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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 Members of Ladies’ Auxiliary No. 6, which was affiliated with International Union of Steam and Operating Engineers Local No. 68 of Newark, New Jersey, pose during their Christmas party on December 27, 1917. Ladies’ auxiliaries were often operated by the wives and girlfriends of I.U.O.E. members to support the social, charitable and community functions of their respective locals into the early 1970s. President Comerford substantiated and conveyed through correspondence and official reports any positive outlook of the I.U.S.E in July 1912 when he conducted a cross-country journey and visited with multiple locals. In particular, the president noted that in Portland and Spokane, Washington, he found “a band of brave fellows in our organization there, and with the new young blood which has been imparted to the life of the locals, the future looks safe.” He also eagerly announced that union engineers working on a five-story building under construction in Seattle were being paid per day while non-union engineers in the vicinity were receiving only . Then during the union’s annual convention beginning September 9, 1912, in St. Paul, Minnesota, after the general membership had earlier voted by referendum in favor of instituting a long-discussed Death Benefit Fund, a committee submitted a list of insurance plans through which the fund could be established. In September the following year, the union’s General Executive Board presented four options to the membership, from which, as a whole, it would select a provider for the new benefit. Delegates to the convention also adopted amendments to the constitution that would allow the union to better sanction the admission of apprentice engineers into its membership, thereby overhauling, as an essay in the January 1913 International Steam Engineer described it, “the most haphazard way in the past that our general body has been able to bestow any consideration at all on the channels through which men have been admitted into the practice of the engineers’ calling.” With the new statutes, the union would be able to exercise more control over applicants for membership in regard to their training and experience, about which the article proclaimed, “This is one of the foremost requirements to protecting our organization and promoting its usefulness to its membership as well as to the craft.” Reflecting on all of the actions and accomplishments of the 1912 convention, the essay lauded the entirety of the engineers’ union organization for making those vital strides possible: “They are not the result of last year’s work or the work of any given year. They are the necessary fruits of the work which has been done all throughout the years of the existence of the I.U.S.E., and every member in good standing of the organization has borne his part in producing them just as surely, if not just as effectively, as has the highest officer or the most influential member of our body.” The steam-engineering industry itself was also progressing, with internal-combustion engines powered by gasoline and diesel fuel already beginning to dominate the trades. Steam shovels, for instance, evolved in 1911 into full-swing power shovels that were lighter and more versatile and more mobile, and the gas-powered shovel was becoming the mainstay for heavy-equipment operators. On his cross-country trip in the summer of 1912, President Comerford noticed a large number of portable steam-powered hoisting engines in a scrap heap in San Francisco, having been replaced by electric motors and gasoline engines. He duly noted, “Their days of usefulness had passed; their places had been taken by more modern-appliances. … This is something we cannot afford to pass by thoughtlessly.” With the marked increase in the use of the internal-combustion engines and electric motors, hydraulic machinery and refrigerating systems, as well as steam boilers and engines, the types of work performed by the union’s growing membership were changing as members’ roles became more diverse and more construction workers came into the organization. Accordingly, during its 1912 convention, the union amended its name to the International Union of Steam and Operating Engineers (I.U.S.O.E.) the “operating” added to the title as a catchall for operators of non-steam-powered machinery. According to The Economic History of a Trade Union, the union also championed an immediate name change after an expelled former member of a New Jersey local organized and incorporated a group that he called the “International Union of Steam Engineers.” As the union had never registered its previous title of the same name, the book points out, “it took immediate steps to protect the new one.” Transformed by Technology The conversion of the I.U.S.O.E. from a steam engineers’ union to an organization of operators of gasoline-, diesel- and electrically powered machines would continue into the late 1920s. Along with that, great strides were being made on the local level in obtaining better conditions for members; for example, in 1913, Boston’s Local No. 16 secured a contract with breweries that was described as a “model” agreement that provided weekly pay for chief engineers and for others, the eight-hour workday and arbitration of grievances between the employers and employees. Correspondingly, in the latter part of 1913, engineers around the nation were beginning to learn about the emerging technology of mechanical refrigeration, as thousands of butcher shops, creameries, ice-cream factories and other manufacturers had already installed refrigerating machineries and abandoned the use of ice for refrigeration. What’s more, small refrigerating machines for household use were coming of age, as was the cooling of residences, office buildings and theaters, making it incumbent upon engineers to learn the mechanics of the new development. I.U.S.O.E. members then gained their first-ever international insurance plan at the beginning of 1914 when, as a result of the referendum in 1912, the union established a Death Benefit Fund. The group insurance was arranged with the Metropolitan Life Insurance LABOR OMNIA VINCIT WORK CONQUERS ALL

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