The Month of February in Labor History

Feb. 4, 1825: The Ohio legislature authorizes construction of the 249-mile Miami and Erie Canal, to connect Toledo to Cincinnati. More than 4,000 workers, mostly recent immigrants from Ireland and elsewhere, work from sunrise to sunset, earning 30 cents a day.  Akron and other Ohio towns begin as shelters for canal workers.

Feb. 5, 1830: First daily labor newspaper, the N.Y. Daily Sentinel, begins publication.

Feb. 8, 1864: Mary Kenney O’Sullivan is born. At age 28, she will be appointed the first female general organizer for the American Federation of Labor by Samuel Gompers.

Feb. 23, 1864: Kate Mullany, a 19-year-old Irish immigrant, leads members of the all-female Collar Laundry Union in a successful strike in Troy, New York, for increased wages and improved working conditions.

Feb. 4, 1869: Birth of “Big Bill” Haywood, in Salt Lake City, Utah.  He will become the leader of the Western Federation of Miners and the founder of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Feb. 12, 1880: Birth of John L. Lewis.  He will become the leader of the United Mine Workers and founder of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).

Feb. 7, 1894: Mine owners in Cripple Creek, Colorado cut wages from $3 to $2.50 a day, leading union miners to begin a five-month strike that ends in victory. In an unprecedented move, the governor calls out the state militia to protect the strikers from the owners.

Feb. 6, 1896: Ironworkers from six cities meet in Pittsburgh to form the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers of America.

Feb. 14, 1903: The Western Federation of Miners begin a strike for an 8-hour working day.

Feb. 14, 1903: President Theodore Roosevelt signs a law creating the Department of Commerce and Labor.

Feb. 6, 1904: The Great Baltimore Fire begins.  It will eventually destroy 1,500 buildings over 140 acres and takes 1,231 firefighters 30 hours to put down.

Feb. 3, 1908: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the United Hatters Union violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by organizing a nationwide boycott of Danbury Hatters of Connecticut.

Feb. 24, 1908: In Muller v. Oregon, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the state’s restrictions on women’s working hours, setting a precedent to use sex differences as a basis for separate legislation.

Feb. 6, 1910: Philadelphia shirtwaist makers vote to accept arbitration offer and end walkout, effectively ending the Triangle Shirtwaist strike.

Feb. 8, 1912: Vigilantes beat IWW organizers for exercising free-speech right in San Diego.

Feb. 24, 1912: Women and children beaten by police during Bread and Roses textile workers strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Feb. 11, 1913: Workers at the Firestone factory walk off the job over the imposition of a new piece-rate scale. Four days later, nearly 15,000 workers were on strike in the city.

Feb. 25, 1913: Twenty-five thousand immigrant textile workers go on strike against Paterson, NJ silk factories.

Feb. 02, 1917: Three hundred newsboys organize to protest a cut in pay by the Minneapolis Tribune.

Feb. 28, 1918: The International Association of Firefighters is founded.

Feb. 6, 1919: The Seattle General strike begins, as tens of thousands of union members stop work in support of 32,000 striking longshoreman.  For six days, the City of Seattle is run by a General Strike Committee.

Feb. 4, 1932: With the unemployment rate at 24%, unemployed workers engage in demonstrations in major U.S. cities.

Feb. 17, 1936: Rubber Workers at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. begin a sit-down strike.

Feb. 4, 1937: Thirty-seven thousand maritime workers on the West Coast strike for wage increases.

Feb. 3, 1941: U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Wages and Hours Act (later known as the Fair Labor Standards Act) banning child labor and establishing the 40-hour work week.

Feb. 7, 1957: Hockey players formed the NHL Players Association in New York City after owners refuse to release pension plan financial information.

Feb. 22, 1968: After the mayor of Memphis, Tennessee obtains an injunction against picketing and hires scabs, striking AFSCME Local 1733 sanitation workers hold a mass meeting and crash a City Council meeting to demand a resolution on the strike. When the Council’s promise proved empty, the workers took to the streets.

Feb. 3, 1971: An explosion at a Thiokol chemical plant near Woodbine, Georgia kills 29 workers and seriously injures 50. An investigation finds that mislabeled chemicals, poor storage procedures and insufficient fire protection contributed to the fire.

Feb. 10, 1973: Gas trapped inside a liquefied natural gas (LNG) tank explodes and blows the concrete roof off the tank, killing 40 workers.  After the incident, Distrigas abandons its plan to transport and store LNG near populated areas, with the mayor and federal agencies reversing their original support of the project.

Feb. 2, 1977: Chicago legal secretary Iris Rivera is fired for refusing to make coffee, sparking protests by secretaries across the metropolitan area.

Feb. 27, 1979: The American Postal Workers Union declares Amnesty Day to protest the firing of over 200 postal workers during a contract dispute.

Feb. 2, 1987: The 170-day lockout (although management called it a strike) of 22,000 steelworkers by USX Corp. ends with a pay cut but greater job security.

Feb. 5, 1993:  President Bill Clinton signs the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires most employers of 50 or more workers to grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a family or medical emergency.

Feb. 5, 2003: Circuit City fires 3,900 experienced sales people and eliminates commission sales. Sales plummet and in six years, the company declares bankruptcy.

Feb. 26, 2004: United Food & Commercial Workers reach an agreement with employers to end the nearly five-month-long grocery strike and lockout of 59,000 workers in Southern California, fueled by management’s demand to strip workers of healthcare benefits. The new two-tier contract requires employees to pay for healthcare benefits for the first time, includes no raises, pays new hires less and puts them in a different healthcare plan.

Feb. 7, 2008: Thirteen workers are killed and 42 are injured in a sugar dust explosion at an Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia. Investigators found that the company had been aware of dangers for years but had not acted on them.

Feb. 13, 2008: Hollywood writers return to work at the end of a 100-day strike that shut down more than 60 television shows. The new contract gives Writers Guild of America members residual payments for programs streamed online and formalizes union jurisdiction over Web programming.

Feb. 4, 2009: President Barack Obama imposes $500,000 caps on senior executive pay for the most distressed financial institutions receiving federal bailout money, saying Americans are upset with “executives being rewarded for failure.”

Feb. 16, 2011: Public schools in Madison close after teachers call in sick to protest Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s bill that would strip the state’s 175,000 public employees of their collective bargaining rights.


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