A Historical Perspective Leading Up to the Birth
of Our Union
history of the Ironworker goes back to even biblical times. In Genesis,
Chapter 4, 22, one of the descendants of Adam named Tubal-Cain is
described as the instructor of workers in brass and iron. This would
make him the very first ironworker apprenticeship instructor.
An article on apprenticeship written by General President
Jake West in the May, 1993 issue of The Ironworker mentioned the
"The world's first written
code of law, the ‘Code of Hammurabi,’ named after the King of Babylon
in the 18th century B.C. included the formalization of the training
which we identify today as apprenticeship.”
the Greeks and Romans, Vulcan was the god of fire and iron. He was
often portrayed as a blacksmith standing by his anvil. Due to their
resistance to corrosion, objects of utility and decoration, fashioned
from brass, bronze, gold, silver, etc., are still in existence as
records of the early civilization which produced them. The iron works
of ancient peoples, however, have long rusted away, but we know from
the earliest written records that iron was in common use.
The earliest known labor-management agreement dates back to
459 AD. and is known as the Sardis Building Trades Agreement. An
American archeolog W.H. Buckler, while digging at the site of the
ancient city of Sardis in what is now modern Turkey, discovered a very
large gray marble slab with an inscription on it. When Buckler
translated the inscription he was surprised to find it was a collective
bargaining agreement between the local Roman pro-consul and the Sardis
Building Trades Crafts. This marble slab was hardly the kind of
contract that you would carry around in pocket.
that the city of Sardis was experiencing building boom, and contractors
were finding that the was a shortage of labor. This put construction
work in the position of being able to demand higher wages they moved
from one contractor to another. The Roman pro-consul then negotiated a
collective bargaining agreement.
this is the earliest agreement that has been found certainly even
earlier agreements must have existed between workers and employers.
collapse of the Roman Empire new means of protecting workers developed
during the Middle Ages. This new system was the "Craft Guilds."
in a particular field in a town or district belonged to a guild.
Ornamental ironworkers had such an organization. The members drew up
the statutes of the guild, elected their own officers, and paid dues.
Once a guild was organized only its members could work in that field.
Members included the master, the apprentices, and the journeyman. The
theory was that after years in a trade a journeyman would become a
in The Ironworker described the way the system worked:
"In medieval England,
apprenticeship agreements called indentures were made between master
and apprentice. The English word ‘pretence’ or ‘apprentice’ came into
use during this time; it derives from the latin word apprehendere, ‘to
lay hold of’. The relationship between master and apprentice was much
like parent and child, with the master’s authority extending to every
phase of the apprentice’s life; the master provided food, clothing,
housing and tools. He taught the trade and instructed in ethics,
morals and proper behavior, usually for a period of seven years. At
the end of training, the apprentice had to develop a ‘masterpiece’ as
a final exam. If he passed he became a ‘journeyman’. When he could pay
the necessary fees and could set-up his own shop, he became a
Once an apprentice finished his training he would become a
member of his craft guild. At their height, the guilds performed many
of the same functions that unions perform in Canada today. They engaged
in political action to secure liberties for their members and the
community. They regulated trade and industry and provided education for
their members. They helped sick members and provided them with a decent
funeral. They were involved in both the artistic and religious life of
However, after the 14th century the masters gained control of
the guilds and refused to allow journeymen to join the ranks of the
masters. The journeymen then formed "journeymen guilds" and they
engaged in strikes in order to gain higher wages. Thus was born the
prototype of our modern trade unions.
Agreement Reached in 1902
following is a copy of the Agreement between the National Association
of Manufacturers and Erectors of Structural Steel and Iron Work, and
the International Association of Bridge and Structural Ironworkers:
1. Eight hours shall constitute a day's work in localities
where it now the prevailing custom to work eight hours. In other
loca1ities nine hours shall constitute a day's work; this, however, may
be subject to arbitration.
2. Time and a half-time will be allowed for time worked in
excess of the hours fixed upon as constituting a day's work for one
except as follows: a. On Sundays throughout the year, Decoration Day,
Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, or the days observed
as these holidays, double time will be allowed for any timeworked
within the twenty-four hours constituting a calendar day. No work shall
be performed on Labor Day except in case of dire necessity when the
properly of the employer is in jeopardy and the service of the men is
required to place the same in a safe condition; double time will be
paid for any time worked Labor Day. Only straight time will be allowed
for time on Saturday afternoon, but a half-holiday Saturday afternoon
without pay may be granted by arrangement between the employer and
workman. b. When two separate shifts are employed on the same piece of
work, each shift will be paid the regular prevailing rate of wages per
hour. Hours of each shift may be arranged between the employer and
workman as may be most advantageous, but the hours of employment of
each shift will not less than the hours fixed upon as constituting a
3. Workmen will be paid every two weeks upon pay days to be
the employer, except in localities where it is required by law where it
is the prevailing custom to pay weekly.
4. It will be the general custom to withhold not more than
one week's time, to enable the employer to prepare the rolls, etc.
5. When any workman is discharged or laid off, he shall be
paid twenty-four hours.
6. When a workman leaves the services of an employer of his
own accord, he will receive the pay due him at the next regular pay
7. There shall be no restrictions or discrimination on the
part of workman as to the handling of any materials entering into
construction of the work upon which they are employed.
8. There shall be no limitation upon the amount of work to be
performed by any workman during working hours. There shall be no
restriction as to the use of machinery or tools, or as to the number of
men employed in the operation of same.
9. There shall be no restriction whatever as to the
employment of foremen.
10. There shall be no sympathetic strikes called on account
of trades' disputes.
11. No persons other than those authorized by the employer
shall interfere with workmen during working hours.
12. The employer may employ or discharge, through his
representative, any workman as he may see fit; but no workman is to be
discriminated against on account of his connection with a labor
13. There shall be no discrimination against, interference
with, or fines imposed upon foremen who have been in the service of the
employer during the time of strike.
14. Apprentices to learn the trade may be employed in
proportion of one apprentice to every seven Bridgemen and such
apprentices shall serve on erection work for a period of not less than
six months before receiving the rates of wages agreed upon for members
of such organization. No man shall be employed as an apprentice whose
age is over thirty years. The Apprentices shall perform such duties as
may be assigned to them by the Foreman-in-charge.
15. Laborers may be employed for unloading and handling
materials in yards and storage points and for removing materials from
such yards or storage points to the site of the work.
16. Such work as the framing of false work and travelers, the
framing and placing of wooden decks (ties and guard-rails) and all
woodwork on mill buildings, painting of structural steel and iron work,
and placing and adjusting of operating machinery in draw bridges and
machinery in other structures may be performed bysuch men as the
employer may select.
17. In cases where misunderstanding or disputes arise between
the employer and workmen, the matter in question shall be submitted to
arbitration locally, without strikes, lockouts or the stoppage of work,
pending the decision of the arbitrators.
Effective to January 1, 1905 (signed) H. F. Lofland Daniel
Scanlan J.W. Johnston Frank Buchanan H. F. Donnelly Robert E. Neidig.
At the Eighth International Convention held in Toronto,
Canada in September, 1904, Buchanan was reelected President and John
Joseph MeNamara of Local No. 17, Cleveland was elected
Secretary-Treasurer in a run-off with James Crowley, of Local No. 1.
The incumbent Secretary-Treasurer, John Johnston, of New York, had been
eliminated in the first ballot. With McNamara's election, the
headquarters moved from New York to Cleveland. The International's
headquarters in its first decade of existence was always the home town
of the Secretary-Treasurer. (Two more years would pass before the
International felt financially secure enough to establish headquarters
This Convention, the first held outside the United States,
clearly established the international aspect that the founders desired.
The Toronto local had been chartered as Local No.4, just two years
earlier, on September 15, 1902. Canadians since have been staunch and
loyal members of the International Association.
The Quebec Bridge Disaster of 1907
On Thursday, August 29, 1907 the Quebec Railroad Bridge collapsed. A
20,000 ton section of the bridge fell 300 feet into the St. Lawrence
River. A total of fifty Ironworkers and 36 workers were killed.
D.B. Haley wrote a letter to The Bridgemen's Magazine about
what happened and it was published in the October 1907 issue. Haley was
lucky he only had his legs and ankles badly sprained in his fall into
the river. Haley had just come from Wheeling, West Virginia in June of
1907 to work on the bridge. The work was being done by Local No. 87.
The bridge was being built for Canada's transcontinental railroad about
seven miles above Quebec City. It was to be the largest bridge of its
kind in the world, designed to set a record for a steel cantilever span
of 1,800 feet.
Construction was being done by the Phoenix Bridge Company.
They hired at 50 cents an hour from all over the United States and
Canada. The company would have preferred only non-union men but they
found they needed skilled workers for this job. However, many of the
workers became dissatisfied. When a man quit, the company would deduct
from his wages the amount they had paid for his transportation to and
from the work site. On August 6th, almost two weeks before the
collapse, many of the men had gone on strike because of the poor
working conditions. By a vote of 40 to 36 they decided to go back to
work on August 10th.
inspected the bridge on August 26th and 27th and noticed that some of
the cantilever arms were buckling. None of the men were told about the
problem in order to keep them from leaving the job. The general foremen
disregarded the orders of the engineers and told the men to continue
Thursday, August 29 the crash came without a moment's notice. Among
those killed were 33 Canadian Ironworker Indian members. The Indians
were members of the Caughnawaga Indian Reserve. The left 25 widows and
numerous fatherless children behind. Six apprentices were also killed,
along with some management personnel.
investigation was conducted by a Royal Commission appointed by the
Canadian government and published on March 14, 1908. It was very
confusing, placing some blame on the engineers' design, the policies of
the Phoenix Bridge Company, and the Quebec Bridge and Railway Company.
As a result none of the wives was able to sue for damages.
bridge was designed. The central span also collapsed while being put in
place in 1916. Fortunately no lives were lost at this time. The bridge
finally was completed and opened for traffic in August of 1918. But the
tragedy of 1907 ranks as one of the worst losses of life in the history
of our Union.
Conditions in Canada for Ironworker Locals During the Thirtys
President Morrin in October of 1932 reported that the
conditions for Canadian workers at this time were as difficult as those
in the United States. The International Association exempted the
members of the Canadian local unions, whose wage scale was less than
$1.00 per hour, from paying the International $2.00 assessment. The
non-union steel erecting firms in Canada had reduced the wages of
Ironworkers, which the International and the Canadian local unions
resisted in every way possible even to the extent of appealing to the
Provincial Government officials against the unfair tactics of these
non-union firms. These reductions necessarily affected the fair
Canadian firms because they continued to pay the union scale of wages
and, in doing this, placed themselves in a position where they were
unable to compete on a fair basis with non-union firms in securing work
for the members of the Iron Workers.