UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
The UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS was formed nationally by the 5 June 1979 merger of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters & Butcher Workmen of America and the Retail Clerks Intl. Assn. The national merger was followed locally by the 5 Sept. 1983 merger of 3 locals--Retail Clerks Local 880 in Cleveland, Retail Clerks Local 698 in Akron, and Meat Cutters District Union 427--to form Local 880 of the UFCW, one of the largest locals in the nation, with 32,000 members.
The Amalgamated Meat Cutters & Butcher Workmen, chartered by the AFL in 1897, gradually consolidated the separate unions representing workers involved in the preparation and sale of food. In Cleveland, District 427 was chartered in Sept. 1933. The union organized meat cutters working for chain stores, and in Oct. 1934 it struck the A&P stores and warehouses in Cleveland. Under the guidance of Eugene Rich, the Meat Cutters grew to represent 1,100 members in 750 markets by 1938 and expanded beyond the retail field into the poultry trade and the packing industry. When the union was plagued by scandal and internal mismanagement in 1944, Rich was removed as secretary, and the union was placed in receivership by the international; in 1951 it was again placed in receivership. In 1952 a 9-day strike by the 2,300-member union produced a 2-year pact that established a 40-hour, 5-day workweek in the second year, and included a health and welfare program financed by employers. With the election of veteran organizer Sam Pollock as president in 1953, the union embarked on a period of growth and innovation. District 427 formed the Community Health Foundation, a pre-paid, direct-service, medical care program in 1964, which in turn merged with the Kaiser Health Plan of California in 1969 to become the Kaiser Foundation Medical Health Care Plan of Ohio. In the late 1970s District 427 offered members low-cost legal services and formed an independent political club to educate members about issues, candidates, and legislation. By the 1980s the meat cutters District 427 included workers from unrelated industries, such as barbers, cosmetologists, and nursing-home employees. Its merger into UFCW Local 880 consolidated services in health and welfare, producing more efficient operation.
In 1995 the UFCW remained an important labor organization in the Cleveland area, with 26,000 active members in northeast Ohio. Its president was James B. Jenele.
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