Today in Labor History

Labor history is OUR history

Archive for the month “March, 2014”

March 31, 1840

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U.S. President Martin Van Buren issues an Executive Order, “finding that different rules prevail at different places as well in respect to the hours of labor by persons employed on the public works under the immediate authority of himself and the Departments as also in relation to the different classes of workmen, and believing that much inconvenience and dissatisfaction would be removed by adopting a uniform course, hereby directs that all such persons, whether laborers or mechanics, be required to work only the number of hours prescribed by the ten-hour system.”

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March 30, 1930

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Construction begins on the Hawks Nest Tunnel for a Union Carbide hydroelectric project. 3,000 mostly African-American migrant workers from the South were hired to complete the project and, to save time and money, were not provided with proper safety equipment to work cutting rock that had been discovered to have a high silica content. The official death toll from silicosis was 476, with estimates as high as 700 to 1,000. It is considered to be one of the worst industrial disasters in U.S. history.

March 29, 1937

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The U.S. Supreme Court, in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, upholds the constitutionality of minimum wage legislation enacted by the State of Washington, overturning a decision in 1923 that held that federal minimum wage legislation for women was an unconstitutional infringement of liberty of contract. The case was brought by Elsie Parrish, a hotel housekeeper who lost her job and did not receive back wages in line with the state’s minimum wage for women law.

March 27, 1912

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Unable to tolerate the unbearable living conditions in the Canadian Northern Railway construction camps, 8,000 workers organized by the Industrial Workers of the World walk out. The strike extended over 400 miles of territory, but the IWW established a “1,000-mile picket line,” as they picketed employment offices in Vancouver, Seattle, Tacoma, San Francisco, and Minneapolis to halt recruitment of scabs.

March 26, 1919

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A group of Alberta government employees hold a founding meeting of the Civil Service Association of Alberta, adopting a crest that incorporated the slogan “Unity Strength Protection.” The union – now known as the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees – is the Canadian province’s largest union, representing 81,000 public sector workers.

March 25, 1947

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Heavy deposits of coal dust cause an explosion in the Centralia Coal Company’s Mine No. 5 in Centralia, Illinois, killing 111 of the 142 miners at work at the time. Following the disaster, UMWA President John L. Lewis invoked the union’s right to call memorial days and as a memorial to those killed at Centralia, the miners did not work for six days.

March 19, 1981

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Five Rockwell International workers are asphyxiated during a nitrogen purge of the engine compartment while setting up a ground test for the space shuttle Columbia. Two of them died. The technicians had been cleared by NASA safety supervisors to enter the compartment and a NASA board of inquiry concluded that a last-minute change in testing procedures, along with a breakdown in communications at the space center, caused the incident.

March 17, 1948

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Striking railway workers in Queensland, Australia, march on St. Patrick’s Day from the Trades Hall in Brisbane and are brutally attacked by hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police. Two days later, 20,000 workers from other unions rallied in solidarity in King George Square. The strike ended on April 1 with backdated wage increases.

March 16, 1948

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Refusing to accept a 9-cent wage increase, the United Packinghouse Workers of America initiates a nationwide strike against meatpacking companies Swift, Armour, Cudahy, Wilson, Morrell, and others. Packinghouse workers shut down 140 plants around the country.

March 15, 1887

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The Brotherhood of Painters and Decorators of America is formed. Within a year, the union had a membership of over 7,000 in over 100 local unions. Today, the union, now known as the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, has over 160,000 active and retired members in the United States and Canada.

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