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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 in the operating engineers’ union gradually diminished and the open-shop movement gained new ground. Among some of the key projects on which some operating engineers were able to work was construction of the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) in the marshlands along Bayou Lafourche in southeastern Louisiana in 1980 and 1981. When completed, the 0-million LOOP would be the nation’s first offshore, deep-water port for supertankers, allowing them to offload and store oil at the marine terminal located approximately 19 miles offshore in 110-foot-deep water of the Gulf of Mexico. Other I.U.O.E.-manned jobs included members of Local No. 701 in Portland constructing the first large-scale segmental bridge in the United States across the Columbia River to connect Portland and Vancouver, Washington, when it opened in 1983. Elsewhere that year, engineers with Baltimore’s Local No. 37 and Brooklyn’s Local No. 25 put the last of 32 tubes in place for the new Fort McHenry Tunnel, which was being built under Baltimore’s downtown Inner Harbor. When completed in 1985, it would be the first tunnel in the world to have been constructed with tubes having been placed side-by-side in a dredged underwater trench. But throughout those years, the union’s membership slide continued, and by 1986 it was down by nearly 60,000 members from 1979. “They were a tumultuous five or six years, to say the very least, during which time the outlook for the I.U.O.E. and other building-trades unions was not exactly bright,” General President Larry Dugan Jr., who took over for retired General ‘Scabby the Rat’ GLOBAL LABOR SYMBOL WAS BRAINCHILD OF CHICAGO LOCAL “Scabby the Rat is a symbol of the labor movement, one which we have never hesitated to defend on the street, in court or in the halls of government. And we never will.” I.U.O.E. Local 150 Business Manager James Sweeney, November 2019 Local 150 Engineer newsletter When he took over 10,000-member-strong I.U.O.E. Local No. 150 of Chicago in 1986, new Business Manager Bill Dugan was set on increasing his local’s market share and membership through large-scale organizing. “Getting the results we needed required some creative thinking, to say the least,” current Business Manager James Sweeney recalled in the local’s November 2019 newsletter. During a campaign to organize equipment rental and repair shops in 1987 that would later evolve into “Operation Wrench,” the local decided to make the concept of a “rat” contractor “a little bit easier for the public to understand,” according to Brother Sweeney. With that, Local 150 designed and commissioned several rat costumes that its organizers wore to the sites of various labor disputes. “This new method of attracting attention was particularly useful and almost as much fun as drawing straws to see who had to put on the suit every day,” Brother Sweeney remembered. Inspired by an inflatable gorilla on the roof of a car at a nearby auto dealership and the need to replace the heavy, hot costumes with something that would garner more attention, the local’s Organizing Department then commissioned production of its very first inflatable rat, which sat atop an Oldsmobile owned by Brother Monte Horne that the local painted yellow and christened the “Rat Patrol.” In late 1989, the local held a contest among its membership to name the inflatable rodent, which up to that point it had simply called “Mr. Rat.” Brother Lou Mahieu received a leather jacket in January 1990 for his winning submission, “Scabby,” while the Oldsmobile was renamed the “Scab Tracker.” “Scabby was a hit from the start,” Brother Sweeney recollected. “We quickly deployed a fleet of Scab Trackers, and other unions started to as well.” Local 150 also bundled Scabby and a Scab Tracker with a generator and a suit and sold it as a “Rat Pack” to other I.U.O.E. locals. Soon after, local building trades started to purchase their own Scabbys, as well, and he quickly became a fixture of Chicago’s labor movement and has since ascended to worldwide fame. But while a steady run of judicial decisions have agreed that the use of Scabby the Rat is protected free speech under the First Amendment, it came under attack again in 2019 when the National Labor Relations Board (N.L.R.B.), acting on a long-dismissed complaint against Local 150 made by a non-union contractor, asked a federal judge to classify the use of Scabby as a picket and, therefore, make it subject to stricter regulations. In an ironic twist of fate, the judge hearing arguments over the still-pending N.L.R.B.’s injunction request was Judge Ruben Castillo, who in 2001 wrote the very first decision designating Scabby as a tool of free speech. I.U.O.E. Local No. 150 of Chicago deployed its original Scabby the Rat and Rat Patrol during labor disputes (especially when “scab” labor was involved) in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Members of I.U.O.E. Local No. 653 in Mobile, Alabama, help build the Joseph M. Farley Nuclear Generating Plant near Dothan, Alabama, in 1974. President Turner in 1985, later recalled in the April 1989 International Operating Engineer. “The good news is that the I.U.O.E. weathered the attacks and the setbacks.” Knowing that the collective skill of its members was its greatest asset, the I.U.O.E. incorporated its apprenticeship and training program as a “major weapon” in its counterattack against anti-union forces and expanded its training activities even as its membership declined. (2) Still, it spent million on training in 1980 alone, and training that year was provided by 63 separate hoisting and portable training programs, as well as stationary programs, nationwide. An article in the February 1980 issue of The International Operating Engineer even prophesied: “By preserving and improving the skills of members old and new, the I.U.O.E. will meet the challenge of the ‘80s and beyond.” LABOR OMNIA VINCIT WORK CONQUERS ALL

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