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Documenting Labor Inside and Out
Archives and Labor Records

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Local Negotiations Settlement Agreement, September 15, 1987
Portion of page 2, Local Negotiations Settlement Agreement Ford Motor Company Green Island Plant, September 15, 1987 (Records of UAW Local 930).
The agreement between Ford Motor Company's Green Island Plant and Local 930 of the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) dated September 15, 1987, included a provision to provide the president of Local 930 with a private office. Other unions maintain office space outside the work place. Yet regardless of where the office is located, all unions are faced with dealing with their records--and what happens to them when either the work place office or the outside office is outgrown or when the officer responsible for keeping the records is voted out of office or leaves the union. Too often in such situations, records are discarded, misplaced, go with the officer, rather than remaining with the union, only to end up being stored in the basement or attic of a house where they are at risk of theft and environmental hazards such as heat, humidity, and insect infestation. As a result, much of the labor movement is undocumented or significant gaps exist in the records that survive.

Union records face similar risks when two or more locals merge into one. What happens to the records of the local being absorbed by another? They may be discarded or end up with an officer of the former local. And what about when a plant closes and a local disbands? Although the president of UAW Local 930 was provided with an office at the Green Island Plant, when Ford Motor Company closed that plant in the late 1980s, Local 930's office closed as well. Its records would have been lost but for the Capital District Labor History Project. As a result, Local 930's historical records are now stored at an archival repository and are available for research.

Unprocessed records, Helen Quirini Papers, 2001 Records come to an archival repository in varying degrees of organization, such as these unprocessed records from the Helen Quirini Papers.
Processed records, Helen Quirini Papers, 2001 During processing records are put into acid-free folders and boxes. Each folder is labeled with the collection name and with information about the folder's contents, such as these records from the Helen Quirini Papers. Click on the image to see a close-up view of the folders in this box.

An archival repository (also called an archive) is a place where historical records can be stored and used. With secure, climate-controlled storage space, an archive protects records from loss and environmental threats. Once the records are at the archives, the staff processes each collection and makes sure that the records, whether they be paper documents, video and audio tapes, photographs, three-dimensional artifacts, or any other type of material, are properly boxed and stored to ensure their longevity.

Finding Aid, Helen Quirini Papers, 2001
The finding aid for the Helen Quirini Papers, along with a few boxes from that collection.

A finding aid is also created during the processing of each collection. The finding aid describes the records in the collection, including the size of the collection (how many boxes are in the collection) and how the records are organized. The finding aid also summarizes the history of the organization, or, in the case of personal papers, includes a short biography. With the help of an archivist and the finding aid, researchers can determine which collections contain materials of interest to them. When collections are used at an archives the archivist also makes sure that fragile materials are handled carefully and kept in order, and ensures that copyright and privacy considerations are properly handled.

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Digital Exhibit created by Cynthia K. Sauer, Consultant, and Brian Keough, Head, 2002
Copyright 2002 M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections & Archives
Comments to bkeough@uamail.albany.edu