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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 using I.U.O.E. skilled labor beginning in 1931 until its completion in 1936, at which time it was the world’s tallest dam until 1968 and its power plant was the world’s largest hydroelectric station until 1949. Surviving Catastrophic Events The union’s focus on enduring the turbulent times was violently interrupted on May 20, 1931, when a gunman opened fire on General President Huddell, General Secretary-Treasurer John Possehl and Brother Frank Langdon, editor of The International Engineer, as they lunched at the Robin Hood Coffee Shop directly across from the union’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. While Brother Possehl escaped injury and Brother Huddell was saved when a bullet aimed at his heart was stopped by a notebook in his pocket, Brother Langdon lost an eye in the attack, during which the shooter emptied two guns at the union leaders. President Huddell attributed the shooting to his attempts “to eliminate racketeering in our union.” Police said they believed the shooting was the “outgrowth of a labor feud,” the Associated Press reported the following day. Prior to the attack, President Huddell and Secretary-Treasurer Possehl were investigating former General Secretary-Treasurer Dave Evans for alleged embezzlement of ,000 from the union’s Death Benefit Fund between September 1929 and March 1931. The week following the shooting, a grand jury began an investigation into the allegations against Evans, who President Huddell had replaced as the union’s secretary-treasurer with Brother Possehl on March 19, 1931. Evans was convicted of embezzlement in June the following year and served one third of a five-year sentence. Two weeks after the attack, President Huddell passed away on June 1, 1931, while he was in a hospital being treated for a cerebral hemorrhage. No one was ever convicted of shooting him and Brother Langdon. Brother Possehl was subsequently named by the union’s General Executive Board to replace Brother Huddell as I.U.O.E. general president. After having served as its general secretarytreasurer for less than three months, Brother Possehl took over the union’s top position on June 5, 1931. As the depression lingered, I.U.O.E. progress was greatly aided when the 1933 A.F.L. convention voted in favor of the engineers’ union in its long-running battle with the United Brewery Workers to represent engineers working in breweries. That year, the start of construction on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco provided a source of manhours for many engineers until it was completed in 1937. The longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world when it opened that year, the Golden Gate would be declared one of the “Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers. But it was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” program, officially known as the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, that created most of the much-needed work for the operating engineers, in addition to jobs for millions of people in the United States. After President Roosevelt signed the bill into law on June 16, 1933, its new federal agencies and state and local governments spent over billion on work-relief projects, most of which was for construction, to combat the unemployment caused by the Great Depression. A side effect of the New Deal was the I.U.O.E.’s increased determination to establish branch locals, as existing members “saw the influx of would-be engineers working those federally funded jobs as a threat to their authority within their respective locals,” according to The Economic History of a Trade Union. (Branch locals had become official The I.U.O.E. Constitution Revision Committee that re-drafted the union’s Constitution and General Laws with major revisions during a conference in Atlantic City in 1938 to strengthen the democratic procedures of the union. within the international in 1920 as a means for apprentices to come into the union.) Just prior to enactment of the New Deal, the I.U.O.E. had already started working on an extensive campaign for organizing engineers of all unorganized industries, which included chartering “B” branch locals for new members who were not operating engineers and, therefore, would not have the same power as existing members of parent locals. (1) Organizing stationary engineers as part of its activities during the early 1930s also brought the I.U.O.E. into the oil-refining industry. After employees of the Shell Oil Refinery in Wood River, Illinois, were organized by the union in 1933, the international assigned a full-time representative to the refining industry in 1936 and the A.F.L. would award the union jurisdiction over oil-refinery production workers in 1938. (1) (While the immediate contribution to membership was insignificant, organizing the industry would eventually bring in a total of 15,000 new members in the field by 1960.) The end of prohibition with repeal of the 18 th Amendment by passage of the 21 st Amendment on December 5, 1933, made the manufacture and sale of liquor legal again in the United States and revived the brewing industry, which created more work for the union’s hoisting, portable and stationary engineers. However, the resumption of brewing reignited the jurisdictional dispute between the I.U.O.E. and the United Brewery Workers, which renewed attempts to force engineers in breweries to join their union, that dated back to 1897. But the A.F.L. convention in October 1933 reiterated the verdicts of previous conventions that had established jurisdiction of the I.U.O.E. over engineers in breweries, and convention delegates voted by an overwhelming majority in favor of the engineers’ union, ending 35 years of jurisdictional controversy. As great strides were also made in air conditioning during that period, operating engineers became more aware of the importance of acquiring a complete understanding of the technology if they were to retain positions in buildings equipped with air-conditioning systems. Thorough knowledge of electric refrigeration would prove to be a tremendous advantage to engineers who were required to supervise refrigeration plants along with power and heating plants, and accordingly, the union promoted study of the emerging technology. LABOR OMNIA VINCIT WORK CONQUERS ALL

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