The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, Local 1-S Department Store Workers Union had its origins in efforts to organize the workers of Macy's department store in New York City. These efforts came to fruition with the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935 and the establishment of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1938. The CIO's Department Store Organizing Committee, headed by Samuel Wolchok, began to focus on the large department stores in New York City and chose Sam Kovenetsky, a stockroom worker, to head the organizing drive at Macy's. Kovenetsky served as Business Manager of Local 1-S from 1939 to 1948, and President from 1948 to 1980.
First organized on June 7, 1939, Local 1-S was at first confined to non-selling departments of Macy's, but by 1943, 54% of the salesclerks voted for union representation. Through negotiations, Local 1-S bargained for employee benefits including increased job security, higher minimum wages, and a company-paid health insurance plan. Contracts banning racial, religious and gender discrimination were also achieved.
From its inception as an affiliate of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the left-wing leadership of Local 1-S clashed with Samuel Wolchok, then head of the international union and a right-wing Socialist. Although achieving a period of uneasy cooperation during World War II, Local 1-S and other left-wing unions seceded en masse in 1948 after the RWDSU's endorsement of the Taft-Hartley Act's non-Communist affidavit provision.
However, in 1951 Local 1-S re-affiliated with the CIO under a separate charter as an international, the United Department Store Workers of America. In 1955, the year of the AFL-CIO merger, Local 1-S re-affiliated with the RWDSU. A 13-day strike against Macy's in 1956 won improvements in job security and wage rates. In 1963 the union achieved a 37 ½ hour work week for its members, and the late 60s saw significant advances in benefits. The Local, long active in New York civil rights activities was well represented at the 1963 March on Washington.
Local president Sam Kovenetsky, a well-known figure in New York trade-union circles, served as a vice-president of the RWDSU and of the New York State AFL-CIO. He chaired the New York City Central Labor Council's Camp Committee, and sat on the Executive Board of the Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO. He also attended international meetings of representatives of department-store unions and other white-collar unions and was an advisor on industrial education to the New York City Board of Education.
By 1980, when President Kovenetsky retired, Local 1-S was the nation's largest department-store union. Kovenetsky was succeeded by Local vice-president Joe Pascarella. The Local currently represents over 3,500 active employees at Macy's flagship Herald Square store in Manhattan and workers at the Queens, Parkchester and White Plains stores.
"1-S, Twenty-five Years of Progress, 1938-1963." Local 1-S, Anniversary Pamphlet, 1964.Kirstein, George G. Stores and Unions. New York: Fairchild Press, 1950.Opler, Daniel. For All White-Collar Workers: The Possibilities of Radicalism in New York's Department Store Workers, 1934-1953. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2007.