Original Labor Council charter finds new home

When the Masonic Temple was damaged beyond repair in a February 2010 fire, not only the building was lost.

Much of the contents in numerous offices and workspaces in the three-story building that sat in the 300 block of Central Avenue were also a casualty.

One such office was the home of the Dunkirk Area Labor Council. Doug Stock, a long-time member of the Labor Council, watched the fire that fateful night from the corner of Fourth Street and Central Avenue. He was sure the Labor Council had lost all its files and other items, until he received a phone call later from a Dunkirk firefighter.

“He told me some of the stuff in the office might be salvageable and to contact the landlord,” Stock explained. “If it hadn’t have been for Keith Ossman I wouldn’t have known about it.”

One of those salvageable items was the local Labor Council’s articles of incorporation from the AFL-CIO. Recently, the document found a new home, being loaned to the city of Dunkirk where it will find a place on a wall in the main lobby of City Hall.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations granted the charter to the Dunkirk New York Area Labor Council AFL-CIO on March 10, 1959. Granted the charter for the new Labor Council were Michael Sam, James Lyons, Edward Pokoj, Joseph Granto, Jack Lekliter, Joseph Pagano, Edward J. McLaughlin, Chester Szwebjka and Stanley Gliwa.

“Solidarity Forever,” a small plaque attached to the frame states, adding it was dedicated to all union members past and present.

“We just felt it should go someplace, it should be seen as a memorial to the fire, the only thing left,” Stock explained, adding the local council no longer has an office.

At the time of the fire, the local council covered some 1,300 workers, down from its peak of about 9,000.

“Everything was going in Dunkirk, everything was going,” Labor Council member Hank Hoisington stated.

“We had all the steel plants, all the buildings and trades, and everything else,” Stock added.

Plymouth Tube, Alumax, Roblin Steel, True Temper, Al Tech, Special Metals, Dunkirk Radiator and Marsh Valve were cited as part of the strengths of the council.

“Plus at that time you had building trades working in the area at most of the plants, plus the college was going. I started on the college in 1967 on the fine arts building, plus you had the dormitories built, the science building and everything else,” Stock added. “Probably the late ’60s, when everything was going on we had about 9,000 members.”

“It was easy then because there was work all over the place,” Hoisington said. “Out of one door and into another door.”

Stock said electricians who were laid off from one site would be sent back out of the union hall the next day to another job.

“Then 1974 hit, the gas crunch, and that started to slow things down, and then in 1985 when everybody closed. We had Kraft Foods, it was union too,” Stock continued. “We always had work at NRG in the building trades, always. There’s a lot of history there in that charter.”

Hoisington said Dunkirk was the place to be.

“Not that it isn’t the place to be now, but it was a place for work,” he added. “I was just a young whippersnapper when I got involved with the council.”

Stock said original signee Granto had a lot of information about the history of the Labor Council and after Granto’s daughters gave that to him he gave most of it to the Steelworker’s Museum in Lackawanna.

As for the future of the local union movement, Stock said the Dunkirk and Jamestown labor councils are working together in an informal labor coalition.

“You’ve seen what we did getting the people involved for NRG and everything else so I think you’re going to see the union movement pick up a little around here, hopefully, we’re right,” Stock stated, adding an organizing drive by the western New York AFL will be starting soon. “We’ll never be back to where we were because there isn’t that much work, but we’re trying. … It’s not like it was years ago.

“Labor was a big force in getting people out, we worked together. If labor, business and government work together a lot of things can be done in this area.”

The Labor Council charter is expected to be hung in the main lobby of City Hall.

Send comments to gsnyder@observertoday.com