Finck Cigar Company roller and mold

Cigar workers strike for better work conditions

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Workers at Finck Cigar Company in San Antonio hand rolled cigars using rollers and molds like the examples seen here. Workers used the crank handle machine to roll tobacco leaves into cigars more quickly and accurately. Filler tobacco leaves were bunched with binder leaves, rolled into a cigar, and placed in wooden molds. A wrapper tobacco leaf was then rolled onto the cigar and a small swatch of tobacco was applied as a cap on the end.

In August 1933, an estimated 400 Mexican American women working for the Finck Cigar Company went on strike. They called for wages and quotas in line with national codes for cigar workers as well as better and safer working conditions. Workers were paid by the cigar, known as piecework, and were not paid for extra “penalty” cigars. Finck employees were given a set amount of tobacco to roll 500 cigars. Cigar gauges were used to measure the length and diameter of cigars, ensuring they were uniform in size and, therefore, used approximately the same amount of tobacco. For every one cigar that did not meet size or quality standards, rollers had to roll three penalty cigars. One of the strikers’ complaints was that Finck would label cigars imperfect — therefore requiring them to roll penalty cigars for which they were not paid — but then sell the so-called imperfect cigars to customers as good cigars.

Under the leadership of Mrs. W. H. Ernst, Adela Hernandez, Modesta Herrera, and Mrs. E. J. Padilla, the group unionized, forming a local chapter of the International Cigar Workers Union.

The thirty-day strike came to an end after a deal promised a pay increase, improved working conditions, and allowed strikers to be rehired. Finck did not honor the deal and fired new employees suspected to be union members. Employees went on strike several more times between 1933 and 1935, but few improvements were made.

The Finck Cigar Company strikes were the first in a number of women-led strikes by Mexican American laborers in San Antonio in the 1930s.

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Finck Cigar Company roller and mold Artifact from San Antonio
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