Eastman Kodak Company

343 State St
Rochester, NY 14608, US

Category: Labor Struggles

Used in the following map:

Rochester Labor History eMap

Founded in 1880 by George Eastman, Kodak grew from 5 employees in 1882 to 1200 in 1898, over 10,000 in 1924 (one-fifth of Rochester’s industrial workforce) and 23,000 in 1934. Eastman was opposed to organization of his employees, closing the plating and polishing division when workers demanded a pay increase following union activity in 1901. In the 30s, however, “special needs” compelled the company to briefly recognize unions of photo-engravers and metal polishers. Kodak has a long history of good relations with the building trades unions, however; Eastman himself apparently directed that union workers be hired to construct the Eastman Theatre and School of Music. Philanthropic toward the community, Eastman was paternalistic toward his workforce, advancing profit-sharing as an alternative to unions. Despite its position as Rochester’s dominant employer, Kodak resisted hiring black workers. As the city’s black population grew from 7600 in 1950 to 32,000 in 1964, unemployment among black workers reached 25%. Lack of jobs coupled with lack of housing created tensions which erupted in July 1964 in a three-day race riot. Following the violence, the black community hired community organizer Saul Alinsky and FIGHT (”Freedom, Integration, God, Honor, Today” -- after St. Paul’s admonition to “fight the good fight”) was formed. FIGHT was founded to increase black representation on policy boards, achieve collective bargaining rights, negotiate directly on black job placement, end labor union discrimination, etc. In December 1966, an agreement negotiated by FIGHT to train and place 600 unemployed black workers was rejected by Kodak due to concern about the labor law implications of the pact. In 1967 FIGHT took its demands to the annual Kodak shareholders‚ meeting, generating adverse national publicity which, together with continued local pressure, led Kodak to revise its hiring policies. Organizer Saul Alinsky remarked that “The only contribution Eastman Kodak has ever made to race relations is the invention of color film.”


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