Cyrus S. Ching (May 21, 1876 – December 27, 1967) was a Canadian-American who became an American industrialist, federal civil servant, and noted labor unionmediator. He was the first director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) and the Wage Stabilization Board.
Ching was born on his father’s farm in Prince Edward Island, Canada on May 21, 1876. The Chings were of Welsh heritage (the family name was originally spelled Chynge). He was the only boy in a family with eight children.
Ching was educated in a one-room schoolhouse. When he was 16, he was a spectator in a local courtroom, and the experience inspired him to become a lawyer. He attended Prince of Wales College, a college preparatory academy, after a well-off uncle paid for his high school education. He transferred to a local business college and studied bookkeeping and stenography. In 1895, he left Prince Edward Island to work for an Albertangrain elevator company.
On October 31, 1899, Ching moved to Boston, Massachusetts, and took a job as a clerk with the West End Street Railway. He became an instructor, teaching motormen how to operate the new elevated rail cars. In 1901, Ching was nearly electrocuted on the job while repairing a rail car. Although he was expected to be blind and his face heavily scarred for life, he left the hospital after two months with only minimal scar damage to his hands. Since Massachusetts had yet to enact worker’s compensation protection, Ching was fired by the company during his hospitalization. Afterward, however, the company rehired him—this time as a manager, training motormen on the city’s streetcars.
Ching became a naturalized American citizen in 1909. In 1912, he obtained his law degree from the Evening Institute for Younger Men (now Northeastern University). The same year, he married the former Anna MacIntosh. After her death, Ching married Mildred Vergosen.
While working for the public transit system, Ching witnessed the 1912 Boston streetcar strike. Ching had warned management that 11 years of frozen wages, lack of communication and general disregard for workers’ issues would lead to a strike. Management refused to heed his warnings. In June 1912, the Amalgamated Association of Street Car Employees struck the transit system. The Mayor of Boston, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, and the Governor of Massachusetts, Eugene Foss, accused the president of the company of bribing state legislators to obtain favorable treatment. The president resigned, leading to an end to the strike in August 1912. The system’s new president appointed Ching as company negotiator. Ching promised to end the use of management spies, which quickly led to a labor agreement. When the American Federation of Labor (AFL) forced the Amalgamated to give up jurisdiction over 34 separate job titles to various craft unions, Ching consented to the change—and negotiated another 34 labor contracts.
When the United States entered World War I in 1918, Ching attempted to enlist but was turned down because the military refused to induct anyone taller than 6’4″ (Ching was 6’7″). Rather than continue to work for the transit company, Ching went to work for the United States Rubber Company in 1919 as director of industrial relations. U.S. Rubber had 34 subsidiary units, most of which were independent. When employees assisted by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) engaged in a recognition strike at the company’s Dominion Rubber unit in Montreal, Ching convinced both Dominion and U.S. Rubber officials to agree to binding arbitration. The workers subsequently rejected the IWW in favor of affiliating with the AFL. Ching later secured company acquiescence in the formation of workers’ councils in every U.S. Rubber factory. Yet Ching opposed widespread unionization of U.S. Rubber due to the AFL’s insistence on craft unionism.
Unions began forming in the American rubber industry after passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act in June 1933. Goodyear, B. F. Goodrich, and Firestone all were quickly organized by the AFL. But workers at U.S. Rubber remained by and large satisfied with working conditions, and unionization made little inroad among company employees. Ching, however, saw unionization coming. Although the United Rubber Workers (URW) had made few inroads among the company’s workers, Ching met with URW and Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) organizers and arranged for card check elections at U.S. Rubber factories. Unionization of the company proceeded without the acrimony observed at other rubber manufacturers, and contracts were quickly signed.