The Guild and Consumers Union: Origins go back to Great Depression and Red Scare

Consumer Reports magazine and are the flagship publications of Consumers Union, a consumer advocacy organization that provides information on a broad range of products and services. The Guild represents more than 300 employees at the non-profit company, including those who research and test products, write and edit the resulting stories and bring them to print and on line.

Consumers Union was born out of a strike. The Guild at Consumers Union, some would say, was born out of a Red Scare.

In 1935, the staff of Consumer's Research Magazine struck for the right to form a union and when the strikers were beaten down by management, they formed their own company, Consumers Union of the United States. Some of the company's seed money was provided by the labor movement. Heywood Broun, a founder of The Newspaper Guild, was on CU's original Board of Directors.

The first issue of Consumer Reports was published in May of 1936 and responded to the question about if it was being published to benefit consumers or workers saying: "By reporting on labor conditions under which consumer goods are produced, by letting consumers know what products are manufactured under good labor conditions so that when possible they can favor them in making their purchases; by letting them know what products are produced under unfair conditions so that consumers can avoid such products, Consumers Union hopes to add what pressure it can to fight for higher wages and for unionization and the collective bargaining which are labor's bulwark against declining standards of living ... The only way in which any organization can aid them materially as consumers is by helping them, in their struggle as workers, to get an honest wage."

In the years that followed, CU workers were represented by the United Office and Professional Workers Association (UOPWA), which folded and turned over its jurisdiction to District 65 of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union. This was the beginning of the 1950s, McCarthyism was rearing its ugly head and CU and perhaps even its union was suspected of being a Communist organization. The President of its Board of Directors and other CU executives were called to testify before the House of Un-American Activities Committee. When the UOPWA contract expired, several CU employees contacted The Newspaper Guild of New York and protested the transfer of their contract to District 65 without employee voice. The employees' request for Guild representation led to a "consent election" between the Guild and District 65, which was narrowly won by the Guild, 66 to 57.

On October 1, 1951, the Guild and CU signed their first contract calling for, in addition to pay increases, a job security clause, an armed-service clause, severance pay, additional holidays, paid group life insurance, half-paid hospitalization insurance, sick leave, unpaid maternity leave, other leaves of absence, grievance procedure and lunch and supper allowances.

The Guild and CU have come a long way since 1951. Even in terms of geography. At the time it was headquartered 17 Union Square West and 30 East 1st Street in Manhattan. Now, of course, it's at a sprawling facility at 101 Truman Avenue in Yonkers.

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