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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

INTERNATIONAL LADIES' GARMENT WORKERS' UNION AGREEMENT OF 1918-19

INTERNATIONAL LADIES' GARMENT WORKERS' UNION AGREEMENT OF 1918-19

The INTERNATIONAL LADIES' GARMENT WORKERS' UNION AGREEMENT OF 1918-19 laid the basis for collective bargaining in the Cleveland cloak and suit trade. Agitation for the agreement began a few years after an unsuccessful strike in 1911. This general strike caused Cleveland manufacturing firms to grant certain concessions to their employees. The seasonality of work was reduced, and new policies toward employees were introduced. Owing partly to these changes, within 3 years the Cleveland locals almost disappeared. In 1914 the New York City-based Intl. Ladies' Garment Workers' Union began a campaign to strengthen the locals in Cleveland. Union membership increased from 150 to over 1,000 between 1914-15. The Cleveland locals, Cloak & Suit Tailors, Local 26, Shirt & Dress Makers, Local 27, Women Garment Workers, Local 29, Ladies' Garment Pressers, Local 37, and Ladies' Garment Cutters, Local 42, combined in the Cleveland Joint Board of Cloak & Skirt Makers' Unions. Members became disappointed when the ILGWU refused to call a general strike and advised the Joint Board to tax its members $3 each on behalf of workers in other strikes. The Joint Board dissolved by May 1916. But the international persisted and began campaigning again during 1916-17. By the summer of 1917, the Joint Board was again in operation, and the union counted 1,400 members. Employers countered by setting a 48 hour work week and increased wages: again unions lost members.

On 16 July 1918, the international and the Cleveland Joint Board submitted demands for a wage increase and a method for adjusting disputes to the Cleveland Garment Mfrs. Assn. The demands were ignored, and a general strike was called on 23 July 1918; 3,000 workers went out, mostly from the small shops. Since the large firms were involved in the war effort, Secretary of War NEWTON D. BAKER requested that both sides submit reports to a board of 3 referees. The association and international agreed, and workers returned to their jobs on 13 Aug. On 19 Oct. the Board of Referees handed down a decision (the Hanover Decision) that granted a wage increase, announced that piece prices were to be settled by employers, established the principle of collective bargaining in the Cleveland trade, and applied the general principles of the Natl. War Labor Board, which recognized the workers' right to organize. But workers became angered when the wage award was modified. The Cleveland locals refused to accept the plan, and by spring 1919 relations were severely strained. The ILGWU applied for a hearing and in July the Board of Referees met in Cleveland. A new plan was accepted by both sides on 15 July 1919. It provided for an increase in wages, raised piece rates, and created the position of an impartial chairman to act as the representative of the board. On 24 Dec. 1919, the Mfrs. Assn. signed a collective bargaining agreement with the Cleveland Joint Board of the Cloak & Dress Makers' Unions, which marked the end of 10 years of struggle to establish unionism and firmly established collective bargaining in the Cleveland garment trade.