Unions before the Bar: Historic Trials Showing the Evolution of Labor Rights in the United States

By Elias Lieberman | Go to book overview

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How Samuel Gompers Was Saved from Jail (1906-1913)

BUCKS STOVE AND RANGE COMPANY V. GOMPERS

I

Two days before Christmas, 1908, Samuel Gompers, Frank Morrison, and John Mitchell, president, secretary, and vice-president of the American Federation of Labor, were sentenced to jail. Justice Daniel Theu Wright, of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, found the three labor leaders guilty of contempt of court and sentenced them to serve twelve months, nine months, and six months, respectively, in the District of Columbia jail. The very fact that the top leadership of the American Federation of Labor was threatened with imprisonment for supporting the struggle of one of its unions against an employer made the Bucks Stove and Range Company v. Gompers, et al. case spectacular.

The Bucks Stove and Range Company of St. Louis, Missouri, manufactured stoves and ranges. Mr. J. W. Van Cleave was its president. The company was a member of the Stove Founders' Defense Association, which had collective bargaining agreements with the Iron Molders' International and the Metal Polishers Union. The existing collective agreements contained provisions for settlement of disputes and maintenance of the status quo pending settlement.

According to the claim of the Metal Polishers in the company's Nickel Department, the 9-hour day had been in force in that department since June, 1904, but on January 1, 1906, the firm had announced a 10-hour day. The metal polishers requested that the 9-hour day be re-established, but pending an adjustment of the grievance continued to work ten hours. After waiting more than

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