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Labor Unions

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The Birth of the IUEC

The International Union of Elevator Constructors began inauspiciously on a hot summer day in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was July 15, 1901. Eleven men were gathered in a room at the Griswold Hotel. Brothers H. McLaughlin and E. Oliver came from New York, Brothers J.S. Holmes and John Lally from Chicago, F. W. Doyle from St. Louis, Walter McIntire and Frank F. Moxon from Boston, Brothers W. Young and J. Giberson from Philadelphia, and of course, Brothers George W. Porter and David G. Barnett from Pittsburgh. It did not take this small group long to come to an agreement. These men represented locals in their cities that, they decided, would benefit from a broader base of power and representation. There were other cities that had formed unions at this time but did not attend this meeting in Pittsburgh .

At the meeting in the Griswold Hotel, John Lally was appointed as temporary Secretary and was later elected 1st General Vice-President. Committees were formed to draft rules of order, by-laws, and a constitution. The representatives worked through the night and presented their work collectively in the morning. Everything was adopted, and the union's framework was in place. By lunch, the officers of the new union had been nominated, elected, and installed. The first President of the fledgling national union was F.W. Doyle of St. Louis. Election results made H. McLaughlin 2nd Vice-President, D.G. Barnett 3rd General Vice-President, Joseph Giberson 4th General Vice-President, and Walter McIntire 5th General Vice-President. William Young was elected General Secretary Treasurer.

They were unanimous in their resolve and solidarity. They knew what they wanted, and they created it together in record time. The same day, charters were applied for; a $5 charter fee was paid and six locals suddenly had been transformed into a national trade union. Quickly, they made application for charter and membership in the National Building Trades Council of the American Federation of Labor. It was a no nonsense beginning. The total expense of the convention was $13.90. After the collection of the charter fees, the newly formed National Union of Elevator Constructors went home with a treasury in the black of $16.10.

It had taken just three days to form an organization which would promote and protect the interests of thousands of elevator constructors across America then and now. The IUEC, like many of the building trades unions, came at the dawn of the modern technological revolution, which had as a first symbol, the "skyscraper:" But there could be no skyscrapers without elevators. Technology created the need, and members of the IUEC filled that need, becoming the most qualified and trained constructors of elevators in the world. This need for qualified Elevator Constructors to make higher rises possible, gave the IUEC its strength.


Before beginning the National Union of Elevator Constructors, cities had unions with individual names. New York City was founded June 7, 1894, and was called the Elevator Constructors and Millwrights of New York City. Chicago was founded on March 12, 1897 and called the Chicago Elevator Protective Association of Chicago. St. Louis was formed next on August 12, 1898 and named the United Elevator Constructors Association of St. Louis. Boston followed on March 2, 1899 and was known as the Elevator Constructors Union of Boston. Philadelphia was founded on January 10, 1900 and became the Elevator Erector's Association of Philadelphia. Pittsburgh was formed sixth in 1901 and named the Elevator Constructors Union of Pittsburgh.

Becoming a union member during this time was controversial. However, being a union member allowed protection against unfair employers even if there weren't any labor laws to protect a worker. It was a time when a union card had to be carried in one's shoe for fear the boss might see it and fire you. Adversity created the most dedicated and determined unionists.

The year of 1903 was an outstanding one for the young union. In their first move of international solidarity, the union committed funds to support the Canadian Defense Fund of the union, contributing to the Ottawa Defense Fund on behalf of striking constructors in Canada. As a result, the National Union of Elevator Constructors became the International Union of Elevator Constructors.

The three-year old union also established its official journal at the 1903 annual convention that was held in New York. Henry Snow of Chicago was the first Editor. He designed the emblem with the little elevator cab inside. The Elevator Constructor first appeared in November of 1903, and was published in Chicago, the home of the editor. The Elevator Constructor Journal has continued without interruption since. The Journal has carried on the democratic tradition of the IUEC as a vehicle for the exchange of membership views.

As the IUEC advanced and expanded, with its new name, international solidarity and a new journal, it developed its own identification. An emblem and working card were prepared and approved. Except for an artistic updating of the elevator car in the emblem, it has remained unchanged since drawn by the first editor of the Elevator Constructor, Henry Snow.

The IUEC Stands Strong

Although the IUEC sent their first delegate to the International Convention of the American Federation of Labor in 1902, it was clear by the 1903 IUEC convention that the road ahead was to be filled with jurisdictional disputes within and without the labor movement. The stand of the union was made clear first in early discussions with manufacturers in December of 1902. "The IUEC is determined not to surrender any portion of elevator work. New techniques have been developed and elevator constructors are the only ones who can take care of them."

The early meetings with the manufacturers produced a letter of mutual agreement between the manufacturers and the union that stated that only one union, the IUEC, would construct elevators. This agreement was recognized when the American Federation of Labor granted its charter to the IUEC in June 1903. The union was chartered in the Building Trades Department, but this did not prevent the rise of jurisdictional disputes and they continued in full force until 1914.

The most persistent difficulties were with the Association of Mechanics. The President of the AFL at the time, the legendary Samuel Gompers, recommended that the Association of Mechanics amalgamate with the Elevator Constructors. The recommendation was sent to the locals involved, and it was initially rejected. The amalgamation did not come about.




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