Labor unions truly had a hand in shaping American culture from the very beginning. The earliest workers and unions fought to make it clear that the U.S. was going to be place where workers were protected. Here is a brief history of the labor movement in America:
1768: America’s first labor strike
According to History.com, the first recorded labor strike occurred in New York in 1768 when journeymen tailors refused to work in protest of wage reductions.
1794: The first trade union is formed
Starting with shoemakers who formed the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers in Philadelphia, local craft unions emerged in cities throughout the country. They published price requirements for their work and demanded shorter work days.
1886: The AFL is founded
The most well-known labor and trade union, the American Federation of Labor (AFL), was founded in 1886 and was successful at negotiating wage increases for members and safety improvements for all workers.
1911: Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire
The fire killed 150 workers, mainly young women, because the safety exits in the loft building in New York City’s lower east side had been locked, apparently in effort to prevent theft.
The tragedy eventually led to many industrial safety reforms and fire prevention measures, led by workers-rights advocate Frances Perkins, who also established government policy for working with labor unions while U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945.
1938: The Fair Labor Standards Act passes
The first minimum wage and 40-hour week law was passed. It was supported by the AFL even though most union workers were earning much more than the minimum wage.
1955: The AFL-CIO is born
The AFL merged with another well-know union, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), to form the AFL-CIO.
1970: The Occupational Safety and Health Act passes
The act formed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Its goal main goal is to ensure that employers provide employees with workplaces free from known hazards.
Unions help get this legislation passed, as well as workers’ compensation laws in many states, which hold employers accountable for workplace safety.
2015: 14 million U.S. workers belong to unions
Today, more than 60 unions throughout the country represent workers in all industries. They help workers increase their income, improve their working conditions, settle disputes with management, get training and education, and more.
Many of the rights that workers have today, including having time off and overtime pay, are the result of union members who fought to make it this way. You can learn more about the extensive history of the labor movement here.