Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW
Local 338 was established in 1925 by a group of young men who set out to change conditions they experienced first-hand while working in the grocery stores. They received support from many organizations, including the United Hebrew Trades Council (UHTC), a Jewish Labor Federation. The union’s first office was located on the Lower East Side in Manhattan and was lent to us by the Teamsters.
Local 338’s goal to organize non-union workers has held true throughout our history. In 1937, our president Samuel Wolchok helped to make this a reality when he founded the Retail Wholesale Department Store Union (RWDSU) – an organization that set out to change the conditions for retail workers across all industries and across the country.
The 1940’s brought great changes for our country and for our union. Our members saw many strikes and walked many picket lines, winning union elections and gaining greater access to the American Dream. In September of 1941 our first constitution was adopted by the membership. It set forth guidelines for the membership and the leadership to help the union grow.
When America was forced to cut back on social services due to WWII expenses, Local 338’s concern was over the stability and future of its membership. In May of 1941, Local 338’s Health and Welfare Fund was established. In the first month, four hundred members applied, taking advantage of health coverage and signing up for the security of the death benefit, both a first for their time.
Many of our members served in the Armed Forces during WWII and Local 338 did our best to support the troops, sending supplies overseas and purchasing war bonds to help ease the burden of America’s expenses. Correspondence could be maintained with our soldiers through the newspaper, 338 News, which in 1941 was celebrating its first year in production. By 1942 our membership was celebrating the gains won in their first contracts with Waldbaum’s supermarkets.
During the post-war years, the union grew alongside the American economy. In 1952 the pension fund was established and in 1958 the optical benefit was created. Additionally, Local 338 members began to benefit from a dental plan, which was established in 1965.
Local 338 was on the forefront of the Civil Rights movement and was amongst the first unions to have people of color in positions of leadership at a time when segregation was rampant. In December of 1961, Martin Luther King Jr. visited the RWDSU Chicago Joint Board to speak on the shared issues faced by workers and African Americans.
The RWDSU, with Local 338 included, were the first unions to negotiate MLK Jr.’s birthday as a paid holiday for its members. It was a token of our respect for the life of Dr. King, who was assassinated on the front lines of a sanitation worker strike in Tennessee.
Local 338 has always been an active player in the communities we serve. Since the 1940’s we have pledged our support and raised money for charities such as the American Red Cross. Under the leadership of president Emanuel Laub in the early 1980’s, the union began contributing time and funds to children’s charities such as the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation.
Though being a part of the community also comes with serious responsibilities. When the stability of our world was threatened by the attacks on September 11th, current president John Durso and Local 338 took immediate action, collecting so much food and supplies that a small warehouse was needed for storage. A blood drive in partnership with the New York Blood Center, now an annual event, was established, honoring the service men and women who lost their lives on that frightful day. Even through the most trying of times, the union has proven that with strength and unity, we can persevere.
In 1999 John Durso was elected as President of the union and in 2005 he became the leader of the AFL-CIO Long Island Federation of Labor, one of the largest central labor councils in the United States. In 2006 our membership grew as 2800 workers from Duane Reade Pharmacies joined our ranks. In the 2000’s Local 338 partnered with many community organizations, helping to bring a voice to undocumented workers who have been exploited while working in the food retail sector.
Over the past few years, Local 338 has led many political and legislative efforts, including advocating for the passage of the Compassionate Care Act, which legalizes medical marijuana in New York State and will provide relief for those suffering from a number of debilitating and life-threatening diseases. In addition, we have been a part of campaigns centered on item pricing, wage theft protections and living wage provisions, which ensure that working people are able to provide for their families.
Today, we proudly represent over 15,000 working men and women. Our vision to better the lives of our members and all working people relies upon the unity and strength of our entire membership. The continued strength of our Local depends on you, our members, who are and always have been the foundation of our strength.