|The Glovers of Fulton County|
STATE BOARD OF MEDIATION AND ARBITRATION
DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
Albany, N.Y., October 21, 1914
In accordance with law and pursuant to orders of Hon. James M. Lynch, Commissioner of Labor, the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration has investigated the strike of glove cutters at Gloversville, N.Y. and presents herewith its findings and recommendations. The investigation is made by the Department of Labor on its own initiative, as provided by law, due to the serious nature of the strike, which, while orderly and almost entirely without violence, has practically tied up the glove industry, which is almost the sole manufacture of Fulton County, and therefore of vital concern to the county and state.
The Board convened at Gloversville on October 6, 1914, and took testimony on October 6, 7, 8, 9, 13 and 14. Some 70 witnesses were examined under oath, fifteen of whom were manufacturers and the rest glove cutters.
The strike began on August 21, and was participated in by some 1,500 glove cutters. This number comprised nearly all the glove cutters in the industry, who were employed by some 150 firms or corporations. About 15,000 workers were rendered idle by the strike, not all of them at once, but gradually an increasing number as the work of the cutters failed to be produced.
The strike was occasioned by the refusal of the manufacturers to grant a request of the cutters for an increase in the piece price of cutting gloves of 25 cents a dozen on men's and boys' gloves and of 20 cents a dozen on women's gloves, for all styles and grades of cutting. Repeated efforts were made by the State Mediators and by a committee of Gloversville merchants and clergymen to adjust the difficulties, but without success. From September 23 to October 1 an opportunity was offered by the manufacturers and strikers to adjust their own differences, but without result. Up to the time of the investigation by this Board the most important change which occurred in the situation was that several shops settled with their cutters on a basis of a flat increase of 15 cents a dozen, and the strikers testified that they are willing to make a general settlement at that figure. This settlement occurred in the following factories: Fownes, Hallock & Stewart, Pennaci, Malone, Loucks, The Faultless, employing altogether some 150 cutters. A similar settlement has occurred at 15 cents a dozen flat increase in a sympathetic strike in the glove factories in New York City where about 100 cutters are employed.
The Board is informed by its chairman that, following his activity as a mediator in the strike situation, he presented to the strikers on September 22, 1914, the following authorized proposal for their consideration, which was rejected by the strikers, because it was indefinite as to time and amount of the contemplated increase:
"I am assured by the authorized representatives of the associations of manufacturers that there will be no discrimination against individual former employees in regard to reinstatement, and there must be no discrimination against workmen who have remained at work or who have returned to work during the strike.
I have also been assured by them that if the cutters return to their work now in the various factories, the manufacturers will take up the question of changes in the wage rate for cutting and be ready to put such changes as can be made into operation within 30 days after work is resumed. The foregoing being predicated on the continuance of hostilities in Europe and the existence of fair financial and business conditions in this country.
I am confident that the wage changes referred to above will amount to a substantial flat increase for all kinds of table cutting and proportionally on 'pull-down' cutting."
The testimony taken at the hearings of the Board shows that cutting gloves is a highly skilled trade at which the cutters must serve an apprenticeship of from three to five years. The wages have not been advanced in 17 years, although the cost of living in that time has increased not less than fifty per cent. During the past 17 years repeated requests for an increase in wages have been made by the cutters but always declined by the manufacturers.
The earnings of all the glove cutters of the 15 principal factories which employ two-thirds of all the cutters were investigated by the Board through a direct examination of the payrolls of the companies, as well as by the testimony of many of the strikers themselves. The average weekly payroll of all the cutters if $14.29, but this does not represent the average weekly earnings, because the plants are closed from two to four weeks a year for inventory and summer holiday. Computing the average including these weeks when plants were closed, the average weekly earnings are only $15.30.
This low average would be entirely insufficient to afford a bare living wage if it were not for the earnings of the wives of the cutters, who are forced to work at home or in the factory in order to eke out a living for their families.
The Board feels that the original demands of the men were not extravagant, and that the settlements already made at 15 cents a dozen flat increase, represent only an amount to which the workers are clearly entitled.
We recognize that the European war effects this industry very severely. The war benefits the manufacturer by taking from the factories of Europe many of the glove cutters to serve as soldiers and thus reducing the output of the factories in Europe and the amount of finished gloves available for export to the United States. Thus a part of the foreign competition is eliminated, not only while the war lasts, but this competition will be reduced for a considerable period after the war is over. This condition favorable to the local industry at present, is largely offset by the fact that the manufacture of fine gloves is from skins tanned and largely produced in the very countries of Europe most affected by the war, so that the importation of tanned skins and even raw skins will be seriously curtailed, and may operate to reduce the local output after the skins on hand are cut up.
Our investigation of capitalization and profits of the principal factories was necessarily incomplete. A sworn capital and profit statement was furnished us by 10 of the largest companies, though three of the largest companies having offices away from Gloversville either declined to furnish this statement or delayed its preparation so long that the Board could not wait for it to be furnished. It is fair to assume that the profits of these concerns have been at least up to the average of those furnished us, and that they are therefore as well able as their local competitors to pay an advance.
The joint capital invested by the 10 concerns which reported to us is $1,308,900 in 1910, $1,386,000 in 1911, $1,419,000 in 1912 and $1,678,000 in 1913. The joint profits for the same years are respectively $77,000, $76,800, $137,800 and $192,800, which shows a profit of 15 per cent on the capital invested last year. While this is not a large return considering the character of the business, it does not preclude the possibility of an advance in wages. The testimony does not show that the volume of business this present year is less than last year, except as affected by the strike, but the future is problematical both as to the possibility of increasing the selling price of gloves and as to the quantity of gloves to be produced after the present supply of skins is out.
While we recognize these contingent difficulties we do not believe the cutters should be required to wait longer for a substantial increase in their wages, and therefore recommend that a flat advance of not less than 15 cents a dozen be made in the schedule prices for all kinds of glove cutting, effective as soon as work is resumed, such advance to continue for at least one year.
We also recommend that suitable attention be given by the manufacturers to the correction of any abuses which our investigation shows to have existed in the matter of estimating or taxing of skins, and irregularity of hours of the cutters.
If these recommendations prove acceptable, we urge both parties to the settlement to resume work in a proper spirit of unity so that the serious losses sustained by all concerned through idleness of such long duration may be minimized.
The favor of a prompt response to these suggestions is requested from the conference committees representing the glove cutters, and also from the committees representing the associations or manufacturers. The chairman of the Board will call on the respective committees Friday P.M. October 28.
Given at Albany, New York, this 21st day of October, 1914.
THE STATE BOARD OF MEDIATION AND ARBITRATION
William C. Rogers Chairman