Glenn, Elinor (audio interview #1 of 2)
Elinor Glenn(5549 - )
Sherna Berger Gluck, interviewer
2/7/1986 12:00:00 AM
Individual Labor Activists
SUBJECT BIO - Elinor Marshall Glenn was a key organizer of public employees in Los Angeles, eventually becoming a leader of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Los Angeles. Born in Brooklyn, the third of four children, Glenn cut her eye teeth as an activist while a student at NYU, organizing a protest against one of her professors. After graduation, she taught English and remedial reading in a WPA-funded program, and became the vice-president of her WPA Teacher's Union Local. At the same time, she pursued her interest in acting, working in WPA theater projects. Pursuing her acting aspirations, Glenn moved to Los Angeles with her first husband in 1944. To earn money, she worked with the Office of Price Administration (OPA), and moved up the ranks of the National Federation of Federal Employees Local from steward to chief steward. When the Local merged with several state, city, and county locals, she was elected president of UPW (United Public Workers), Local 246, a position she held until 1945-6, when she began to work as an organizer-representative at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital. Continuing to pursue her interest in acting, Glenn joined an acting troupe that performed in union halls. This experience made her realize that "she was on the wrong side of the footlights," and she began her union career in earnest. After successfully organizing and handling grievances at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, she began to organize workers at the other Los Angeles County hospitals. Over the years, she organized workers at Harbor General, LA County General and Olive View Hospitals. The 1953 merger with SEIU Local 347 set the SEIU on a path to become a major West Coast union power. Later Glenn obtained a charter for Local 434, and eventually became the General Manager of that Local. As a leader of 434, she helped forge major gains for county workers, including a collective bargaining ordinance in 1969. Glenn was elected to the SEIU International Executive Board in 1972; and in 1974, she became one of the founders of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW). Although she retired in 1979, she remained active in the union, and was still active in 2003, when we met again. Seventeen years after our original 1986 interviews, I contacted Glenn to discuss launching her oral history on the VOAHA site. During our visits, she began to reveal more details of her personal biography (which helped to flesh out this biographical sketch) and she was more inclined to record these. Plans are in the works to record additional interviews with her, covering both her earlier life and her SEIU work since the 1960s (which was the end point of the original 1986 interviews.) Note: The UCLA Oral History Program conducted an oral history with Glenn in recent years and produced a transcript, which she recently reviewed.
INTERVIEW DESCRIPTION - This first of two interviews with Elinor Glenn was conducted sitting at the dining room table in her comfortable North Hollywood home. Although she was warm and friendly and talked about herself in conversation before the interview, she was reluctant to record too many personal details of her biography. Rather as the interview begins, she launches immediately into a discussion of her union activities.
TOPICS - formation of UPW Local 246; officer, Local 246; organizer-representative for UPW; sexism; Rancho Los Amigos workers response to her; work force demographics at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital; organizing tactics and strategies; grievances at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital; racial segregation; CIO influence; formation of the union at the LA County General Hospital; racism at LACoGH; Charlotta Bass; demographics of workers; physical setting of general hospital; and organizing tactics;organizing and representing LACoGH; UPS membership; role of custodians in UPW; Supervisor John Anson Ford's assistance; public opinion towards UPW and CIO in 1940s; representing grievances at LACoGH; racial discrimination; working conditions and corruption in laundry facility; grievance procedures and negotiations to improve conditions in the laundry facility; Kenneth Hahn; CIO Council; union dues; and increase in membership among skilled, semi-skilled, and blue-collar employees;
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*** File: lheglenn1.mp3
Audio Segments and Topics:
(0:00-0:50)... This segment consists of a brief introduction by the interviewer.
(0:50-5:25)... Glenn moved up the ranks of the National Federation of Federal Employees Local from steward to chief steward. When the local merged with several state, city, and county locals, she was elected president of UPW (United Public Workers), Local 246. When she later applied for the job of organizer and representative, the general manager of the union told her that the working conditions were not appropriate for a woman and she would not be accepted as a representative. She convinced him to give her ninety days to prove otherwise. She describes the reaction of the hospital employees at Rancho Los Amigos when he announced that she would be their new organizer and representative.
(5:25-6:52)... The hospital employees that Glenn represented at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital were predominantly White women employed as laboratory technicians, hospital attendants, licensed vocational nurses, kitchen and laundry workers, custodians, and sewing operators. The few Black employees were mainly in custodial positions. Glenn recalls that the employees were a tight-knit group owing in part to the fact that many resided on the hospital premises.
(6:52-8:46)... Once Glenn assumed a staff position with the union in 1945-46, she was required to step down as president of Local 246. Her assignment was to organize hospital employees at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital and represent their grievances. Since there were no guidelines, Glenn and the stewards worked together to design their own system, basing it on classical in-plant committees. These later became the model for other organizers. Glenn discusses some of the organizers she worked with as well as the rank and file women members from the south and southwest who believed that the union "was the only family to protect [employees] against them against being alone and vulnerable."
(8:46-15:03)... Glenn discusses her organizing methods. Hospital employees understood the "power of unions" after observing how unions represented auto and steel workers in the community. They also knew that to be effective they would have to be affiliated with the CIO. In addition to monetary issues, grievances revolved around working conditions, injuries, and hospital policies. The first grievance committee she organized worked to change the seating policies in the hospital dining room at Rancho Los Amigos. In addition to seating Black employees at a separate table, single employees were not allowed to dine with married employees. When Glenn explained to employees that racial segregation in the hospital also would be eradicated through this process, they agreed that it was necessary. The grievance committee met with the director of the hospital.
(15:03-15:41)... In addition to organizing and representing Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, Glenn also organized Harbor General Hospital and Medical Center. She did not handle any grievances at this hospital, she only organized employees. Her organizing efforts went well because "the place was crying for it."
(15:41-17:35)... Discussing the efforts to eliminate segregation in the dining facility at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, Glenn notes that the grievance committee informed the hospital director that they were planning to contact the NAACP and the CIO Council. He immediately desegregated the hospital dining room following the meeting.
(17:35-20:43)... In discussing how she handled grievances at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, Glenn explains that during negotiations she would allude to going to the CIO Council for assistance. In other words, she used the affiliation with the CIO as leverage. Most of the grievances she handled during her ninety-day probationary period involved equitable treatment issues. They won the majority of these cases because hospital administrators knew that the union was supported by the CIO, as well as respected by the Board of Supervisors. She believes that the outcome of these grievances would have [not*] been the same had they been formally reviewed by an outside arbitrator. * insertion by narrator in reviewing the summary
(20:43-21:39)... At the end of her ninety-day probationary period, Glenn held a meeting and informed the hospital employees that the general manager would be out to discuss whether or not they wanted to keep her as their organizer and representative. Even before that meeting, the workers has asked her to stay on, and she was hired as a permanent staff member of the union. The hospitals she covered were Rancho Los Amigos, Harbor General and OliveView.
(21:39-26:49)... Glenn provides a brief history regarding the unionization of the general hospitals which was spearheaded by Blemberk Belfry, a Black custodian, and Iona Wheeler, an Anglo social worker who were outraged by the "corruption, the mistreatment of patients, the exploitation of the workers, and the denial of their rights...." The two of them met with their colleagues and they decided to call in Glenn's Local to organize the hospital. She describes the physical setting of the hospital and how she went about organizing the employees, who were mainly Black women. Their supervisors were White. Glenn notes that later, during WWII, Charlotta Bass's community struggle led to more opportunities for Blacks in hospital services. Glenn also discusses the state of affairs at the hospital when she began organizing employees there.
(26:49-28:03)... Glenn continues to discuss the methods that she and her fellow organizers developed when they organized employees at the General Hospital. End of tape.
*** File: lheglenn2.mp3
(0:00-0:35)... Glenn discusses race and job discrimination at the LA County General Hospital, focusing on the inequitable wage classifications that were in place when she began organizing there.
(0:35-4:21)... Glenn organized workers at General Hospital during their lunch break or rest periods. Initially, she attempted to organize both the day and night shifts, but soon realized that night employees were in no mood to talk at the end of their shift. Instead, she concentrated on the day shift and had stewards from those shifts organize night employees. She describes her organizing techniques, indicating that employees were extremely responsive because they believed the union would improve their working conditions and their status in the hospital. Talking about the corruption at the hospital, she comments that the custodial supervisor treated his employees like plantation slaves.
(4:21-5:38)... When she first began organizing the General Hospital, there were approximately seventy employees at the hospital who were already members of Local 246. Within two or three years, the membership increased to 700. After they affiliated with the Building Services Union, the total membership in the union was 3,000.
(5:38-8:07)... When Glenn organized men in their rest area, they put a sheet or a blanket on a line and she spoke on one side of it while the men changed on the other side. The custodians, the kitchen staff, and the ambulance drivers were the easiest employees to organize. Indeed, she notes that the "custodians and the ambulance drivers were the heart and soul of the leadership of the union." Initially, the hospital stewards were predominantly custodians, but the women attendants got more involved later [and became stewards and leaders*]. * inserted by narrator
(8:07-9:46)... Initially, Glenn's responsibilities were to organize the staff at General Hospital. Once she developed a membership base and elected stewards, she began assuming a representative role and handling grievances. The grievances at the hospital were difficult because "there was racial discrimination showering you at every moment and the white level of supervision and administration was violently anti-union and anti-black."
(9:46-15:54)... When Glenn's attempt to organize the first union meeting at the hospital was thwarted by management, she went to the CIO Council. During this period, public opinion about the CIO was negative and their activities were frequently front page news. She was advised by the CIO Council to inform the hospital director, Leroy Bruce, that Board of Supervisors member, John Ford, would be at the meeting. Bruce then granted Glenn permission to hold a meeting in the hospital. He attended the meeting and when he mentioned that he would be at future meetings, Glenn told him that was against union policy. There were approximately 100 people at the meeting, during which they discussed their grievances, wage demands, and union protocol. At the time, union dues were collected by stewards. Union dues check off did not occur until the merger in 1953.
(15:54-22:16)... The grievances at General Hospital revolved around wages, working conditions, and job reclassifications. One of the first grievances she successfully negotiated involved the laundry facility. There was widespread corruption and deplorable working conditions. Major West, a laundry worker, gave her a tour of the facility. By his introducing her to the other workers, she was not viewed as a White oppressor like the laundry supervisors. West was the only worker who agreed to sit on the [first*] grievance committee with Glenn. She talks about West's sister (later identified as Leona Crane) who was revered by her co-workers for her moral and religious instruction, stating that she "was the conscience of the union for many years." Glenn characterizes her as the conscience of the union.
(22:16-24:10)... Glenn continues to discuss the grievance negotiations to improve the working conditions in the laundry facility of General Hospital and the support that she received from Kenneth Hahn. During this period, she received a lot of press for her activities [and was successful in getting exposure for union tactics like sit-ins*]. * inserted by narrator
(24:10-26:06)... Glenn organized and initiated grievance proceedings in the laundry facility prior to the union merger (with Building Services). Before dues check off, dues were collected only sporadically, which mean that the number of active members varied on a monthly basis. However, the members were loyal to the union regardless if their dues were in arrears, participating in strikes and sick-outs when called on. After her success with the laundry facility, the UPW's reputation led to increased membership among skilled, semi-skilled, and blue-collar employees.
(26:06-27:21)... Workers in the laundry facility did not complain when the corruption ended. Many of them were active in community and religious groups and did not want to be associated with an immoral workplace. End of tape.
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