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125 Years Strong – An IUOE History

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Celebrating the 125th Anniversary of the founding of the International Union of Operating Engineers


INTERNATIONAL UNION OF OPERATING ENGINEERS “Namely, to rescue our craft from the low level to which it has fallen, and by mutual effort to endeavor to place ourselves on a foundation sufficiently strong to resist further encroachment.” More-precise motives behind the establishment of the union are further provided in The Operating Engineers: The Economic History of a Trade Union written in 1964 by Professor Garth L. Mangum. “The International Union of Steam Engineers was formed by the confluence of three groups of steam engineers,” he wrote. “Those who became disillusioned with the policies of the National Association of Stationary Engineers and organized independent local trade unions; brewery engineers who withdrew from the brewery workers union because they found their problems and interests distinctive from those of the other brewery employees; and the hoisting engineers who found organization of independent local unions necessary to fit into the well-organized structure of the building trades.” To those ends, the 11 engineers from eight locals in Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan and Colorado who first met on December 7, 1896, dispatched their three delegates to the A.F.L. convention in Cincinnati the following week to petition for a charter. Representing nearly 400 engineers, brothers DeLong, Smales and Tomsen, joined by Brother Lyon, prepared the application during their meeting on December 18 and submitted it to the A.F.L., which would grant a charter to the N.U.S.E. on May 7, 1897. Although the differences between the three trades constituting the new engineers’ union were often greater than their similarities, the common denominator amongst them was the steam engine. Hence, the name “National Union of Steam Engineers” was chosen simply because steam was practically the only source of power at that time and was utilized almost exclusively by all of the union’s membership. Having officially established the first representative body of practical steam engineers in the country, the N.U.S.E. began granting charters to its local unions. The charter for Local No. 1 was issued to the Brotherhood of Steam Engineers of Denver on June 23, 1897, after which the group from St. Louis was designated Local No. 2; Chicago was designated Local No. 3 and was the largest with 40 charter members; Boston was designated Local No. 4 and was the only hoisting and portable organization; Detroit was designated Local No. 5; and Kansas City, Missouri, was designated Local No. 6. The N.U.S.E. then held that first convention under the A.F.L. charter on August 9, 10 and 11, 1897, in A. Delabar’s Saloon and Hall at 504 Market Street in St. Louis. During the proceedings, the union chose its first elected officers: Brother Frank Bowker of Boston, president; Brother Frank Pfohl of Syracuse, first vice president; Brother Samuel L. Bennett of Kansas City, second vice president; Brother C. J. Frealig of Detroit, secretary; and Brother Smales of Denver, treasurer. The convention also adopted a Declaration of Principles, through which delegates declared that a reduction of hours for a day’s work “increases the intelligence and happiness of the laborer” and vowed to secure a higher standard of wages for its members. With the proclamation, among other decrees the delegates also recognized that the “interests of all classes of labor are identical;” objected to prison contract labor; urged adoption of a national, uniform license law for engineers; pledged to support the A.F.L.; endorsed the union label; and urged “intelligent voting.” Before the end of 1897, the first Canadian locals joined the union, expanding its jurisdiction across the northern border and prompting the Members of International Union of Steam Engineers Local No. 66 of Pittsburgh pose during the city’s Labor Day celebration in 1905, during which they also participated in a parade. union to change its name to the International Union of Steam Engineers of America. Shortly after, however, its General Executive Board shortened that to the International Union of Steam Engineers (I.U.S.E.), and on December 17, 1897, at the A.F.L. convention, the union received permission to officially revise its name. Initial Trials, Organizing Effort While the fledgling I.U.S.E. was firmly established on paper, throughout its first decade of existence, the union was little more than a loose association of a few strong and many weak self-governing local unions. What’s more, as The Economic History of a Trade Union points out, from the time of its founding until 1940, the dual nature of the organization’s membership, brought together almost solely by their common utilization of steam, made it “essentially two unions in one an organization of stationary engineers and a building trades union of operating engineers. In both branches, it was strictly a craft organization.” Early on, the union was dominated by its stationary engineers, who operated immobile steam engines that produced heat, electric power and refrigeration in large commercial buildings, factories and breweries. (1) It also included a much smaller portable membership of factory employees, marine engineers, operators at mines and workers in the building trades although The Economic History of a Trade Union notes, “The building and construction industry eventually became its mainstay, though the stationary engineers remain an important segment of the union’s membership.” After President Bowker passed away while in office on January 1, 1898, and First Vice- President Pfohl assumed the presidency, the union began to rapidly grow in membership and, to some degree, prominence. As of that date, the I.U.S.E. had a total of 788 members, with Local 1 thought to be its largest local with 200 members, the July 1902 International Steam Engineer reported. Less than five years later, by October 1902 the union consisted of 166 local unions from coast to coast totaling more than 19,000 members in good standing (that is, any person who has fulfilled the requirements for membership in the organization, including payment of required union dues and fees). However, the membership growth during the union’s first half decade was primarily the result of independent local unions coming into the international. (1) The I.U.S.E. made its first earnest attempts to organize new members and bring existing LABOR OMNIA VINCIT WORK CONQUERS ALL

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