The Union Label Department develops this poster identifying the many AFL-CIO affiliated unions. Many of these union labels have a long and storied history.


Since late 2012 the Union Label Department has been featuring information on modern day union labels in our bimonthly newsletter, the Label Letter. You can learn about some of these labels in our “Spotlight the Label” features posted online and in our newsletter.

The Union Label

The first genuine union labels in America began cropping up in the mid 19th Century as early craft unions began what would become a decades-long struggle for a shorter workweek. In 1869, the Carpenters Union launched an 8-hour day campaign with the union’s emblem affixed to any mill products from companies that had agreed to the 8-hour day. Cigar Makers, in 1874 adopted a label to differentiate their product, ironically, combating an influx of made-in-China cigars. Advertisements accompanying that campaign reflect a poor choice of words from a 20th century point of view, prominently noting that the union’s cigars were then crafted by “White Men.”

In 1881, along with the birth of the American Federation of Labor came the clasped hands symbol that has lasted, with only minor alterations, until today.

These and other facts about the label movement are thoroughly discussed in “Signs of Unity: Stories and Symbols of the American Labor Movement,” a book by Kim Munson.

As Ms. Munson explains in her research “the symbols and messages contained in these logos have changed due to union mergers, economic transformations, changes in the political climate, and cultural/societal trends in general.” Our goal is to educate the general population about the modern day labels they may see today.