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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 substations, as well as the operation of electric cranes, properly belonged to and came under the charter of the I.U.S.O.E. The union also kept up its ongoing crusade to improve the wages of all its members, and in one particular effort demanded in early 1919 that engineers employed by the country’s railroads most of which had been nationalized under the U.S. Railroad Administration in December 1917 should receive 90 cents per hour, at which the administration balked. At the same time, engineers in the Pacific Coast shipyards obtained an agreement calling for better wages, overtime pay on holidays and eight-hour workdays. Toward the end of 1919, the engineers’ union again joined with all of labor to combat brutal attacks by anti-union forces, especially the antistrike provisions of a national railroad bill before the U.S. Congress. Ultimately, organized labor’s united front blocked passage of the legislation. Rise of Central Plants, Strikes The number of hoisting and portable engineers within the I.U.S.O.E. rose steadily throughout the 1920s as construction work increasingly employed more steam shovels, internal combustion engines, electric motors and hydraulic machinery. Regardless, stationary engineers remained the majority within the union into the latter half of the decade. But the role of the stationary engineer as someone who had sole responsibility for interior power of a building was diminishing. During the decade, isolated power plants in single facilities were all but completely replaced by central power plants, where the skills of engineers became more specialized. Not all changes were so dramatic, however, and at the 1920 I.U.S.O.E. convention, delegates again discussed disagreements with the Steam Shovel and Dredgemen, who had submitted to the A.F.L. a plan of amalgamation, which the engineers union had already rejected. Ultimately, the proposal resulted in the suspension of the Steam Shovel and Dredgemen’s charter with the national federation. Away from those administrative disruptions, union engineers beginning in 1920 were put to work on several landmark federal construction projects. Among those were the Wilson Dam on the Tennessee River at Florence, Alabama, which was the first of nine Tennessee Valley Authority dams built on the river when it was completed in 1924; and the new, 27-mile Welland Ship Canal connecting Lake Ontario and Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada, that would allow ships to sail around Niagara Falls when opened in August 1932. I.U.S.O.E. members were also at work in the early 1920s expanding the one-timerevolutionary Schoellkopf Power Plant, whose first station was built in 1874, on the Niagara River in Niagara Falls, New York, near the famous American Falls. The project involved adding multiple new generators to the plant’s third power station, which had originally been completed in 1914, and building a new hydraulic tunnel to supply it with water from the upper river. At the same time just to the north on the Canadian banks of the river, fellow members were constructing the new Queenston-Chippawa Hydroelectric Plant (now the Sir Adam Beck Generating Station I), for which operating engineers of Local No. 232 in Niagara Falls, Ontario, operated the largest shovel ever constructed at the time, weighing 400 tons with booms up to 110-feet long, before the facility first produced power in 1922. In late 1920, the I.U.S.O.E. won a milestone victory over the Associated General Contractors of America in a jurisdictional dispute involving operation of temporary elevators to be used for conveying building materials on construction sites. The contractors association’s attempt to A member of I.U.O.E. Local No. 4 in Boston displays the local’s banner he carried in a parade during the late 1920s. take over operation of the elevators was duly rejected in a decision rendered by the National Board for Jurisdictional Awards. But growing employer opposition to organized labor struck the engineers hard the following two years, and coupled with effects of The Depression of 1920-1921, membership in the I.U.S.O.E. declined by one-fourth across that period. What’s more, in 1921 and 1922, more members were on strike or locked out of jobs than at any one time in the union’s history, while the international office paid out ,911 in strike benefits for 62 strikes between its 1920 and 1922 conventions, leaving its Defense Fund depleted. The union suffered another blow during that time with the sudden death of General President Snellings on June 9, 1921, while he was serving as a delegate to the A.F.L. convention in Denver. Brother Snellings, who was 52 years old, was succeeded by the union’s first vice president, Brother Arthur M. Huddell. The new general president was able to announce in September 1921 that a decadelong controversy with the United Brick and Clay Workers of America was settled with the signing of an agreement that provided an amicable jurisdictional set-up in the Chicago area. Over the next two months, President Huddell also reached similar agreements with the United Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees and Railway Shop Laborers, whose members were responsible for the physical condition of operational railway rights of way, and the International Union of Quarry Workers, which agreed to relinquish jurisdiction of engineers to the I.U.S.O.E. While in the summer of 1922 the I.U.S.O.E. won another national victory in obtaining jurisdiction over the operation of electrically driven machinery, conditions for the country’s organized labor had reached a low point as legislative attacks from an unfriendly national administration persisted. As such, The International Steam Engineer in its June 1922 issue ran a letter from the A.F.L. Executive Council that declared, “All hope of remedial legislation by the present Congress was lost months ago.” By the time the union’s Eighth Biennial Convention commenced in September 1922, not only were a record number of its hoisting and portable locals striking, but other industries in which stationary engineers were employed were also affected. For instance, an International Paper Company strike involved the entire membership of local unions in Glens Falls and Fort Edward, New York, and the granite industry strike in the eastern portion LABOR OMNIA VINCIT WORK CONQUERS ALL

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