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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 Local No. 569, Branch A, and the formation of other similar branch locals around the country soon followed. By the end of the second decade of its existence, in late 1916 the I.U.S.O.E. had reached new heights and its membership had secured widespread recognition and increasing influence within the construction trades for their collective skill and knowledge. Encapsulating the culmination of the union’s first 20 years, the I.U.O.E. 50 th Anniversary edition of The International Engineer exclaimed, “The era closed at a time when the future of the operating engineer was brighter than ever.” World War & Homefront Battles Expectations of continued prosperity for the I.U.S.O.E. and the entire labor movement were tempered with the United States’ official entry on April 6, 1917, into World War I on the side of the English-led Allies, which had been fighting the Germanled Central Forces since July 28, 1914. Just prior on March 12, 1917, representatives of the Members of International Union of Steam and Operating Engineers Local No. 793 in Ontario, Canada, employed by King Paving work on a road in Burlington, Ontario, using a horse-drawn road-grader in 1922. engineers’ union attended a special meeting of the National and International Trade Unions of America in Washington, D.C., to consider labor’s position in the war and, afterwards, issued a statement that read, in part: “Whether we approve of it or not, we must recognize that war is a situation with which we must reckon. … But, despite all our endeavors and hopes, should our country be drawn into the European conflict, we, with these ideals of liberty and justice herein declared, as the indispensable basis for national policies, offer our services to our country in every field of activity to defend, safeguard and preserve the Republic of the United States of America against its enemies, whomsoever they may be, and we call upon our fellow workers and fellow citizens in the holy name of Labor, Justice, Freedom, and Humanity to devotedly and patriotically give like service.” At the onset of the war, union engineers were confronted with contractors who were using unfair methods in the construction of military camps and other government work. As a result, the U.S. Secretary of War and the A.F.L. signed an agreement that provided that union wage scales and hours as of June 1917 were to be the basic standard. The I.U.S.O.E. would keep up its efforts to support its membership on the homefront throughout the war. As a means of creating multiple employment positions for union members, for instance, in June 1917 the union took a firm stand prohibiting members from working in breweries where the chief engineer was not a union member. The following January, President Snellings reported that union members were making progress in government work and particularly in the U.S. Navy shipyards, where the Navy Department had long regarded engineers simply as tenders for engines, cranes and locomotives, with little regard for their skills and knowledge. But in the first conference ever held between the union and the Navy Department, the I.U.S.O.E. president succeeded in changing the Navy’s policies for engineers and gained substantial pay raises for members working on naval projects. Union steam and operating engineers also shared in the patriotism and loyalty of American labor, including participating in April 1918 in the largest mass parade of workers ever held in Chicago for which the Chicago Hoisting Engineers, who were affiliated with the I.U.S.O.E., won first prize for their float depicting the German Kaiser dangling in full uniform from a mammoth crane. In October 1918, President Snellings would receive a letter from A.F.L. Secretary Frank Morrison commending the union “for having kept its pledge to serve the country in every field of activity.” By its Sixth Biennial Convention, held in Cleveland beginning September 9, 1918, the I.U.S.O.E. had been very successful in amalgamating the steam-shovel men in various large cities into its union, and it was also at harmony with the stationary firemen’s union. However, the increased use of electric motors instead of steam as motive power for machinery had led to various disputes with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which claimed jurisdiction over operators of electric-powered apparatus. Among their duties, delegates of the convention approved a resolution for the A.F.L. to advance amalgamation efforts between the I.U.S.O.E. and the International Brotherhood of Steam Shovel Operators and Dredgemen in order to end misunderstandings between two trades that were closely allied. Drawn up by a committee created to press the issue, the resolution read, “The (A.F.L.) Executive Council is hereby instructed to use its best efforts in the direction of bringing about an amalgamation of the two organizations. It is the opinion of the committee that the work of the members of these two organizations is so closely identified that an amalgamation seems to be the only logical solution.” Sometime during the war years, the I.U.S.O.E. entered into its first-ever International Agreement, which govern the hiring of union workers by companies operating on a national basis, when it signed with the Fred T. Ley Contracting Company of Springfield, Massachusetts. (The union would eventually increase its use of international agreements, especially during the 1940s and 1950s, as they proved to be valuable in areas where there was little or no union organization, creating work for union members on projects that otherwise could have been subjected to non-union conditions.) After the war ended on November 11, 1918, the union’s growing importance was recognized in the summer of 1919 when its president, Brother Snellings, was elected to the Executive Council of the A.F.L. Building Trades Department at its convention in Atlantic City. The council at the same session ruled that the operation of electrically driven machinery in electrical generating stations and LABOR OMNIA VINCIT WORK CONQUERS ALL

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