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Commitment to Community subtopics

Read about the role played by Rochester’s central labor bodies in improving the welfare of their affiliates’ members in the areas of:


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Community Service

The earliest participation of labor on community boards came in 1912, when the Central Trades and Labor Council (CTLC) was asked to appoint a committee to represent them on the Board of Managers of the city’s Industrial Exposition — probably because the Expo opened on Labor Day weekend. The request was approved and a committee appointed. The CTLC continued to participate on the Expo board for many years.

The war effort required support of the labor community in areas other than employment. In 1917, at the request of Mayor Edgerton, the CTLC appointed a Red Cross Committee to help Rochester raise $1 million toward a national goal of $100 million. That same year, through its Labor and Liberty Loan Drive, the CTLC played a major role in helping Rochester exceed its $30 million goal. Labor’s effort, though acknowledged, could not be tabulated because “workers participated through sources provided in shops, factories and by employers.” This issue of crediting employers rather than workers would later become a serious issue with the Community Chest.

Much of Rochester’s overall war effort was coordinated by the Rochester Patriotic and Community Fund. Although this Fund had 40 directors, only one — Emanuel Koveleski — came from labor. Significantly, he was excluded from the Fund’s Executive Committee (chaired by George Eastman) and neither he nor any other labor representative served on the executive committees of the Fund’s factory, retail, utility, or public employee divisions.

In short, labor was excluded from all decision-making related to workers’ participation in the Fund.

This is especially important because following the armistice, as war relief shifted to answering “the call of humanity” here at home, the Rochester Patriotic and Community Fund reinvented its War Chest as the Community Chest, which it launched in 1919 with Eastman as President and the slogan, “Give Again.” Headquartered at the Chamber of Commerce and with an initial campaign goal of $1,250,000 the Community Chest invited Rochester’s wage earners to contribute one day’s pay.

It wasn’t long, however, before labor and the Community Chest were at loggerheads. In 1921 the Chest printed and distributed subscription cards without a union label. “The Amalgamated Clothing Workers at Hickey Freeman refused to use them and told owners, who promptly had the Labor Herald print a thousand blanks with the union label to be used in the plant.” In 1922 the Chest’s decision to intentionally leave the union label off its printed material was protested. In 1923, the Chest had some printing done in union shops but refused to put a union label on any of it; and again the workers at Hickey-Freeman, “without dissent,” returned their pledge cards. The CTLC’s journal, the Labor Herald, demanded “Why Not Put Label On Printing For The Community Chest?” noting that “workers are among the vast majority of those who give to the community chest. It is true that their subscriptions may not be in excess of the few more fortunate, but it is the sustained interest of a large number, which makes the Community Chest the success it is” and pointing out that the “display of just a little judgment would eliminate the unpleasant feeling which is bound to result from an affair of this kind.”

It was the needs of war that once again legitimized labor participation on community boards. During WWII the CTLC was able to gain representation on Rochester’s draft boards and the city’s 15-man Defense Council (1940), the local Red Cross Chapter and the vocational education board (1941), the Rationing Board and the local planning and housing council (1942), and the local Office of Price Administration committee (1943).

But the turning point in Rochester’s acceptance of labor’s participation on community boards came during the 1943-45 struggle over the Community Chest. Although labor participation was mandated in the national Community Chest charter (and was actively practiced in Buffalo, where half the executive committee were from unions), Rochester’s Community Chest balked.

In 1942 the CTLC demanded a role in both the procurement and distribution of Community Chest funds, arguing that labor more than did its part but got little recognition and had no say. In March 1943 Julius Hoesterey, chair of the CTLC special Committee on Social Agencies, demanded “representation in the groups that do the actual governing” and argued that if labor didn’t get such representation they should set up a “separate labor welfare agency which would make all labor collections and apportion a share to the city’s welfare groups.” Following discussion of labor representation on governing and allotment boards of the Community Chest and Red Cross, Hoesterey moved that the CTLC ask AFL unionists “to withhold contributions to all civic fund campaigns until approved by the Central Trades,” and in April recommended that all locals be notified to request their members to withhold donations.

The CTLC also held meetings of business agents and Council reps to discuss AFL participation in future fund campaigns and requested the Community Chest “to carry on its pledge cards a line indicating that the donor desires his contribution to be credited to organized labor.” In April the special Committee on Social Agencies actually proposed to create a separate Labor Community and War Chest which would properly credit labor, have labor representation, judge the worthiness of each allocation, and make contributions voluntary, “removing the virtual compulsion that now exists in many places.”

The Community Chest quickly responded to labor’s complaint of “donations without representation” by naming Henry O’Connell (CTLC President) and John Cooper (CIO council President) to its Board of Directors. Both AFL and CIO councils rejected this selection because the Chest had picked these men instead of asking labor to choose its own reps.The AFL and CIO Councils each set up a 7-member committee to study plans to set up a separate Labor Community and War Chest.

In 1943 and 1944 Rochester labor channeled all its community support through the United Labor Chest of Monroe County, forcing the Community Chest to implement meaningful union participation on its Board and committees.

Both AFL and CIO leaders urged labor to support the 1945 Community and War Chest drive, noting labor’s new involvement at all levels of the Chest. Union members were asked to identify their union affiliation on subscriber cards so that labor contributions could be properly credited. Also, in response to a labor advisory committee request to revive its “complaint and appeal division” the Chest agreed to make services of the Information and Reference Department of the Council of Social Agencies available to anyone wishing investigation of complaints involving any Chest agency.

In 1947 and again in 1948 Rochester workers donated $500,000 — 25% of funds raised by the Community Chest drives. In 1959 the CTLC adopted a resolution to ask the Community Chest to put a full-time labor rep on its payroll and appointed a committee of five to work with the Chest’s Labor Advisory Committee to establish a Community Services Program.

One significant result of this turmoil was local businessman John F. Wegman’s decision to specify that one purpose of the charitable corporation established in his will was “developing, through educational work and otherwise, better relationships between capital and labor.”

He further specified that of the five founding directors, one was to be “selected by the Central Trades and Labor Council of the City of Rochester, acting in concert with the CIO;” the other directors would represent the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths and the Community Chest.

In 1954, at the request of attorneys for the execution of Wegman’s will, an AFL committee named former CTLC President Capone as labor representative. As a charter board member he helped to develop the labor-management focus of the Wegman Fund and worked with the other four board members for more than a year to organize the foundation.

“It was a noteworthy thing that the late Mr. Wegman stipulated a labor member on the board of directors in his will,” Capone said in 1955. “This far-sighted act has resulted in the fact that part of the grants each year from the income of the estate to be used for community welfare here will go toward setting up ways and means of creating better relationships between management and labor in Rochester. Exactly how this will be done, and what form it will take, is something that will be worked out at a later date, but it will go far to create better harmony between industry and workers in this area, and thus will bring to fruition one of the hopes of the late Mr. Wegman.” That year Capone was elected second Vice President of the Fund. The first grants were made the next year, when the first $50,000 became available. When the Board was later expanded to fifteen, labor seats increased to three.

The Community Chest battle and John Wegman’s example doubtless helped open many doors to labor, for a 1954 partial inventory of community agency boards and committees on which labor reps served was quite extensive — though not all of the agencies represented equal access to power:

Monroe County Health Association, Catholic Charities, Committee on Arthritis & Rheumatism, Rochester Hospital Service, Council of Social Agencies, Day Care Center for Handicapped Children, Community Chest, County Medical Association, YMCA, Knights of Columbus, Jewish Young Men’s Association, Rochester Better Housing Association, Mayor’s Housing Committee, City Planning Commission, Board of Education, NYS Advisory Committee of Labor Education, Advertising Council, Citizens Committee for a Better Rochester (Parks & Playgrounds), United Services Organization, Rochester Union Label Promotion Committee, Rochester Area United Nations, NAACP, Monroe County Infantile Paralysis Committee, Civil Defense.

Labor participation on agency boards has persisted, as representatives were added by a wide range of community organizations: American Red Cross, Association of Retarded Citizens, the Citizens Advisory Committee on Social Services, the Monroe County Health and Safety Committee, Park Avenue Hospital, Blue Cross, Rochester Hospital Services Corporation, Action for a Better Community, Gaining Resources for Older Workers, Joseph Wilson Health Center, Genesee Valley Group Health Association, and the Genesee Regional Health Planning Council.

After years of discussion the Rochester Community Chest/United Way agreed in 1974 to hire a full-time labor liaison, appointed by the labor community. The Labor Liaison position, held by Lou Ogi of the Retail Clerks union, Bob Sauers of the Mailers LU 86 (ITU), and Rosemarie McKinney of GCIU, has provided emergency assistance to union members and worked with the Council’s Community Services Committee to inform union members about human service agencies available in the Rochester area.

The United Way responded to labor’s concerns in the 1990s when several of their agencies aggressively resisted unionization. The United Way and RLC officials worked out an agreement requiring agencies to adopt a neutral stance during organizing efforts or forfeit the United Way designation. Additionally, in 1999, the United Way adopted a policy discouraging non-profit organizations from performing work that would otherwise be done by unionized employees.