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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 UNION ADVANCED CIVIL RIGHTS During the surge of the civil-rights movement in the 1960s, Manpower Development and Training Act of 1962, the Vocational the I.U.O.E. and most of the construction trades were targeted Education Act of 1963 and the Economic Opportunity Act of by civil-rights advocates because of the low number of minorities 1964. Regardless, the I.U.O.E., as did other construction-trades in building-trades unions and their apprenticeship programs unions, still faced charges of discrimination, and in 1968, the although, as Professor Garth L. Mangum notes in Union Resilience Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance in Troubled Times from 1993, racism was not the sole cause began withholding funds from federally financed projects in several of the disparity. While discrimination did exist within unions, he locations until minority quotas were met and its “Philadelphia explains that because building trades unions were “organized by Plan,” a quota system for hiring minority workers in the trades, men of the white working class … entrance into the unions often was imposed. was determined by family ties and/or personal connections” … and, therefore, “few minorities (as well as white males without ‘connections’) entered the union because they were outside the traditional entry route.” For the most part, into the culturally charged Sixties, the I.U.O.E. left its locals to address issues of racism and racial disparity among their own respective ranks; but with the growth of its hoisting and portable branch (which primarily required entry through the union’s selective training programs), overall minority membership in the union declined. Subsequently, even before the civil-rights movement gained momentum in the mid-1960s, in May 1961 the I.U.O.E. issued a Statement on Civil Rights: Since it was chartered in 1896, the International Union of Operating Engineers has been dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Our history clearly demonstrates that color, religion or national origin has never been a bar to the full enjoyment of membership. At the present time we number among our ranks many representatives of minority racial and religious groups. While we take justifiable pride in the advances made to improve the wages, hours and working conditions of our membership, we have never lost sight of our consistent policy to aid and encourage all workers within our craft, without regard to race, creed, color, national origin, or ancestry, to share equally, in the full benefits of membership in this International Union. Deviation from this policy, no matter how slight, has always been opposed by this International Union. The International Union of Operating Engineers will affirmatively cooperate, within the limits of its local and contractual authority, in the implementation of the policy and provisions of the Executive Order establishing the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, issued by the President of the United States on March 6, 1961. The I.U.O.E. also supported campaigns that helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1966, the Conversely, the I.U.O.E. considered its training programs to be the solution for increasing minority representation, and in August 1968, General President Hunter P. Wharton appointed Brother James H. Gary to the International staff with the task of assisting the international union and its locals in resolving internal civil-rights issues. Soon after, the union initiated an Affirmative Action Plan for locals first in Pennsylvania and Ohio and then in Los Angeles; New York City; Indianapolis; Atlanta; the state of Michigan; Chicago; Birmingham; and Hamden, Connecticut. While efforts to make the union more inclusive continued, on July 1, 1977, General President J. C. Turner created a Department of Civil Rights and appointed Brother Louis J. Brady of Local No. 3 in San Francisco as its director. General President Frank Hanley’s administration later combined the Department of Civil Rights with LOCALS AT FOREFRONT OF FOSTERING EQUALITY With a creative organizing initiative executed in late 1973, the I.U.O.E. was able to use the civil-rights issue as an organizing tool against open-shop contractors in a predominantly non-union area. As part of the program, Local No. 312 of Alabama and Local No. 624 of Mississippi sponsored training programs to prepare minority residents in their historically non-union states with entry-level skills as heavy-equipment operators and mechanics for the -billion Tennessee-Tombigbee (Tenn-Tom) Waterway Project, a series of projects connecting the Tennessee River with the Gulf of Mexico through parts of the two states. The locals also formed a coalition with communityaction groups to protest the low, pre-determined wages for construction of the Tenn-Tom, after which the wage rates were dramatically increased. Because of the efforts of the I.U.O.E. locals, union contractors also were the successful bidders on three of the four major contracts awarded through 1975 after a non-union contractor was awarded the first contract on the project. IN ITS INDUSTRY the union’s Office of Organization, thereby making the recruitment of minorities one of the priorities of its organizing endeavors. By the early 1990s, the I.U.O.E. had “minimized” its civil-rights discrepancies, as Union Resilience in Troubled Times points out. In doing so, the union opened entry into its membership by actively recruiting minority and women apprentices, while an increase in I.U.O.E. workers in the public sector resulted in an increase in new minority and female members. “In other words,” Professor Mangum declares, “the ‘loop’ that was previously closed to minorities and women has been substantially widened.” MEMBER BROKE RACIAL BARRIERS I.U.O.E. Brother James E. Keyes Sr. was the first black business representative for any construction union in the United States when he assumed that position for I.U.O.E. Local No. 478 of Connecticut in the early 1970s. During his time with the union, Brother Keyes helped establish the international’s Apprenticeship and Training Programs for minorities and women in every state in the country, and among many other activities he also worked closely with national civil rights groups, outreach agencies and the Job Corps I.U.O.E. Local No. 478 Brother James E. Keyes Sr. to promote and assist with the referral and placement of minorities and women into construction unions. For all of his efforts, the New Haven, Connecticut, Branch of the N.A.A.C.P. presented its 1983 Freedom Award to Brother Keyes. After 11 more years of service to the union and community, he passed away on September 25, 1994. Fittingly, as a delegate to the I.U.O.E. 33 rd Convention in 1988, Brother Keyes seconded the re-nomination of international trustee and close friend Brother Peter Babin of Local No. 406 in New Orleans with this tribute: “It’s kind of strange for me and for maybe some of you people here assembled for a Yankee who is black from the North to stand at this microphone to second the nomination for a rebel who is white from the South. This could only happen in real, true spirit in the labor movement.” to-work law.” (While throughout the coming decades through to its 125 th anniversary in 2021, the union would spend an untold amount of its political resources fending off “rightto-work” attacks at state and national levels.) The 1960s were years of more growth for the I.U.O.E., and already in 1960, the operating engineers reaped the benefits of their union’s ambitious organizing drive as the membership climbed to more than 302,000 that year. (2) The work situation in the construction industry was also favorable, highlighted by numerous pipeline fabrication jobs, and a substantial majority of it was being done with union labor. But during the union’s 26 th General Convention, held in Florida in April 1960, delegates conceded constitutional amendments made necessary by harsh mandates of the recently passed, anti-union federal Landrum-Griffin Act (officially the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act) that put in place measures to regulate labor unions’ internal affairs such as voting and reporting of certain activities. Regardless, after the conference was completed, President Delaney declared, “Our union has emerged from this convention strengthened, invigorated and unified in spirit and purpose.” One reason for that encouraging outlook was the convention’s approval of a plan for developing a union-wide Central Pension Fund. While larger and stronger locals had begun in the 1950s to negotiate LABOR OMNIA VINCIT WORK CONQUERS ALL

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