Tuesday, March 1, 2016

This Month in Rochester History

Half a century ago this month, the citizens of Rochester were watching a labor dispute play out on Main Street.  In March 1966, workers at the Jim Robbins Seat Belt Company plant located in the old Yates Machine Works building on South Main staged a wildcat walk-out.  The Rochester facility was one of several locations of the Jim Robbins Company, which was headquartered in Royal Oak. The labor action in Rochester was called to protest what the employees called unbearable working conditions, and was not authorized by their union leadership.  It was followed the next week by a vote of the 200 workers calling for a sanctioned strike.

An authorized strike action began in May, two days after workers learned that the company owner Jim Robbins planned to close the plant and move the work to one of his southern locations. Employees picketed the plant on South Main Street to protest the move and their working conditions, but Robbins remained firm about closing the Rochester location.  He was also quoted in the Detroit Free Press as saying that the workforce at the Rochester plant was mostly "hot-headed working wives to whom the strike is a lark," and further commented that he did not believe that many of the women who worked in his Rochester factory "needed" the money from their jobs.

The company owner followed through with his decision to close the Rochester plant, and it never opened again after the strike. Owner Robbins, along with his wife and son, were killed in September 1966 in a private plane crash in South Dakota.