30 victories for workers’ rights won by organized labor over the years


We're thankful for the rights won by workers and their unions over the last century and a half. But the job isn't done yet. We must carry on their fight and win protections the next generation can be thankful for too.


30 victories for workers' rights won by organized labor over the years

30 victories for workers' rights won by organized labor over the years

 

WRITTEN BY ANDREW LISA

 SEPTEMBER 07, 2020

 

 

Today, American workers have a host of rights and recourses should their workplace be hostile or harmful. While the modern labor movement works to continue to improve the working conditions for all with big efforts around a fair minimum wage and end of employer wage theft, the movement has a history rich with fights and wins. It put an end to child labor, 10-to-16 hour workdays, and unsafe working conditions. Today, every wage-earning American today owes a debt of gratitude to organized labor for the 40-hour workweek, minimum wage (such as it is), anti-discrimination laws, and other basic protections. Far from basic, those protections were, until fairly recently, pipe dreams to the millions of American men, women, and children who labored endlessly in dreadful conditions for poverty wages.

The gratitude is owed mostly to the unions those nameless and disposable workers organized, which they did under the threat of being fired, harassed, evicted from company homes, beaten, jailed, and, in many cases, killed. In 1886, for example, over 200,000 railroad workers went on strike to protest an unjust firing. In 1894, over 250,000 workers walked out of the Pullman Palace Car Company factories to protest 12-hour workdays and wage cuts.

The 2018 Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME established that public-sector workers who are protected by unions—of which there are five times as many as private workers—but don't wish to join, no longer have to pay fees on behalf of the union's collective bargaining. This dealt a blow to public-sector unions, though it didn't result in the mass exodus union detractors had hoped for. Overall union membership in the U.S. in 2019 was at 10.3%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While that's a historical low rate, some industries—like digital mediamuseums, and non-profits—are making inroads with new unions.

Over the decades, there have been far more losses than victories, but the victories the labor movement did achieve made earning a living in the United States a much more equitable, fair, safe, and profitable proposition. These wins show what is possible for the modern labor movement. Here are 30 hard-fought victories that America's working class won in our names.

 

1794 - Shoemakers organize America's first union

1842 - Commonwealth v. Hunt legalizes unions

1866 - National Labor Union is created

1882 - The first Labor Day Parade marks a movement

1898 - Erdman Act briefly ends union blacklists

1909 - The Uprising of the 20,000 demands change

1911 - The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire exposes conditions

1913 - The Department of Labor is formed

1916 - Keating-Owen Act briefly curtails child labor

1921 - The Battle of Blair Mountain pits miners against the police

1925 - Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters is formed

1926 - The Railway Labor Act is passed

1931 - Davis-Bacon Act regulates wages

1932 - Norris-LaGuardia Act eliminates injunctions

1933 - Frances Perkins named secretary of labor

1933 - The labor movement has one of its own in Washington

1935 - The National Labor Relations Act becomes law

1937 - Auto workers win GM sit-down strike

1938 - FDR signs Fair Labor Standards Act

1941 - FDR forms Fair Employment Practice Commission

1962 - Kennedy signs Executive Order 10988

1963 - Kennedy signs Equal Pay Act

1964 - Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act

1967 - Johnson signs the Age Discrimination in Employment Act

1970 - Nixon signs the Occupational Safety and Health Act

1974 - Ford signs the Employee Retirement and Security Income Act

1988 - Congress passes the Worker Adjustment & Retraining Notification Act

1990 - Bush signs the Americans With Disabilities Act

1993 - Clinton signs the Family and Medical Leave Act

2009 - Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

 


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