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ECONOMY FURNITURE COMPANY STRIKE

ECONOMY FURNITURE COMPANY STRIKE. The Economy Furniture Company strike by Local 456 of the Upholsters International Union started on November 27, 1968, in Austin, six months after company officials refused to recognize the 252–83 vote by the workers for union representation by the UIU in May 1968. Mexican Americans, almost a quarter female, comprised 90 percent of the 400 workers. At the time Economy was the largest company in the furniture-making business in the three-state area of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. Milton T. Smith, the owner and operator of Economy, had been locally admired as a humanitarian for three decades. Yet many workers at his company earned only $1.75 an hour, even after more than fifteen years of service.

Following the vote to unionize, Smith refused to bargain with Local 456 and union officials asked the National Labor Relations Board to intervene. The NLRB ruled that Economy Furniture must negotiate with the union, but Smith rejected the board's order. Local 456 therefore called a strike against Economy Furniture. Smith appealed the NLRB decision to the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. In his court brief the Economy owner castigated the strikers as misinformed and referred to them as "thugs."

The strike was jointly coordinated by Local 456 and the UIU national office. It lasted twenty-eight months, during which workers set up daily pickets outside the company headquarters, garnered the support of United Farm Workers Union president César Chávez, and carried out boycotts against Economy Furniture products sold by local shops and Montgomery Ward, which was the largest chain store that carried a considerable amount of the company's furniture.

In January 1971 the appeals court handed down a ruling upholding the NLRB's certification of Local 456 as a legitimate union. It further ordered that the NLRB's judgment requiring Economy Furniture to enter into collective bargaining with Local 456 be enforced. In March of that year workers responded to the court's decision favorably by voting to end the strike. The following June two months of collective bargaining began on a new contract for workers. Six members of the union's negotiating team were Mexican American. The group agreed to a 3½-year contract, which was approved by a majority of Local 456 members in September 1971. It provided for wage increases each year, seniority, overtime, additional vacation, and other benefits.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Economy Furniture Company Strike Collection, Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin.

Teresa Palomo Acosta

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Teresa Palomo Acosta, "ECONOMY FURNITURE COMPANY STRIKE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/oee01), accessed August 30, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.