I came into this union not wanting to. I had been fired from my last job for joining a union.
To collect unemployment, you had to look for a job. So they sent me for an interview with the Housing Authority for a job in accounting. I started work with the Housing Authority on July 11, 1941 as a cashier. It was called NCR operator at the time.
Vladeck Houses was my undoing. That’s where I met Max Maurer. The maintenance men were in the union and they had gotten a raise. Not only were they getting a raise--they were getting it retroactive. Do you know what retroactive means? It means all their wives got mink stoles. I said, That sounds good to me.
Max told me, You have to join the union. I said, Are you crazy? I work for the city. What do I need a union for? We get raises every year. (Excuse me, they were called increments.) And if we did something really outstanding, we could get a $20 bonus.
Max kept working on me, and he wore me down. Finally he said he would introduce me to Barry Feinstein [president of Local 237 after Bill Lewis]. Barry gave me a hard time, too. He pushed me to get signatures for recognition. Next thing you know, I was out getting signatures.
There was nothing better than negotiations. I was the only woman in the room. One time we were negotiating with Simeon Golar. [then chaairman of NYCHA] Simeon Golar was very tall; I came up to his armpit. Barry used to lose his temper, and the language wasn’t the best. At one point, Simeon said to Barry and the other men, There’s a lady in the room. Watch your language. I raised my hand and said, Excuse me, Mr. Golar. In this room, I am not a woman. In this room I am one of the men. And don’t forget it. Barry became ten feet tall, and Simeon became five feet tall, shorter than me.
This interview was conducted at Local 237's Founders Day in 1998.
Hercules Cornish went to work for the Housing Authority as a caretaker J in 1952 and retired 24 years later as a stores worker. He died the year following this interview, which was conducted in June 1999.
Originally I was from Harlem, but when I came out of the service in 1945 my wife had moved to the Bronx, so I moved there, too. I went to work for the New York City Housing Authority in 1952.