A Message from the President
On behalf of Local 39 Executive Board and staff, I want to wish fellow members and your families a safe and happy holiday season. I also want to thank all of you for the work you do every day helping our union achieve our collective goal of creating work environments where people are valued for who they are and properly rewarded for what they do.
At this time of year, it’s appropriate to look back, take stock in our lives and show some appreciation and gratitude to all the folks who may have helped us along the way. In that spirit, I want to go way back and thank Edward Filene.
Folks outside of our CUNA Mutual or CUNA Inc. units might not recognize the name Edward Filene, but when it comes to Unions his legacy has relevance to us all. By most accounts, Edward Filene is considered the founder of the Credit Union movement. But long before his work advocating Credit Unions over other financial institutions began, he’d already gained a reputation as being a socially minded, progressive entrepreneur.
As co-owner of “Filene’s” – a family owned “bargain basement” clothing store – he helped implement an innovative business model that catered not to well-to-do Bostonians but to that city’s working class. For a time that even included a unique mark-down strategy that for the store’s most patient customers resulted in getting unsold merchandise for free. For years the store didn’t break even, but over time its sales grew to rival such retail giants as Macy’s and Marshall Fields.
Filene’s progressive principles extended to his employees and the broader community as well. In 1889, nearly five decades before the Wagner Act gave workers the right to organize, Filene chartered the Filene Cooperative Association (FCA) as a separate, employee-run organization that allowed the store’s workers to advocate for better working conditions. And in 1919 he founded The Co-operative League, now known as The Century Foundation, to advance a host of progressive domestic and foreign policy issues.
The FCA gave workers greater participation in and control over business operations, which Filene believed increased both productivity and profit. By the 1890s, the store had established a minimum wage while its workers were receiving sick-leave and other benefits, as well as conducting meetings to discuss work related issues.
Today the Filene name graces both a conference room at the corporate office in Madison and Filene Research Institute, an organization dedicated to creating knowledge and developing strategies that will continue to move credit unions forward. But his spirit is perhaps best captured in the work of The Century Foundation, one of the oldest public policy organizations in the world, and a legacy to his commitment to social justice and commitment to workers’ rights.
It’s hard to find many Edward Filene’s in the corporate world today, certainly fewer who’d value their business enough to trust giving employees an autonomous voice at work. But Filene trusted his employees. That’s a rare gift today and a legacy worth celebrating – better yet, a story worth sharing this holiday season.