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Our History

UNITE's History (Click for HERE's history)

A new chapter in the history of the U.S. labor movement began in 1995 with the founding of UNITE (Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees). The new union was formed by the merger of two of the nation's oldest unions, the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) and the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU).

UNITE members work in apparel, textile and related industries; in industrial laundries; in distribution and retail; in auto parts and auto supply; in Xerox manufacturing and many other industries in the United States and Canada.

Below are brief histories of the key events in the history of UNITE and of the ILGWU and ACTWU from the present back to the founding of the ILGWU in 1900. Click here to research historical images.

Key Events in the History of UNITE

October 4, 2003
Nearly 5,000 UNITE members attend a massive rally in Queens, NY to conclude the two-week long Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride and welcome UNITE Freedom Riders who rode buses from California, Nevada, Minnesota and the Chicago area. Patterned on the 1947 and 1961 Freedom Rides that helped desegregate the Southeast U.S., the campaign helps re-establish momentum towards greater civil, human, and citizenship rights for immigrant workers.

July 2003
Two-thousand UNITE delegates and alternates, joined by retirees, staff and guests, gather in Las Vegas from July 21-25 to make important decisions about the union's future at UNITE's Second Constitutional Convention. Delegates overwhelmingly vote to increase resources for, and to commit the union at every level to, an ambitious program of organizing new members, mobilizing our ranks and strengthening the union to raise standards for members across the US and Canada.

June 2003
UNITE and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters announce a historic partnership to organize 17,000 Cintas workers across the U.S. and Canada. Joining together in Chicago, UNITE President Bruce Raynor and Teamsters President James Hoffa unveil a strategy in which production workers in the Cintas laundries will organize with UNITE and truck drivers who deliver Cintas products will join the Teamsters.

April 2003
Jesse Jackson joins hundreds of workers at Fred's Inc. distribution facility in Memphis, TN in their fight for justice and a fair contract. In May 2002, Fred's workers voted 2-1 for UNITE representation and have faced a campaign of retaliation and harassment ever since.

February 2003
UNITE General Executive Board approves an ambitious plan called Campaign for the Future which commits UNITE to four key goals: doubling organizing, raising standards for members in key industries, defending core industries such as apparel and textile and creating a movement for social justice. The UNITE Convention in Las Vegas in July 2003 will vote on a plan to implement the Campaign for the Future.

February 2003
UNITE launches Uniform Justice campaign to support 17,000 workers at Cintas, the largest commercial laundry employer in North America. A report, entitled The Dirty Truth Behind the Uniforms, finds that Cintas recently agreed to pay a $10 million settlement in a class action lawsuit filed by workers who were denied overtime pay. The paper also exposes over 40 lawsuits filed against the company for racial, sexual, age and disability discrimination.

January 2003
450 workers at Linens of the Week, the largest hotel and restaurant laundry in the Baltimore/Washington, DC area, vote 2-1 for UNITE representation, demonstrating the union's growing strength in the region. The win leads to card-check victories for Linens of the Week workers in Miami, Newcastle, DE and Salisbury, MD in May 2003.

January 2003
800 Brylane distribution center workers in Indianapolis win a historic card check victory following a hard fought 16-month fight. During the campaign, international unions and activists in Germany, Austria, Sweden, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Australia and others played a key role in pressuring Brylane's parent company, French conglomerate Pinault-Printemps-Redoute (PPR), to respect workers' rights.

December 2002
UNITE leaders and organizers from across North America gather in Baltimore for a historic summit and plan a significant expansion of UNITE's organizing program. Participants set a goal of doubling UNITE's organizing resources with a particular focus on the laundry, distribution, retail and MRDD industries.

October 2002
UNITE forms a historic partnership with the NAACP, pledging to work together to further the cause of social justice and civil rights.

October 2002
The nearly 9,000-member-strong Laundry and Dry Cleaning International Union (LDCIU) merges with UNITE, bringing the number UNITE members in the laundry industry to almost 40,000. As a result, UNITE now represents 90 percent of all unionized laundry workers in the United States.

June 2002
UNITE works closely with New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey resulting in groundbreaking anti-sweatshop legislation. The executive order stipulates that New Jersey state uniforms can only be made in U.S. shops that pay non-poverty wages, agree to union neutrality and meet established safety and health standards. UNITE continues working to pass similar legislation in cities across the U.S. and Canada including Toronto, New York City and Boston.

April 2002
Workers at Mission Linen in California win groundbreaking contracts making important gains in wages, health and safety and treatment on the job. The campaign provides assistance for unorganized workers seeking UNITE representation at Mission Linen facilities in the Southwest. Just weeks later, nearly 400 Mission workers in Arizona and New Mexico win UNITE representation, joining the union's growing ranks of laundry workers and bringing the total number of members in the industry to 30,000.

March 2002
250 workers at Richmond Children's Center in Yonkers, NY vote by more than two to one for UNITE representation. The victory marks the beginning of UNITE's campaign to organize direct care and disability services workers.

February 2002
UNITE and the Sierra Club form a groundbreaking alliance, bringing the environmental and labor movements together to call for corporate responsibility and good jobs.

December 2001
Calling on retailers to take responsibility for conditions in the factories that make their clothes, UNITE promotes sweatshop awareness by conducting almost 200 actions at Gap stores across the U.S. and Canada. The ongoing campaign gains further momentum in 2002 through, a key resource for anti-sweatshop activists, and an extensive advertising blitz in college newspapers. Growing support for UNITE's Gap campaign soon includes outspoken musicians and celebrities such as Billy Bragg, Danny Glover and Chumbawumba.

October 2001
launches the 'Proudly Made in New York' campaign with a coalit ion of retailers, politicians and designers including Nicole Miller, Bill Blass, Calvin Klein, Brooks Brothers and Eli Tahari. With a UNITE hangtag attached to items made in New York City union shops, consumers have a way to support the city's garment industry in the wake of September 11.

September 11, 2001
Some UNITE members lose family in the World Trade Center attacks and thousands of UNITE members in the U.S. and Canada assist in relief efforts. The union establishes the UNITE Solidarity Relief and raises $75,000 for the families of workers injured or killed. In the weeks following September 11, over 12,000 UNITE members in Chinatown find themselves unemployed as work is directed away from New York City's devastated garment industry.

August 2001
UNITE launches its Global Justice for Garment Workers campaign challenging the powerful retail industries to improve conditions of and respect the rights of garment workers at home and abroad.

July 2001
Bruce Raynor becomes the President of UNITE. A special General Executive Board meeting in May elects Raynor to succeed retiring President Jay Mazur. Also elected to fill vacancies are Edgar Romney, Secretary-Treasurer and William Lee, Executive Vice President. Edward Clark continues as Executive Vice President.

June 21, 2001
200 workers at Up-To-Date Laundry in Baltimore overcome a hard-fought 10-week strike, winning UNITE representation and unanimously ratifying a first contract. The victory comes as a result of solidarity from workers, students and the community as well as the support of NAACP President Kweisi Mfume. Not long after the strike, UNITE wins similar improvements after organizing campaign at the Baltimore HCSC laundry.

March 2001
With UNITE leading the fight, New York City passes a groundbreaking anti-sweatshop bill, which ensures that tax dollars will not be used to procure uniforms for city employees made in sweatshops or in sub-standard conditions.

February 2000
A unified Canadian Conference brings all UNITE affiliates under one national leadership for the first time.

December 1999
UNITE members in Seattle and 14 other cities across the country join with environmentalists, students, and workers from other countries to demonstrate against the World Trade Organization. The protests succeed in shutting down the first day of trade talks. Protesters demand that labor and environmental standards be enforced in global trade agreements.

Fall 1999
As a result of strategic organizing and key affiliations in target cities across the U.S., UNITE expands its membership in the commercial laundry sector to 20,000 members in just over a year. With growing strength in the industry, the union is able to substantially improve working conditions in places like Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas and New York.

June 28-July 1, 1999
Delegates from the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico gather in Miami at the first UNITE Constitutional Convention to elect officers and debate the issues facing the Union. The Convention elects Jay Mazur, President; Bruce Raynor, Secretary-Treasurer; Edward Clark and Edgar Romney, Executive Vice Presidents.

June 1999
After four union elections since 1974, 5,000 workers at four Fieldcrest Cannon textile mills in and around Kannapolis, North Carolina, vote to join UNITE. Their first contract, ratified in February 2000, sets new standards for the southern textile industry, including guaranteed wage increases, paid sick days, significantly improved retirement benefits, and health and safety provisions.

Fall 1998
Growing non-union competition from huge commercial laundry companies (including union-busters like Cintas) drive down wages and benefits throughout the industry during the '80s and '90s. In response, UNITE launches an ambitious organizing program to raise standards throughout the laundry industry. In November, 2,800 National Linen workers at 29 facilities across the South overwhelmingly vote for UNITE representation. The victory brings the number of UNITE members in the laundry sector to 7,800.

July 1998
College students from campuses across the U.S., led by many who have done summer internships with UNITE, found United Students Against Sweatshops to push their universities to take responsibility for the conditions of workers around the world who make $2.5 billion of college-logo apparel each year. The movement becomes the most vibrant student activism in decades.

June 1998
1,500 workers at Iris Hosiery in Montreal overwhelmingly choose to join UNITE after spontaneously walking off their jobs in June to protest authoritarian work rules.

October 1997
UNITE joins with a broad coalition of labor, environmental, and human rights groups to defeat "Fast Track" trade legislation, which would have given the President the authority to negotiate trade deals without Congressional approval.

The revelations that Kathie Lee Gifford clothing was being made in sweatshops in Central America and New York and that dozens of Thai immigrants labored in captivity under inhuman conditions making clothes for major U.S. retailers in El Monte, California, brings the issue of sweatshops to the national spotlight. UNITE launches a "Stop Sweatshops" campaign to link union, consumer, student, civil rights and women's groups in the fight against sweatshops at home and abroad.

July 1995
The International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) and the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU) vote to UNITE at a joint convention. UNITE, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, represents over 250,000 workers across Canada, the United States and Puerto Rico. The officers of the new union are: Jay Mazur, President; Arthur Loevy, Secretary-Treasurer; Bruce Raynor and Edgar Romney, Executive Vice Presidents.

Tultex workers in Martinsville, Virginia, vote overwhelmingly for ACTWU in the largest victory in an NLRB election since the JP Stevens organizing drive. The contract for the 2,300 workers was ratified in March 1995.

ACTWU and Levi-Strauss and Co. announce a groundbreaking partnership agreement to reorganize the workplace in Levi's North American factories and distribution centers.

ILGWU and ACTWU join forces with workers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, as well as environmentalists, consumers and others to fight for international workers' rights, environmental and social standards in all trade agreements.

ACTWU negotiates a Code of Conduct with the Clothing Manufacturers' Association requiring employers to respect international workers' rights.

ILGWU and ACTWU collaborate in an effort that culminates in the first contracts for workers in the Free Trade Zones of the Dominican Republic — one of many initiatives aimed at protecting the jobs of workers in North America through fair trade policies and improvement of conditions for workers in the Third World.

ACTWU initiates sit-ins at NLRB offices around the country demanding fair and democratic labor laws for workers in the U.S.

As part of the National Labor Committee, ACTWU releases a report, "Paying To Lose Our Jobs," which exposes the use of U.S. taxpayers' dollars to promote Free Trade Zones to lure U.S. businesses offshore.

The ILGWU negotiates industry contributions to a new fund to support efforts to promote the domestic apparel industry to help firms compete based on new technology, enhanced worker skills and innovative marketing and to improve working conditions for apparel workers.

The ILGWU and ACTWU play a national leadership role in the battle for health care reform and guaranteed universal health care coverage. The ILGWU Health Care Center in New York City develops innovative approaches to providing quality health care to medically underserved working people, including projects in cooperation with Mt. Sinai Medical Center to treat and prevent tuberculosis and occupational illness.

The ILGWU launches the Campaign for Justice, an innovative community-based effort aimed at organizing immigrant workers in sweatshops. The union opens five Justice Centers in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco to reach workers in their communities and help them to organize to solve workplace and other problems.

Jack Sheinkman is elected President of ACTWU.

Always a union of immigrants — now increasingly from the Caribbean Basin, South America and East Asia — the ILGWU works to get the widest possible amnesty for undocumented workers who have come to the U.S. for freedom and opportunity. The ILGWU establishes a nationwide Immigration Project to legalize union members eligible for amnesty and provides immigration legal services to members and their families, a first for any union.

Jay Mazur succeeds Sol C. Chaikin as President of the ILGWU.

A five-week strike by 4,500 ACTWU members in Montreal resists concessions demanded by the industry and wins wage increases.

The ILGWU and ACTWU help form a national industry-labor coalition for a more equitable system of regulating apparel.

The ILGWU is instrumental in launching the Garment Industry Development Corporation, a unique labor-industry-government partnership that supports the New York City based industry through training of workers and managers, technological, marketing and other innovative services to individual firms, and promotion of exports.

The ILGWU and industry join with the City of New York to establish the Garment Industry Day Care Center of Chinatown, the first public-private industry day care center in New York City.

The United Hatters, Cap and Millinery Workers' International Union affiliates with ACTWU.

When employers try to undermine the ILGWU in New York City's Chinatown, the largely Chinese membership of Local 23-25 rallies to support the union, staging the largest demonstration of Chinese-Americans ever. The employers back down.

Xerox workers begin innovative worker-management teams initiated by ACTWU to maintain domestic production.

In response to a resurgence of exploitative sweatshop conditions, the ILGWU mobilizes to fight for tougher laws and stronger enforcement at the federal level and in key states, including New York, California and New Jersey.

After a 17-year struggle, ACTWU wins contracts covering 4,000 workers at JP Stevens.

ACTWU signs its first contract with JP Stevens. The latest contract caps a string of victories, helping members fight for stringent health and safety measures, contract enforcement and educational programs.

The United Shoe Workers merge with ACTWU.

ACTWU wins a victory at the JP Stevens plant in Drakes Branch, Virginia.

Sally Field wins an Oscar for Best Performing Actress for her title role in "Norma Rae," a movie depicting the ACTWU JP Stevens organizing drive.

The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA) and the Textile Workers Union of America (TWUA) merge to form the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU), with Murray Finley as President. The new union launches a worldwide boycott of JP Stevens products.

ILGWU President Louis Stulberg is succeeded by Sol C. Chaiken.

Americans first see and hear "Look for the Union Label" in new commercials, as the ILGWU educates consumers about the export of American jobs.

The Canadian ACWA is the first to go out on a series of strikes in the men's and boys' clothing industries, standing firm against both the Manufacturers Association in Montreal and the Men's Clothing Manufacturers' Association of Toronto. In the end, the workers win wage increases of 85 cents an hour over two years, a fourth week of paid vacation, a pension raise, bereavement pay and other benefits.

The TWUA urges stricter OSHA cotton dust standards.

Farrah Manufacturing Co. is organized by the ACWA after a 22-month strike and a major worldwide boycott.

A nationwide boycott of Oneita Knitting Mills by the TWUA results in first contract.

Sol Stetin is elected President of TWUA and Murray Finley is elected President of ACWA.

The ACWA opens the first labor-sponsored day care center in Virginia.

The U.S. Supreme Court upholds NLRB decision in TWUA's JP Stevens case.

After leading the ILGWU for more than half its existence, David Dubinsky retires. He is succeeded by Louis Stulberg.

The American Federation of Hosiery Workers merges with TWUA.

Thousands of union members participate in the historic March on Washington for civil rights.

The TWUA launches an organizing drive against JP Stevens.

The largest strike in ILGWU history takes place when 100,000 workers in eight states are mobilized. The strike is settled with many victories, including the adoption of a union label.

The TWUA Welfare Plan is established.

William Pollock succeeds Emil Rieve as President of TWUA.

Over three years, the ILGWU wins a 35-hour workweek in contracts covering 97 percent of its members.

The ACWA signs the first master agreement in the men's clothing industry.

The first ACWA health center opens in New York City.

ACWA establishes the Sidney Hillman Foundation Awards exemplifying the ideals of the union's founder. The Foundation provides annual awards for excellence in media and publishing.

All TWUA southern organizers are assigned to the CIO's "Operation Dixie."

The TWUA launches a huge organizing drive in Canada and two years later represents 47 plants with 17,000 workers.

Jacob Potofsky elected President of ACWA upon Sidney Hillman's death.

The TWUA expands into Canada, at the request of the Canadian Congress of Labour, which had been running its own Textile Workers Organizing Committee (TWOC-CCL). At the same time, the National Textile Workers Union of Canada votes to join the TWUA.

The TWUA wins War Labor Board directive eliminating North-South differential in cotton textile wage rates.

ILGWU agreements provide for an employer-financed worker retirement fund and an employer-financed health insurance plan.

The ACWA inaugurates employer-paid industry health and life insurance program.

May 25, 1939
The Textile Workers Union of America (TWUA) holds its Founding Convention in Philadelphia, electing Emil Rieve President.

New York City laundry workers organize an independent union after a major strike in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn. After merging with ACWA, the members go on to organize the entire New York City laundry and dry cleaning industry.

The ILGWU produces "Pins 'n Needles," a musical by Harold Rome, with a cast composed entirely of ILGWU members. In 1938, the musical opens on Broadway and runs longer than any previous show.

The CIO establishes the Textile Workers Organizing Committee (TWOC), chaired by ACWA President Sidney Hillman.

5,000 Montreal striking dressmakers withstand sub-zero weather on the picket line and stand firm in their demand for the 44-hour workweek, wage increases, and union recognition. The strike establishes Local 262, the largest ILGWU local in Canada.

The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), chaired by John L. Lewis, is established.

Textile workers call a general strike to protest depressed working conditions — the largest strike in U.S. history.

A general strike is called by Toronto cloakmakers, which successfully organizes more workers with the ILGWU.

Shirtworkers in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware organize with ACWA.

Helped by New Deal measures that protect workers' rights, ILGWU President Dubinsky leads the union on a period of rapid renewal. Membership expands from a low of 24,000 to 217,000 in just three years.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is elected U.S. President and ushers in the New Deal era of social and labor reforms. ACWA founder Sidney Hillman becomes key presidential advisor.

David Dubinsky is elected President of the ILGWU.

Ground is broken for the first ACWA cooperative apartments in the Bronx, N.Y.

The Amalgamated Bank of New York is founded by the ACWA, offering free checking to working people, a policy in effect to the present day.

ACWA ratifies unemployment insurance plan for Chicago clothing workers.

ACWA wins a settlement ending a six-month lockout by New York clothing manufacturers.

ILGWU Cloakmakers in Toronto wage general strike for the 44-hour workweek and raises.

ACWA wins the 44-hour workweek from Hart, Schaffner & Marx.

ACWA is established in Montreal. 5,000 workers, virtually the entire workforce in the menswear industry, go out on strike, forcing their employers to come to the bargaining table.

December 26, 1914
The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA) holds its Founding Convention, setting the goal of organizing men's clothing workers industry-wide. Sidney Hillman is elected the first President of the new union.

The ILGWU founds the Union Health Center in New York City primarily to treat tuberculosis among recent immigrant workers. The Center continues to provide health care to union members today.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire evokes a public outcry following the senseless deaths of 146 workers, many of them young girls, trapped in an unsafe New York City shop. The shop was one that resisted the ILGWU's organizing efforts in the Shirtwaist Strike of 1909. The tragedy gives impetus to a movement for laws to protect workers.

The infant ILGWU wins organizing battles across the country and grows to a membership of 100,000, a huge number for that time.

In what is called "The Great Revolt," 60,000 New York City garment workers belonging to the ILGWU strike and win an unprecedented agreement — "The Protocol of Peace" — that provides for wage and hour standards, impartial arbitration of disputes and a joint commission to deal with unhealthy shop conditions.

The independent Cloakmakers Union of Toronto is established. Two years later, it affiliates with the ILGWU in Toronto as Local 14, the oldest Canadian UNITE local still in existence.

Some 20,000 New York shirtwaist makers — virtually all women — stage a 14-week strike known as "The Uprising." Their suffering and courage win wide sympathy, and their victory, which puts 312 shops under contract, establishes the growing power of the newly-founded ILGWU.

The International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union is founded at a convention in New York City.

Millions of mostly Italian and Jewish immigrants provide cheap labor for garment "sweatshops" in major cities where workers toil long hours under inhuman conditions for meager wages.

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