© 2014 Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell
NEW YORK DRESS JOINT BOARD ORGANIZATIONAL HISTORY
Beginning in 1900, manufacturers of shirtwaists branched out and began to create dresses.
Local 25 Ladies' Waist Makers' Union was chartered in 1905 after the reorganization of
unsuccessful locals. By 1908, there were over 600 waist and dress shops in New York employing
over 30,000 workers. Long hours of 56 hour weeks, overtime, low pay, and rampant sub-contracting
led to agitation among the poorly treated women workers. Smaller strikes throughout 1909 over
the intolerable conditions paved the way for a meeting at Cooper Union on November 22. Thousands
filled the hall when 23 year old Clara Lemlich, a striker on a picket line, rose to spoke and
called for a general strike. The "Uprising of Twenty Thousand" involved waist makers from New
York, Brooklyn, and Brownsville. Amidst hunger, cold, imprisonment, and unscrupulous bosses, the
women on the picket lines continued their fight, the strike lasting fourteen weeks until
February 15, 1910. While not a complete success, the strike did result in individual contracts,
higher wages, and a large increase in union membership. As the industry expanded over the years,
so did the union, becoming Local 25 Waist and Dress Makers' Union, which would soon become the
biggest local in the union. In the beginning of 1913, another strike involved 30,000 workers and
resulted in a collective agreement. Workers left their shops again in February 1916 ending with
a revised Protocol. It was also at this time that Local 25 began a summer vacation resort for
its members, an idea that would soon take off with the International and become Unity House.
In 1920, Local 25 was the only local in New York for the waist and dress industry. The large
size of the local made it difficult to properly control and adequately service all of the
members. At the 1920 Convention, the General Executive Board enacted a resolution to establish a
Joint Board within Local 25 and charter separate locals for dressmakers and waistmakers. By
1921, there was organized a Joint Board composed of Local 22 Dressmakers, Local 25 Waistmakers,
Local 58 Waist Buttonhole Makers, Local 60 Waist and Dress Pressers, Local 66 Bonnaz Embroidery
Workers, Local 89 Italian Waist and Dressmakers, and the waist and dress branch of Cutters'
Local 10. The new arrangement was not without problems among the recently rearranged locals. The
new Dress and Waistmakers' Joint Board soon began new agreement negotiations with the Dress
Manufacturers' Association, and called a general strike on February 9, 1921. Julius Hochman
managed the Dress and Waistmakers' Joint Board. With a large growth of jobbers in the industry
sending work to non-union shops, the Joint Board inaugurated a drive in the summer of 1922 to
strike the big jobbing firms and bring workers under union contracts. A general work stoppage in
February 1923 in the dress industry won the union a 40 hour week and 10 percent wage increase,
as well as a large gain of new members. During the summer of 1923, after years of discussion and
deliberation, the two dress locals, Local 23 and 22 were consolidated. The dressmakers from
Local 23 transferred to Local 22 and subsequently Local 22 joined the New York Cloakmakers'
Joint Board. Later, the Dress Pressers' Local 60 joined Local 35 the Cloak Pressers' Union.
Soon, the Dress and Waist Joint Board became unnecessary and was dissolved. Local 89, the
Italian Dress and Waistmakers' Union, affiliated with the Cloak Board as well, and both dress
and cloak industries in New York were represented by the Cloak and Dress Joint Board. Local 25
Waistmakers were left without an affiliated organization and in October 1924 merged with the
Dressmakers' Union, Local 22.
At the end of 1924, the Joint Board met with the Wholesale Dress Manufacturers' Association
and although conferences continued into 1925, but resulted in the introduction of a sanitary
label in the dress industry and an unemployment insurance fund. The "prosanis" label in the
dress industry was launched by the Sanitary Joint Board on April 15, 1925. During the remainder
of 1925, many of the dress agreements went unenforced with the upsurge of workers in non-union
plants and the internal conflict created by the rise to power of the Communists within the
local. A "peace pact" resulted in the resignation of vice president Julius Hochman who had been
managing the dress division, replaced by a staff of Communist officials headed by Charles
Zimmerman. By the end of 1926, the Communists had gained control of the dress organization in
New York City and the union barely existed. But during 1927 and 1928, the Joint Board persisted
with organizing activities in an attempt to strengthen its position. Julius Hochman was elected
general manager of the Joint Board and later in December 1927 Elias Reisberg was elected manager
of the dress department. In 1929, the General Executive Board formed the Dress Trade Council
consisting of representatives of dress locals to begin to rehabilitate the dress organization.
Also at this time, Hochman was appointed manager of the Dress Division of the Joint Board and
launched a large dress campaign to increase membership. Isidore Nagler served as general manager
of Joint Board.
In February 4, 1930, 25,000 dressmakers walked out of the shops. And while the strike was
settled eight days later, the strike was called to reorganize dressmakers and establish
collection relationships with employers and collective agreements as well as finally abolish the
Communist influence in the industry. On April 8, 1930 the General Executive Board decided to
separate the dressmakers from the Cloakmakers' Joint Board and give them back an autonomous
joint board to govern their own affairs. The new independent Dress Joint Board addressed dress
manufacturers list of 38 demands during contract negotiations, and when an agreement could not
be reached, on February 16, 1932, a general strike of the dressmakers lasted two weeks. This
defensive strike renewed collective agreements. Another walkout in all dress shops, both union
and non-union on August 16, 1933 brought the dress industry to a halt. A quick resolution
resulted in 35 hours/5 day weeks, fixed wages for week and piece workers, and guaranteed minimum
wages. By February 1934, the Dress Joint Board moved to new larger offices along with Locals 22
and 89, illustrating a drastic turnaround from previous years. The dress industry was now the
biggest organized center in the ILGWU.
The historic revival of the New York dress organization in 1933 created the largest single
body of workers within the union. By the 1940s, the Dress Joint Board was composed of Locals 89
(Italian Dressmakers), 22, 60 (Dress Pressers) and the Dress Division of Cutters' Local 10.
Added to that, in 1939 the Dress Joint Board took over responsibility for and control over the
working conditions and agreements of silk dress production in the Eastern and the Cotton Dress
Departments. The Joint Board worked to create a WPA sewing project for unemployed dressmakers,
as well as establishing in 1938 a Samplemakers' Labor Bureau. Unfortunately, the lack of styles
during the war years caused economic problems, with shrinking production and unemployment. With
the collective agreement of March 1944, an industry-wide health and vacation fund covered
members of Locals 89, 22 and 60 and included sick benefits, hospitalization, medical services at
the Union Health Center, eye exams, and tuberculosis aid, as well as one week's paid vacation.
Additionally, a retirement system supplemented the health and vacation fund, the Retirement Fund
and Health and Welfare Fund of the Dress Joint Board. Soon, the dress industry was back to
pre-war production levels with an increase in styles, though the industry often had difficulty
adapting to the postwar retail market and new consumer attitude. The Joint Board launched a
large scale organization drive at the end of the decade which was met with resistance, often
violent, by "for hire" thugs interfering on picket lines and threatening Joint Board officers.
Zimmerman, now a vice-president as well as manager of Local 22, supervised the drive to organize
the open shops. It was during this drive that dress presser and temporary organizer William
Lurye was murdered in May 1949 as the open shops employed racketeering to prevent unionization.
The anti-open shop campaign succeeded in bringing union conditions and standards to the new
The New York Dress Institute was formed with the assistance of the Joint Board in 1941 to
promote American fashions and establish New York as the fashion capital. While the Joint Board
suspended payments in 1944, the Institute still operated, having fashion shows, distributing
fashion photographs for publications, and maintaining the best dressed women list. By 1953, the
Dress Institute cut operation due to lack of funds and began operating as the Couture Group of
the Dress Institute. At a GEB meeting in 1953, shipping clerks in the dress industry were
unionized to form Local 60A, a branch of Local 60. The locals in Joint Board now included Locals
89, 22, and 60-60A Dress Pressers and Shipping Clerks. Julius Hochman resigned as manager of the
Dress Joint Board in June 1958 after 29 years (since 1929) to direct the new ILGWU Union Label
Department. He was succeeded by Charles Zimmerman, who had been manager of Local 22 for 25
years. 1958 also saw the formation of the Dressmakers' Joint Council, which consisted of the
Joint Board, as well as the dress sections of the Eastern Out-of-Town and Northeast Departments.
Zimmerman was also manager of the new Joint Council. Sol Greene, assistant director of the
Northeast Department, became the new assistant general manager of the Joint Board. The Joint
Board in January 1959 was the first ILGWU affiliate to introduce the new union label.
A March 1958 walkout of 105,000 dressmakers in the New York metropolitan area was the first
general strike in 25 years. Negotiations with employers began at the end of 1957 and with no
resolution in sight, the contracts, set to expire January 1958, were extended for another month.
Again, with no agreement in sight, the strike committee set the date of March 5 for the walkout.
At ten o'clock that morning, thousands and thousands of garment workers left the shops and made
their way into the streets. Soon Madison Square Garden was filled and tens of thousands pickets
organized. A few days later, Mayor Wagner called strike leaders and appointed from Senator
Lehman and Impartial Chairman Harry Uviller to mediate the strike. The five day general strike
resulted in a new contract for workers including wage increases, a 7 hour day/ 35 hour week for
piece and time workers with overtime pay, and the establishment of a severance fund.
The decades of the 1960s and 70s saw a decline in shops and jobs in New York City with firms
going out of business. In June 1969, Local 38 Theatrical Costume, Ladies Tailors voted to
affiliate with the Joint Board, representing theatrical costume workers and custom tailors in
departments stores. Additional diversifying included a newly formed Local 159 of office
employees in the dress industry. Charles Zimmerman retired on July 1, 1972 as union vice
president and manager of the Dress Joint Council and New York Dress Joint Board. Murray Gross,
who had been associate general manager since 1969 became the general manager of the Joint Board
and Joint Council. The Joint Board now consisted of Locals 89, 22, 60-60A and 159 along with the
new Local 38 and 159. March 1974 saw the initial movement to reorganize the Joint Board by
combining and merging various departments. By 1975, the New York Dress Joint Board completed
restructuring of affiliate locals, and Locals 60-60A, 159, and 38 were merged into existing
Locals 22 and 89. Local 22 gained jurisdiction over all dressmakers in Manhattan and Local 89
was designated the local for all Bronx and Brooklyn members. Vice president and general manager
Murray Gross retired and Sam Nemaizer became manager after the 1974 convention. There were
changes in leadership also as Locals 22 and 89 saw long serving managers began to retire.
In November 1977, the executive committee of the ILGWU General Executive Board enacted a
resolution that merged the existing cloak, dress, rainwear and other affiliates in New York,
thus ending the separate existence of the New York Cloak and Dress Joint Boards. The New York
Cloak-Dress Joint Board and Affiliates consisted of Local 1-35 United Coat, Suit, Rainwear and
Allied Workers Union of Manhattan; Local 10 Cutters; Local 22 Dressmakers Union of Manhattan;
Local 48 Coat, Suit, Dress, Rainwear and Allied Workers Union of North Brooklyn; Local 77 Coat,
Suit, Dress, Rainwear and Allied Workers Union of Queens; Local 89 Coat, Suit, Dress, Rainwear
and Allied Workers Union of South Brooklyn; and Local 189 Coat, Suit, Dress, Rainwear and Allied
Workers Union of the Bronx. At the same time, sportswear locals previously under the Dress or
Cloak Joint Board were now a part of the new New York Sportswear and Allied Workers Joint Board
(Local 10 Cutters; Local 23-25 Blouse, Skirt and Sportswear Workers; Local 91 Children's
Dressmakers; Local 105 Snowsuit, Infants, and Novelty Sportswear; and Local 155 Knitgoods
Workers). The new resolution redrew existing locals' jurisdiction to represent workers along
geographic as well as industrial lines. The changes created a more efficient and economical
representation of the workers and provided greater organizing ability and bargaining power. E.
Howard Molisani, an ILGWU vice-president and manager of the Cloak Joint Board, was elected to
serve as the general manager of the new organization. Following his retirement in July 1978,
Samuel Nemaizer (formerly manager of the Dress Joint Board) was appointed to succeed Molisani as
In late 1981, the Joint Board approved a measure to dissolve Locals 48, 77 and 189 to create a
stronger financial foundation for the organization. Members were transferred to Locals 22, 1-35
and 89. Local 89 was renamed Local 89-48 to honor the historic significance of the Italian
cloakmakers. An October 1984 meeting resulted in more restructuring of the board and locals into
a new Local 89-22-1. Changes in the garment industry necessitated the dissolution of the Joint
Board and Locals 22 and 89-48. The charter of Local 1-35 was amended to create the new Local
89-22-1. With the consolidation of staff and retirements of managers Samuel Nemaizer, Manuel
Gonzalez and Frank Longo, Samuel Byer, associate general manager of the New York
Coat-Dress-Rainwear Joint Board was elected manager of Local 89-22-1. The New York Sportswear
Joint Board was renamed the New York Joint Board in August 1985, and Locals 62-32 and 66-40
joined the existing affiliates Locals 23-25, 155, 91-105 and 10 and managed by Edgar Romney.
After the retirement in 1993 of Samuel Byer, Barbara Laufman was elected manager of Local
89-22-1. Local 89-22-1 was the successor to some of the oldest locals in the union from the
coat, dress, suite and rainwear industries, as well as both the New York Dress and Cloak Joint
Boards. In July 1922, the New York State District merged with Local 89-22-1.
The collection of the New York Dress Joint Board is composed of five series arranged by
Committees. The first series consists of the Minutes of the Joint Board of the Dress and
Waistmakers' Union. In 1930 after the Cleveland Convention, it was voted to separate the dress
locals from the New York Joint Board. The dress locals elected delegates, and the new entity was
called the Joint Board Dress and Waistmakers' Union of Greater New York. Locals included 10, 22,
35, 89, and the first meeting took place on April 8, 1930. The minutes include the first meeting
of April 9, 1930, through January 21, 1976 (beginning in 1970 they minutes are no longer bound
but loose pages). Also contained are minutes of July 12, 1922-May 23, 1923, which was during the
first period from 1920-1923 when the dress and waistmakers' had their own Joint Board before
being dissolved and merged with the Cloak Joint Board.
Within the Joint Board existed various committees which had their own meetings and minutes.
The second series consists of the minutes of the Grievance Committee for the Joint Board Dress
and Waistmakers' Union, from October 18, 1933-November 11, 1964. The Grievance Committee
addressed charges and cases of filed grievances, often including cases involing working after
regular hours, insubordination, not granted permission to work (in specific shop), absent from
work, etc. The minutes provide the decision rendered by the committee, as well as the fines
levied against the defendant (if warranted).
The third series contains the Minutes of the Appeal Committee from February 5, 1934-December
31, 1949. The cases are the appeals to decisions that were previously rendered by the Grievance
Committee. Also included in this series are the minutes for the meetings of the Committee on
Claims of the Joint Board Health and Welfare Fund (March 20, 1945-December 29, 1952). These
appeals deal with sick benefits, time away from work for illness, leave of absences, and other
claims, as well as decisions from the committee.
The fourth series consists of meeting minutes for the Health Fund Committee (later Health and
Welfare Fund) beginning in January 10, 1945 and proceeding until 1970. Additionally, there are
included the rules and regulations for the Health Fund which was adopted on December 27, 1944,
and the terms, conditions, and eligibilities for benefits. Included within the minutes is also
correspondence and reports, and supplemental information such as financial statements.
The fifth and final series contains financial statements and meeting minutes for the
Retirement Fund of the Dress Industry of New York.