The United Labor Agency was formed in 1971 in Cleveland, Ohio by the Cleveland AFL-CIO, the United Auto Workers, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, an important act of solidarity by the three union organizations. They created a non-profit that could address social issues outside of collective bargaining agreements.
The early ULA provided information and referral services to union members, conducted Union Counselor Training classes, which taught union members the value of community health and social service agencies and how those agencies could benefit a union member experiencing problems, and organized a Durable Medical Equipment program around the need for portable kidney dialysis machines. The DME program quickly grew to over 600 pieces of equipment including hospital beds, oxygen machines, walkers, crutches and wheelchairs, and became a mainstay of ULA programming for decades.
From there the agency rapidly expanded and broadened its mission to include the entire community. Within its first decade the agency grew to include: strike assistance which disseminated information and benefits to striking workers; a consumer complaint service for community members who experienced problems when purchasing merchandise or services; a female ex-offenders program and residential center, dedicated to introducing ex-offenders back into society; a manpower and training program that focused on vocational skills and placement into full-time employment; a youth employment services program that offered counseling, training and placement for young people ; a juvenile justice program to provide rehabilitative services for youth ages 12-19; and the construction of a 150 suite Section 8 apartment building for seniors and disabled persons that became known as United Labor Towers in Brunswick, Ohio.
The ULA had become a major social service institution, continuing its core programs and experimenting with new program designs. We became one of the first Youthbuild pilot programs, which led to the formation of the program as a line item first in the Department of Housing and Urban Development and later in the Department of Labor. Youthbuild helps disadvantaged youth turn their lives around through intensive education and construction training. Subsequently, the ULA became a part of several Youthbuild implementation grants.
In 1976 the agency formed a volunteer committee known as the Cultural Arts Committee to encourage labor participation in the cultural arts. As a result of the committee, labor gained a voice in the decision-making of cultural arts institution as well as provided a vehicle to produce its own cultural events. Highlights over the decades include: an original theater production called John L. Lewis, Disciple of Discontent by James A. Brown, which starred Robert Lansing; a photographic essay and book called Strength Enough by Robert Dorksen; a bi-annual art show called The Worker As Artist; and the creation of a discount card for unemployed workers that provided free tickets to cultural events for workers between jobs. In recent years the ULA has taken a sponsorship role in organizations or individuals producing art consistent with the mission of the agency. The ULA will always look for opportunities to tell the stories of the working class and engage union members in cultural arts activities.
In recent years the ULA has focused its energies on workforce development, assisting unemployed and underemployed workers in finding new or better careers. We have recently completed a five year program in which the ULA assisted the State of Ohio in reorganizing its Rapid response services, reintroducing the proven methods of peer support, transition centers, and labor-management committees to workers affected by a layoff. (For more about our current services see the links at the top of this page) In addition the ULA has played an instrumental role in the development of other non-profits in their start-up phase. We were the first funder of Policy Matters Ohio and provided office space during its first year of organization. We helped create the Community Hiring Hall with other local social services organizations to address the problem of the exploitation of day labors. We provided early administrative support to UCIP-ASAP, a pre-apprenticeship program that provides minorities and women direct entry into the building trades. We housed the Greater Cleveland Voter Coalition, a dedicated group of volunteers concerned with voter access initiatives and Digital Vision, an organization formed to address access to the internet in low-income communities.