A Humble Beginning
Local 491, a bartenders union, was chartered on November 17, 1902. At the time our International Union was known as the Hotel and Restaurant Employees’ International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America. The International’s Headquarters was in Cincinnati, Ohio. We were affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. Local 491’s first officers were:
Andrew Campbell – President
William S. Latta – Vice President
Jacob Maurer - Financial Secretary Treasurer and Union Representative / Organizer
Jack Rutledge – Recording Secretary
The following year a full slate of officers, similar to our structure today, was elected.
Andrew Campbell – President
John Munroe - Vice President
Jack Rutledge – Recording Secretary
James Elliot - Financial Secretary
Thomas Sullivan – Treasurer
Dan Reagan – Chaplain
M. Murphy – Inside Guard
Joe Flynn – Outer Guard
George Fields – Inspector
William Lutton, Chairman, - Al Logan – Patrick Welch – William Daley – John Ormrod
Local 491’s membership was less than fifty at this time.
In 1903 Local 658, a culinary union, was chartered in Atlantic City.
1918 – A Year for Organizing
William F. Kavanaugh
The following decade was pivotal for organizing throughout America. The International Union membership soared to nearly 60,000 members nationwide. Many independent organizations, workers clubs, and unaffiliated unions still existed throughout H.E.R.E.’s jurisdiction. Later a successful effort would be launched to bring these organizations into membership. Initially most of these early Locals had between 20 and 40 members.
In Atlantic City the spring and summer of 1918 was a time of great expansion for H.E.R.E. Locals. William F. Cavanaugh, a member of Jersey City Waiter’s Local 575 and an International Organizer undertook this organizing in the Atlantic City region. His effort produced several Locals throughout the city.
On May 25, Local 508, a hotel workers union and another predecessor of Local 54, was chartered. Local 508 started as a waiters union but would subsequently become a union of miscellaneous hotel, motel and club workers following the merger of Culinary Local 658 into Local 508. Local 508 grew to over 100 in membership following the merger.
On June 12 the Regent Hotel, owned by F. Bauman was organized, the first of several mid-size hotels to be organized that summer. Within a week the first of several mass meetings was held in Atlantic City in an attempt to bring workers into the growing union movement. The meeting location is unknown. It is known is that the meeting was addressed by Mr. S. Tauber, the owner of Hotel Blackstone, which was organized the day before. Mr. Tauber blamed the hotel owners themselves for the strife and poor working conditions within the city. Mr. Tauber, though well respected by his employees, may also have been motivated by a need to find a way to compete with the larger, more elaborate hotels who resisted unionization. Mr. Tauber’s hotel was followed into unionization by the Hotel Martinique and the Hotel Martin. A Joint Executive Board consisting of all four Atlantic City locals was formed the next day. Because of this rapid expansion the Culinary Workers Local 658 opened a headquarters at 125 S. Tennessee Ave on June 19th. Many members began to take leadership positions within their respective locals. One member, Thomas Ross rallied the members the next day at yet another mass meeting at the Hotel Martinique in which 900 hotel workers from all classifications met. Applications for membership poured in daily and the previous mentioned locals 491, 508, 658 and a new Waitress local, Local 810 grew in membership. Four days later another large meeting of culinary workers was held at the Hotel Martin. 41 white and black culinary workers joined Local 658 that day. The Regent, Martinique, and Blackstone were the first “union” hotels in Atlantic City.
One of the earliest known large-scale job actions took place at W.B. Moore’s Café. Simultaneously the Traymore Hotel was placed on the C.L.C.’s unfair list due to their resistance to hiring union employees. Most of the organizing efforts were concentrated in the smaller hotels, motels and cabarets. Organizing in the large hotels was very difficult as the owners had deep pockets to fight organizing drives and were connected politically. For example two of five City Commissioners were owners of large, first class hotels. Commissioner C.D. White owned the Blenheim and Commissioner J.B. Thompson was the proprietor of the Chelsea Hotel. Employees discovered joining unions were immediately fired from these and other large hotels. Despite this the summer of 1918 saw Local 491 enter the negotiation process for their first citywide agreement. Among the first restaurants organized as a result of action that summer was the Preston Restaurant. The Vienna Restaurant was also picketed that summer. Still more of the smaller hotels entered into agreements with the 4 Locals in the city following two large meetings
Local 826, an African American union was chartered in 1919. This Local was formed from the Brotherhood of Colored Workers, an umbrella group composed of assorted classifications. This local brought in many of the African American Cabaret workers prevalent throughout the city at the time.
In the subsequent years Local 491 and 508 would absorb the other locals and dominate in Atlantic City. This consolidation process was complete by the early 1930’s. During the late twenties and early thirties many of the previously mentioned independent organizations such as cook’s organizations, waiter’s clubs, and bartender’s leagues were absorbed into H.E.R.E. locals throughout the nation. The majority of these independent organizations provided members with sick and death benefits and served as meeting places where members would discuss problems of the workplace and the world in general. Most of the workers brought in from these independent organizations already understood the process of collective bargaining but now had a process to obtain binding contracts through recognition in a bona fide labor union.
Mr. Cavanaugh’s efforts did not end in Atlantic City. His work as an organizer built several locals in Northern NJ, Philadelphia, and New York. He remained active in the union until the late 1940’s.
In April of 1939 Local 741, a union of hotel and restaurant employees was chartered in Trenton. The following year Local 170 was chartered for Camden County.
World War II, The Second Era Of Expansion
In July of 1942 the U.S. Army leased all the beachfront and side hotels in Atlantic City for use as housing facilities, basic training, and hospitals. Initially this had a negative impact on membership in both locals. However with the presence of the military came a substantial rise in business for smaller establishments easier to organize. Union membership grew substantially during the years in which the army occupied the city. When the army left the city and business shifted back to the larger first class hotels Local’s 508 and 491 formed a Joint Executive Board to negotiate with the Hotels. Gaetano Longo of Local 508 and Pat Kirk of Local 491 successfully negotiated contracts with nine of the city’s largest hotels under the direction of Local 508 President and Business Manager Irving Gould. The organizing drive resulted in substantial wage and benefit increases as well as a large increase in membership of both locals.
Eight new hotels were organized at this time: The Chelsea, The Ritz Carlton, The Ambassador, The Claridge, Brighton Hotel, The Traymore, and The Mayflower. The president Hotel had been under contract for many years and was the sight of the infamous 1935 AFL-CIO Convention where the AFL and CIO split.
William Cullen of Local 508 was the first Secretary of the L.J.E.B. By September of 1947 most of the hotels in Atlantic City and many of the restaurants and bars were unionized. The H.E.R.E. International Convention was held in Atlantic City in April of 1953. The convention was held at the Chelsea Hotel.
Locals 491 and 508 Merged on April 1, 1974 to form what is now Local 54. At the time of the merger Local 491 had about 400 members and Local 508 had just over 1800 members. Local 54’s first officers were:
Jack Brown – President
Frank Gerace – Vice President
Tom Kissick Sec./Treas
April 3 1979 - Local 170 changed to Local 33 and its jurisdiction expanded to Camden, Burlington, and Cumberland Counties.
January 1981 Local 33 merged with Local 54.
March, 1990 Local 741 merged with local 54.
HERE Local 54