Auto-Lite Union Book

Hailey Hudzinski

Catalog Number: 2017.071.36

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You may recall the 2016 “Things That Matter” article about the Electric Auto-Lite picket stick that had been signed by 71 employees of the La Crosse Auto-Lite plant.

In January 1956, employees went on strike after the company proposed a policy change concerning the dismissal of employees. The strike resulted in workers and management having two meetings with the U.S. Mediation and Conciliation Service. An agreement was reached, and the strikers returned to work after 11 days.

Last year, the La Crosse County Historical Society received a donated Auto-Lite union book along with an I.D. card. The artifacts were donated by Marlin Schneider, who was a member of the Wisconsin Assembly and represented the 72nd District from 1970 to 2010. The union book and I.D. card belonged to his mother, Elva Schneider, who worked for Auto-Lite for 24 years.

Her donated I.D. card was issued in 1942; however, she already had worked there for several years before then and stayed with the company until it closed its La Crosse plant in 1959. During her time at Auto-Lite, Schneider worked in the voltage regulator department.

The Auto-Lite union book is dated Jan. 18, 1959. The book was issued to employees three years after the strike and contained information such as regulations, rules and guidelines. However, the union book’s use was short-lived, as news broke of the company’s plan to close the La Crosse plant in May 1959.

The company announced July 3 as the official date of closure for the La Crosse plant. The closure affected more than 1,200 hourly and salaried employees. At the time, Auto-Lite had been “the city’s second-leading employer, trailing only the Trane Co.,” according to a La Crosse Tribune article from May 9, 1959.

Auto-Lite assisted employees in finding new work by providing a placement bureau at the plant in the months before closure. After the plant’s closure, former employees found work in a variety of places in the city.

Some former employees chose to open their own businesses — one such business was La Cro, which was created in 1959 by several former Auto-Lite employees. The company is still in operation today as a custom wire and harness assembler. Other former employees, including Elva Schneider, found work in established businesses in La Crosse. Schneider was employed by Artmar Inc. in the 1970s and Community Health Options Inc. in the 1980s and 1990s.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on March 24, 2018.

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