to AFL-CIO.
  • Standing Committees dealing with communications included Press, Control Board, Publicity, Radio, and Publications. One of their consistent issues was the effort to control the dissemination of local labor news. Special committees included a Speakers Bureau (1942) and a Public Information Service Committee (1958); others gathered information pertaining to a NYS constitutional convention (1967) and planned labor’s participation in a public affairs TV show (1969).
  • Standing Committees which coordinated economic action included Grievance, Safety, Arbitration, Compensation, Banking, and Union Label. A special committee intervened in a lockout of hundreds of Knights of Labor cigarette makers at Kimball’s Tobacco factory (1883); CTLC committees were appointed to respond to a wide range of issues including an inappropriate boycott (1911), to work with United Charities on unemployment (1915), to investigate non-union canal labor (1919) and subway construction contracts (1923), to work with the unemployed kitchen (1933); to study pensions (1940), wage stabilization (1942), area living costs (1942); to investigate Blue Cross/Blue Shield health insurance rates (1964 and 1969).
  • Standing Committees which coordinated community action included Civic Affairs, Welfare, Housing, Community Services and, in 1962, Civil Rights. For some years the council paid delegates to attend and report on City Council meetings. Special Committees collaborated with the Industrial Exposition (1912) and the Red Cross (1917), investigated rent profiteering (1920), pressed for veterans’ hospital care (1921), supported the municipal library (1923) and a free speech ordinance (1925), resisted the City Manager League (1929); fought over zoning (1931), housing (1940) and bus transportation (1943) issues; sought worker representation on rationing boards (1942) and jury pools (1944), established a Community Labor Chest (1943), investigated utility rates (1958), studied ways to do outreach to low-income youth (1967), served as a liaison with the County Medical Society concerning compulsory state health insurance (1967), and met with the County Manager to gain appointment of labor reps to county committees (1969).
  • Initially tasked with organizing educational programs for delegates meetings, the Education Committee became a Standing Committee in 1924 and was soon organizing such council events as dances, films and plays. For many years the Labor Day Committee was a Standing Committee with sub-committees on entertainment, bands, picnic, etc. Since the mid-1980’s, the Education Committee has organized an annual Labor Day Parade and Labor Film Series, revived the Labor Lyceum program, and initiated the Rochester Education Alliance for Labor (REAL) to develop and disseminate work-based curriculum materials.
  • Standing Committees which coordinated organizing include Organizing (forming new locals), Organizational (encouraging affiliates’ participation), and Mutual Support. Special Committees worked on specific organizing or mutual support efforts such as the Sibley campaign (1919), a general plant organizing campaign (1923), assisting the Passaic textile strikers (1926), assisting the Teamsters (1934) and the Bakers (1945) during prolonged disputes, assisting AFSCME when it was trying to win an acceptable grievance procedure from the City (1964). Special committees of both AFL and CIO councils worked together to conduct the 1946 General Strike which won the municipal workers’ right to organize.
  • Standing Committees which coordinated political action included Legislative and Congressional, as well as Non-Partisan Political Action and later COPE. Special committees organized patriotic rallies (1917), opposed reelection of anti-war NYS assemblymen (1919), supported the election of union candidates (1922), supported LaFollette’s presidential bid (1924), opposed prison labor legislation (1925), considered supporting a proposed labor party (1930), investigated candidates’ labor records (1934), and for many years fought to repeal Taft-Hartley.

With the advent of paid staff, the role of special committees declined. Concurrently, the tradition of regular presidential appointment of standing committee chairs ended, with new chairs being designated only when vacancies occurred.

In 2001, the AFL-CIO launched its "New Alliance" plan in New York State, consolidating 25 central labor bodies into 5 regional labor federations, one of which was the Rochester and Genesee Valley Area Labor Federation (RGVALF).

The notion behind the restructuring was that the redistribution of resources would cause smaller labor councils to emulate larger, more active councils, particularly in terms of member mobilization and political action. Under the new directive, the allocation of resources (collection of per capita dues, approval of budgets, management of staff) was left to the RGVALF rather than the RLC. This rendered RLC constitutional provisions that used per capita taxes as the basis for determining local union representation and votes null and void, leaving the governance of the RLC up to good faith.

While the RGVALF helped deliver resources to outlying councils, its success was limited by the failure of some international unions to meet their per capita commitments. At the same time, the redistribution of Rochester's resources reduced the RLC's ability to maintain its level of activity.

Reimbursement and Paid Staff

While officers and committee chairs and members volunteered almost all their time, there were exceptions. As early as 1915 the secretary of the Grievance Committee received reimbursement for some of his time. For years this was the Council’s most active committee, constantly investigating and attempting to resolve the complaints of locals against unfair employers; the Council eventually agreed to compensate all members of the committee. Beginning in 1915 small salaries were also paid to the Recording and Financial Secretaries and the Treasurer. Members of the Safety Committee and the Control Board also received reimbursement, as did the Secretary and Treasurer of the Labor Temple Association.

By the 1940s paid Council officers received quarterly salaries of $40 and had small expense accounts. As a perquisite, the Council president was provided a telephone at home. However, it was the issue of per-diem expenses for officers that brought about the 1960 resignation of first AFL-CIO Council President Edward Burke, who insisted that “anyone serving a council of 50,000 members as President should receive a weekly expense allowance of $30” (which was the amount paid the AFL Council President). When he was offered only $500/year, he immediately resigned. The Board then passed, and the Council subsequently adopted, an allowance of $500 annually for the President, $250 for the Recording and Financial Secretaries, and $3/meeting for the Sergeant-at-Arms. Itemized expenses would be reimbursed up to $25/day with the approval of the Trustees and the full Council.

The limitations of an almost exclusively volunteer cadre resulted in calls to hire paid staff to perform vital council functions. In 1920, for example, it was suggested that the Council hire a Business Rep. In 1945 it was recommended that an assistant be hired for the Board; requests in 1947 and 1948 for a full-time paid secretary were denied, as were a 1949 call for a full-time executive secretary and a 1964 suggestion that a full-time executive position be filled. In 1965 Rochester Labor Council President Schneider appointed a special committee to study the feasibility of hiring a full-time paid officer but disbanded the group when the committee chair indicated there was no interest in the plan (which would have raised per capita payments from 1.5 to 10 cents).

The first full-time paid staff was Council President Joe Catalfano (Carpenters), “taken into employment” in 1978 as Director of the Rochester Labor Council at an annual salary of $18,000 plus expenses. Within a month, however, Catalfano suffered a heart attack and the position was soon vacated.

It wasn’t until June of 1985 that the Labor Council employed staff again, when they hired Bridget Watts on a part-time basis. As President Ron Pettengill was General Agent for Carpenters 85, she worked out of his office in Henrietta, as did her successor, Christopher Garlock, hired part-time in August of 1988, and becoming full-time that November. Garlock was succeeded in 1996 by Mary Denise Schneider and then Stephanie Walker/Miller in 1998. When the Rochester Labor Council was subsumed by the Genesee Valley Area Labor Federation in 2001, the RLC was replaced as employer by the ALF and in 2006 Aron Reina was hired as lead field staff to succeed Stephanie Miller. Since 1998, other paid staff serving the Council included clerical assistants Maureen Domaratz and Ruth Frame DiRoma.