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Social Service Employees Union Photographs

Call Number



1952-2008, inclusive
; 1965-1995, bulk


Social Service Employees Union. Local 371 (Role: Donor)
Schleicher, Linda (Role: Donor)
Sperling, Joe (Role: Donor)


23.5 Linear Feet 26 boxes
(26 boxes)

Language of Materials

English .


Social Service Employees Union (Local 371) is part of District Council 37 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFL-CIO). The union primarily represents New York City workers in the social service professions. Although the origins of the union can be traced back to the 1930s, its modern story begins in the bitter cold of January 1965 when more than 8,000 welfare workers spent 28 days on union picket lines and leaders from what were then two separate entities, the Social Service Employees Union and Local 371, went to jail. Besides winning salary increases and improvements in conditions for clients, the strike resulted in a number of firsts, including the first 100 percent city-paid health insurance, an effective grievance procedure, and the establishment of a panel made up of representatives of labor, the city, and the public that led to what is today known as the New York City Office of Collective Bargaining. Two more strikes, both unsuccessful, took place in 1967; finally, in 1969, the two unions merged. Caseworkers still make up the single largest segment of the SSEU's membership, but the union now represents more than 150 job title categories including counselors, administrators, investigators, clerical workers, and residence staff. The collection, which spans the years 1952-2008, consists of black and white photographs, color photographs (in print and compact disc format), black and white contact sheets, black and white negatives, color negatives, and color negatives in the Advantix format. NOTE: This collection is housed offsite and advance notice is required for use.

Historical/Biographical Note

The origins of the Social Service Employees Union Local 371 can be traced to the 1930s when the State, County and Municipal Workers (SCMWA) served as the nucleus of organizing efforts among city employees for the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). In 1955 when the AFL and CIO merged, their local affiliates in the Welfare Department joined to form Local 371 within District Council (DC) 37 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO.

Local 371 from its beginning contained seeds of discord despite the apparent apathy of welfare workers toward the state of their union. By the late 1950s a group from the Brownsville Welfare Center located in a poor section of Brooklyn, mainly social investigators, formed the nucleus of a reform movement under the leadership of Sam Podell. Increasingly heavy caseloads and continued low salaries provided two major slogans around which the Podell group rallied the support of caseworkers, most of whom were still not members of Local 371.

The real break-through for the reform movement came in April 1961, when the New York City Department of Labor was involved in a simmering conflict with Jerry Wurf, executive director of DC 37, the parent body of Local 371. Podell, supported by Joe Tepedino (Borough Hall) and Judith Mage (Amsterdam Welfare Center), took advantage of the situation to file a petition for recognition of the Social Service Employees (SSE). The Labor Department, seeking to embarrass Wurf and DC 37, granted the Podell group a charter. Thus the SSEU was born. The SSEU focused organizing efforts on welfare centers and case workers, both of which had hitherto been neglected by Local 371. In a representation election held in October 1964, the SSEU easily defeated Local 371 and secured collective bargaining rights for the civil service titles of case worker, home economist, homemaker and children's counselor.

Close on the heels of the election, SSEU began negotiations for a new contract. These negotiations continued without success, and on December 31, 1964 SSEU members voted enthusiastically for a strike. Under intense pressure from Jerry Wurf, Local 371 also supported the strike. On January 4, 1965, eight-thousand Welfare Department employees went on strike. The strike took a turn for the worse in late January when 19 union leaders were jailed. On January 31, 1965, the strike ended with an agreement to set up a five-person panel chaired by Dean Schottland of Brandeis University's School of Social Work. In June the city and the union signed a contract largely based on the Schottland Committee's recommendations which included most of the original demands made by the SSEU.

In 1966, the SSEU's contract demands included salary increases, promotional opportunities, lower caseloads and better working conditions. The chief bone of contention was the scope of collective bargaining. The SSEU reasserted its 1965 position that any issue should be open to bargaining, while the city wanted to limit areas open to collective bargaining. With negotiations in a deadlock, SSEU members voted to sit-in at their work locations beginning on June 19, 1966. The city retaliated with a lock-out lasting nearly six weeks. Many observers have concluded that the strike was preordained to fail, and their prediction proved to be correct.

After 1967, structural changes in the welfare system and collective bargaining threatened the survival of SSEU as an independent labor union. In April 1968, Judy Mage was replaced by Marty Morgenstern as president. In the ensuing months affiliation with AFSCME Local 371 and DC 37 became the primary concern of the SSEU. The militants campaigned against the move and secured the defeat of the merger referendum on June 28, 1968. But Morgenstern and his supporters continued to argue so vigorously for the merger that the issue won overwhelming support when resubmitted in January 1969. In June representatives of the SSEU and Local 371 formally signed the agreement establishing SSEU, Local 371 of DC 37, AFSCME, AFL-CIO.

SSEU Local 371 is governed by its president, executive vice-president, secretary-treasurer and five vice-presidents elected for two-year terms by the membership at large. The executive committee consisting of all eight top officers and eight delegates elected annually by the Delegates Assembly is entrusted with the functions of policy-making and administrative oversight. The Delegates Assembly is composed of representatives elected proportionally from all work locations on an annual basis. Chapters are organized partially by title and partially by agency and can provide the focus for concerted action by members who work for the same department, agency or bureau regardless of their work location. Although each chapter enjoys a wide range of autonomy on matters pertaining to its members, its decisions are subject to review by the Executive Committee, Delegates Assembly and quarterly membership meetings.

During the 1970s SSEU Local 371 experienced both expansion and change. On the one hand, the union broadened the scope of its recruitment to include more than 100 job titles scattered throughout various city agencies. At the same time the number of caseworkers, who constituted the core of the union, declined sharply because of changes in the welfare structure, automation and the ever-present high turnover. Still, case-workers remained the single largest group of members and continued to hold the top offices of the union. Expansion brought an influx of lower-paid non-professional African-American and Spanish-speaking workers. Gearing its strategies to a more diverse membership, SSEU Local 371 refocused of its collective bargaining concerns, balancing the bread-and-butter concerns of an era of fiscal crisis with the preservation of its progressive, client-oriented traditions.

A new era in the history of the SSEU was ushered in by the election of Charles Ensley as president in 1982. Ensley, an active participant in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, worked as a New York City caseworker after graduating from Howard University, served in the military and returned to the union as a grievance representative. As president he has doubled the membership of SSEU, has fought to improve conditions in homeless shelters, to strengthen services for at-risk children and, in general, to expand services for the poor while improving working conditions for his members. He was on the front lines of protest against apartheid, as well as working to develop special programs for Latino members, and by offering the union's support to politically progressive candidates, Ensley has kept the tradition of the SSEU as a fighting force for social justice alive.


  1. Bernard and Jewell Bellush, Union Power and New York: Victor Gotbaum and District Council 37. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1984.
  2. Mark H. Maier, City Unions: Managing Discontent in New York City. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987.
  3. Richard Mendes, "The Professional Union: A Study of the Social Service Employees Union of the New York City Department of Services," Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1974.
  4. Kesavan Sudheendran, draft history of the SSEU, 1983, in Tamiment Library Vertical File, "Social Service Employees Union."


Series I is arranged alphabetically. Series II is arranged chronologically. Series III is arranged alphabetically. Series IV is separated into three subseries: A, Black and White Negatives; B, Color Negatives; C, Advantix Negatives. Subseries A and B are arranged chronologically; subseries C is arranged numerically. Series V is arranged alphabetically. Series VI is unprocessed.

Arranged into 6 series:

Missing Title

  1. I, Black and White Prints, 1952-2002.
  2. II, Black and White Contact Sheets, 1960-2002.
  3. III, Color Prints, 1991-2005.
  4. IV, Negatives, 1975-2002.
  5. V, Compact Discs, 1997-2002.
  6. VI, Unprocessed, 1985-2007.

Scope and Content Note

Series I: Black and White Photographs, 1952-2002, consists of two sub-series. Sub-series A, Personalities, includes most of the prominent union leaders as well as local and state elected officials. Union leaders include former SSEU and/or Local 371 presidents Bart Cohen, Charles Ensley, Stanley Hill, Judith Mage, Marty Morgenstern, Mary Pinkett (also later a member of the New York City Council), Joe Sperling, Joe Tepedino and Alan Viani, along with numerous union officers, activists, and executives including Victor Gotbaum. New York City government is represented by Mayors David N. Dinkins and Ed Koch, as well as City Council President Carol Bellamy and Deputy Mayor Herman Badillo. Sub-series B, Subjects, documents a wide range of activities from bargaining sessions and committee meetings to parades and homeless shelter conditions; from strikes and demonstrations to conventions, to luncheons for homemaker retirees.

Series II: Black and White Contact Sheets, 1960-2002, consists of two sub-series. Sub-series A is contact sheets from which corresponding negatives have been separated, while Sub-series B consists of contact sheets for which corresponding negatives are missing in the Collection. Many of the same images of people and events from Series I are included, as well as numerous photographs shot of the same people and events that were never selected to be made into prints.

Series III: Color Photographs, 1991-2005, consists of two sub-series. With few exceptions, Sub-series A consists of snapshot-sized photographs that include both personalities and subjects (but more of the latter), with parades and celebrations such as African-American and Labor Day Parades, and Caribbean, Jewish and Latino heritage, Martin Luther King Day and Social Work Month events dominating the latter. Sub-series B consists of four folders of panorama-format photographs covering persons and subjects similar to those in Sub-series A.

Series IV: Negatives, 1975-2002, consists of two sub-series. Sub-series A includes both negatives that correspond to the black and white contact sheets in Series II-Sub-series A, as well as negatives for which no contact sheets have been found in the Collection. Sub-series B includes color negatives that correspond to the color photographs in Series III, as well as color negatives for which no matching color prints have been found in the Collection. This sub-series also includes negatives in the Advanced Photo System (APS) format (marketed under the brand name "Advantix"), a sealed cassette film format for still photography.

Series V: Compact Discs, 1997-2002, consists of 37 compact discs containing photographs, most of them in color. The series includes both personalities and subjects.

Series VI: Unprocessed, 1985-2007, consists of 9 boxes of mainly black and white prints, negatives, and contact sheets from the 1980s and 1990s.

NOTE: This collection is housed offsite and advance notice is required for use.

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection, created by the Social Service Employees Union, Local 371 was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; Social Service Employees Union Photographs; PHOTOS 014; box number; folder number; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Joe Sperling and Linda Schleicher in 1979. Photographs in this collection were separated to the Social Service Employees Union Records (WAG 003) and established as the Social Service Employees Union Photographs (PHOTOS 014). The accession number associated with these photographs is 1979.018. Additional photographs have been added to this collection through a series of donations from the Social Service Employees Union between 2005 and 2009. The accession numbers associated with these materials is NPA.2005.094, NPA.2005.174, NPA.2006.036, and 2009.037.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Advance notice is required for the use of computer records. Original physical digital media is restricted. Born-digital materials have not been transferred and may not be available to researchers. Researchers may request access copies. To request that material be transferred, or if you are unsure if material has been transferred, please contact [repository contact information] with the collection name, collection number, and a description of the item(s) requested. A staff member will respond to you with further information.

Related Material at the Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Social Service Employees Union Records. (Wagner #3) Social Service Employees Union Oral History Collection. (OH #63) American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Workers, District Council 37 Photographs. (Photographs #247)

Collection processed by

Finding aid prepared by K. Kevyne Baar, 2008. Preliminary processing by Mary Allison Farley, 1988; Erika Gottfried, 2003.

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 16:32:24 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from NP14-Social Service Employees Union-Final Draft.doc


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
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