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.

NUEC Becomes IUEC

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.

The heated jurisdictional dispute with the Association of Mechanics was not resolved until 1914 at the AFL National Convention. In a dramatic floor fight, the IUEC position carried the day. It had proved itself capable of representing the rights and interests of all elevator constructors. Its jurisdictional victory was recognition of that fact.

The union won against overwhelming odds. Going into the fight, the elevator constructors had only one delegate on the floor and 27 votes they could count on against 754 Machinists who also claimed over six hundred other union votes from related trades. There were four national presidents against the IUEC, a unanimous vote against them by the adjustment committee, and a ban had been instituted against the union resulting from several decisions of the Executive Council of the AFL.

But the IUEC had its own weapons in the floor fight – good information, records, documents, letters, telegrams and a willingness to devote a lot of plain hard work to the task. IUEC leaders also honed in on President Gompers, pressing him for fair play against the many national and international unions wanting to divide the IUEC members among themselves. Gompers responded initially by allotting to the single IUEC delegate, Frank Feeney of Philadelphia, speaking time equaling all of the opponents of the IUEC together.

Frank Feeney stood before the convention while a handful of his brothers in the IUEC funneled him information. His arguments turned the tide. One by one, union officers rose in support of the IUEC. The case for the Elevator Constructors had been compelling. The critical support came from P. H. McCarthy, a former mayor of San Francisco and a member of the Carpenters and Joiners. He was persuaded of the merits of the elevator constructors’ position because his union stood to lose in an IUEC victory. McCarthy spoke up on behalf of IUEC: “Elevators are an absolute necessity to the highest achievement of the American building industry. Now, it may be true that elevator constructors do the work of electricians, ironworkers, ornamental ironworkers and so on. But capital, before it invests in elevators which make skyscrapers possible, has a right to the assurance that the elevators will be safe, practical, and feasible as an investment. How are you going to fix responsibility if you are going to divide up the work among five or six different trades?” IUEC’s Brother Feeney continued from the rostrum, with his union’s case picking up momentum as the debate went on. Everyone in the hall knew what the IUEC had done for building trade unions on job sites across the country, tying up jobs until building contractors were awarded to appropriate trade unions. Even the Sheet Metal Workers delegates confirmed the IUEC’s invaluable assistance to their fellow trade unionists. After the convention listened to several other speakers, Feeney rose to demand the first roll call vote of the convention. The IUEC position carried the day; a victory for the International that had only one delegate on the floor!

Despite its victory at the 1914 AFL convention, the problem of jurisdictional disputes did not end. In some ways, the worst was yet to come. Challenges came from all sides. In 1920, the IUEC was confronted with a major challenge from the Electrical Workers regarding electrical work for elevator construction. Again, President Feeney represented the IUEC, this time before the National Board for Jurisdictional Awards in the Building Industry. And again, the IUEC succeeded in protecting its jurisdiction. But it required constant vigilance as President Feeney made clear: “Look ahead, and having learned our lesson in the past as to the evolution of elevator machinery and controls, we will ever be on our guard, defend our jurisdiction, and see to it that we hold all the work that we now have jurisdiction over.”

Outside pressure came from employers, culminating in 1922 when the building industry in San Francisco set out to break the union. The IUEC held a special convention across the continent in New York City to deal with the open shop problem. The convention was addressed by AF of L President Gompers who urged the convention to seek “…. a greater spirit of unity, fraternity, freedom, and humanity.” The IUEC responded. The delegates to the special convention voted to aid the struggling Local #8 in San Francisco by sending $5,000 immediately to help strengthen their position. An additional $2.00 per capita was levied on all members of the IUEC to aid the embattled San Francisco local.

The First National Agreement

In that same period of the tumultuous twenties, the IUEC was successful in delivering to its membership the first National Agreement between the IUEC and management. Representatives of the union met with elevator manufacturers in Atlantic City. The agreement, known thereafter as the Atlantic City Agreement, set a wage scale according to the relative position of the seven principal trades in the building industry: Bricklayers, Plasterers, Carpenters, Electricians, Sheet Metal Workers, Plumbers, Steam Fitters, and Iron Workers. The delegates to the 12th Convention of the IUEC ratified the Atlantic City Agreement. The action proved to be historic, as the agreement would be emulated throughout the international trade union movement.

But problems with anti-union employers persisted. President Gompers articulated the problems at the IUEC special convention that had been called in New York to deal with open shop threats. He spoke of the fighting spirit that Americans displayed in World War I against the “imperialistic, militaristic, autocratic institutions of this mad man (the Kaiser) in Germany.” Then, he added:

“Now we have won the war … but after the war, there began a movement among the princes of finance and the captains of industry against the spirit of Americanism and freedom and democracy; they believed the spirit which was aroused among the working people of our country had grown too strong and that the men of labor of America were even daring to regard themselves as equal sovereign citizens with equal sovereign rights.”

The war, and then the Great Depression , these were two eras stark in their effect on America and its workers.

Unemployment of the Great Depression meant hard times for workers and the depletion of the private savings – the hardest economic times our nation had known. Government assistance for some building trade unions came through subsidized housing projects. But this did nothing to help the elevator constructors. The figures of the elevator manufacturing industry show that sales of elevators reached $77 million in new sales for 1929 but by 1934, sales had dropped to only $11 million and nearly all elevator constructors were out of work. The industry suffered as much as the workers.

In 1931, the Elevator Manufacturers Association came to the IUEC with a job creation proposal. A problem had developed in the industry before the Depression that had slowed new construction. Separate companies were moving into the market of elevator repair, and repair became the sole province of new industrial concerns. As a consequence, the elevator construction industry was losing the chance to repair its own constructions. With new construction possibilities remaining dormant in the Depression, representatives of the industry came to the union with a proposal for performing elevator repair work. The proposal was good for the elevator construction companies and it was good for the union because it got members working again.

In support of this plan, the manufacturers had begun to make agreements with building owners that upon elevator installation; repair work would be handled through the installing company. A special convention of the IUEC was called again in 1931 to consider the proposal. The new agreement for maintenance versus new construction called for a slight reduction in wages but it opened up a considerable number of jobs. With workers across the country standing idle and walk-in, non-union labor threatening implementation of new agreements across the country, the IUEC convention accepted the proposal with only minor changes. Indeed, it was welcomed. Elevator construction locals across the country were suffering, and this, plan could help.

The worst losses of all were in Chicago. Chicago Local #2 had invested funds on behalf of the membership in three banks that subsequently collapsed. The investors, and the union, were liable for the bank’s debts. By the time of the 1934 IUEC convention, the Chicago local debt to the International had reached $35,000. Under the by-laws of the IUEC, locals not paying their assessments were denied access to the convention and members not paying their assessments were denied the protection of the union. However, with the Depression, the union changed its policy. The 1934 convention, realizing the strength of the organization was in direct proportion to its ability to control the supply of qualified elevator constructors, decided those in financial arrears should not face expulsion. The best way to maintain control was to have the men become and remain members of the union, and the convention so ruled.

Men who were qualified to perform elevator constructor’s work but who were not members of the union were viewed as a “serious menace,” especially ex-members of the union. This included the unemployed that had lost their membership with their jobs. To counteract this problem, the convention by-laws and constitution allowed unemployed members of the union to remain in good standing.

“They being your brothers, working with you in prosperous times, I think it is no more than right, it is only human to protect them in times of distress.” That was the statement of delegate McAuliff of St. Louis. It stated the general sentiment of the convention. The decision was both humanitarian and wise because by 1939, the IUEC locals were getting back on their feet and the unemployed were returning to work as jobs began to grow in the industry. After a period of economic growth, the stable economy began to falter in the late 1940s.

The 1940’s and 1950’s

To counter the up and down movement in the economy and bring it under control, two measures were instituted which had a significant impact on trade unionism. One was the tight controls placed on wages. Then, in 1947, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act that was aimed principally at inhibiting the activities of the building trades’ unions. It succeeded. Richard Grey, then the President of the Building Trades Department, wrote in a 1950 edition of the Constructor: “We are threatened with the destruction of our organizations if the law remains on the books for long. Already, practically every procedure and practice which we have developed through the years in dealing with our employers, and in supporting each other, has been declared illegal.”

For over thirty years before the Taft-Hartley Act, local elevator constructors and elevator manufacturers had operated under a mutually agreed upon closed shop for their joint protection. Before the elevator manufacturers could employ anyone, he first had to be a member of the union. Failing that, he had to receive a work permit from the local union before he could work. Under the Taft-Hartley Act, such agreements were prohibited. Union shops could exist only within limited boundaries specified by the new Act.

The Taft-Hartley Act fulfilled the purpose intended by its anti- union sponsors. It severely limited the strength of all unions and particularly building trades. It altered management-to-worker relationships and relationships between workers themselves. The Act was a blow to solidarity and a setback to the unions, but hardly a fatal setback as its sponsors hoped.

World War II economic controls were lifted in 1946 and remained off the books until 1951 when the economy began rampaging. Prices soared and wages moved in unison. Prices were raised again to cover higher wages, creating a new spiral. To stop the spiraling, controls were imposed on the economy, directly affecting the construction industry and its employees.

On July 26, 1951, the Construction Industry Stabilization Commission issued a basic regulation covering the payment of wages, salaries, and other compensation to laborers and mechanics in the building and construction industry. The regulation, approved by the Wage Stabilization Board, prohibited wage increases above 10 percent of the “area rate.”

In August, the rules were changed again to stipulate that all increases, until controls were lifted, had to be filed with and cleared by the Stabilization Commission. The restrictions were severe for the IUEC. The Commission disallowed double time as overtime pay for elevator construction work, allowing only time and a half. No wage increases were approved for elevator constructors.

The IUEC was the only union in the construction trades to have paid national holidays. The Commission banned these. Seeking to retain this benefit, the IUEC was the first union to petition for paid holidays. The petitions were continually denied. Finally, in 1953, wage controls were suspended. The Executive Order signed by President Eisenhower stated that “the production of materials and services and consumer demand in the national economy are approaching a practical balance. ” With the rigid economic controls lifted, the IUEC returned to the Atlantic City Plan, which allowed for regular wage increases.

IUEC Leaders – Past to Present

Throughout its history, the IUEC has been fortunate to have an outstanding and committed leadership. This has been the case since the first meeting of the eleven local representatives in Pittsburgh in 1901. It has been a stable leadership as well. F. W. Doyle, who became the first President was one of the eleven original founders in 1901, served in the position with distinction until 1904. Frank Feeney served from 1904-1905. William Havenstrite was elected President of the IUEC at the September 1905 Convention. In July of 1906, the President’s office was declared vacant. IUEC Vice President P. E. Cryder assumed the duties of the President until the 1907 election.

Joseph Murphy of New York City served from 1907 to 1916. Frank Feeney of Philadelphia succeeded President Murphy in that year and continued to serve again from 1916-1938. Feeney’s leadership led to the Atlantic City Plan and the first standard national agreement. President Feeney also organized the Elevator Inspection Bureau in his hometown and served as its chief for four years. He held the President’s position until his death in 1938. In a testament to his leadership, thousands of people lined the streets for his funeral and labor leaders from all over America came to pay their respects to the IUEC leader. He had been President of the union for 24 years.

John C. MacDonald became President upon the death of Frank Feeney. He came to international leadership from Boston after serving as Local No. 4’s business agent for 33 years. He served as a Vice-President of the union from 1903 until he took over the presidency in 1938. He served until his death in 1955, to be succeeded by Edward A. Smith from New York City.

Brother Smith had been an IUEC member for 58 years when he retired from the presidency of the union in 1959 for medical reasons. The Executive Board conferred upon Brother Smith the title of “President Emeritus of the International Union of Elevator Constructors.”

First Vice-President Thomas Allen of Pittsburgh filled the unexpired term of Brother Smith and was President until 1962 when he died of a heart attack while preparing to attend union negotiations.

John Proctor, a member of Local No. 10 of Washington, D.C., served as President from 1962 until 1966. He had previously served as First Vice-President of the International.

R. Wayne Williams came to national leadership from Local 18 of Los Angeles. Before assuming the presidency, he served as Regional Director, International Vice-President, Assistant to the President and International Secretary-Treasurer. Wayne was president from 1966-1976.

Everett A. Treadway became President at the Kansas City international convention in 1976. He was a member of Local No. 7 in Baltimore where he served as Business Agent and Secretary-Treasurer of the Baltimore Building Trades Council. President Treadway rose from the ranks of the union to international leadership. He served as Special Assistant to the President, Secretary-Treasurer of the International Union, and, at the 1981 convention in Seattle, he was re-elected by acclamation. President Treadway continued his tenure as President until his death in 1991.

John N. Russell began serving as General Secretary-Treasurer in 1976. In 1991, John Russell was elected by the General Executive Board to fill the unexpired term of Everett Treadway. President Russell was a member of Local 6, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was re-elected General President at the 1996 International Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada until he retired in 1998 due to ill health.

Assistant to the General President Edward C. Sullivan of Boston, Massachusetts was elected by the General Executive Board to serve as General President filling the unexpired term of John N. Russell. President Sullivan had served as a Local No. 4 officer in Boston, Massachusetts for fifteen years until his election to the position of the Assistant to the General President at the 1996 IUEC Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada. President Sullivan is a member of Local No. 4, Boston, Massachusetts and started in the elevator trade in 1964. General President Sullivan served as leader of the International Union of Elevator Constructors until July 2000 when he was elected to the position of President of the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO presiding over fifteen international unions representing three million workers in the United States and Canada.

The International Union of Elevator Constructors General Executive Board called a special meeting on July 29, 2000 at the International office in Columbia, Maryland where they unanimously elected Assistant to the General President Dana A. Brigham to succeed Edward C. Sullivan as General President of the International Union of Elevator Constructors. General President Brigham started in the elevator industry in 1966 as a member of Local No. 10 in Washington, DC. In 1975, Dana was first elected an officer of Local No. 10, became a Business Representative for the local in 1985. He became the Business Manager of Local 10 in 1991, and also served concurrently as Seventh Vice President of the International Union of Elevator Constructors as a member of the General Executive Board. In 1996, Dana was re-elected to the position of Second Vice President of the International Union of Elevator Constructors where he held that office until the General Executive Board elected him to fill the unexpired term of Edward C. Sullivan as Assistant to the General President.

In 2001, at the IUEC’s 28th General Convention, Dana was elected (unopposed) by the convention delegates as General President. At the 29th General Convention in 2006, Dana was re-elected (unopposed) for another five-year term.

100th Anniversary

In July 2001, the International Union of Elevator Constructors proudly celebrated the 100th Anniversary of its founders’ commitment to the dignity, skills, and the well being of its members. We proudly salute all those who have played an important role in the first one hundred years of our history.

As the journey towards our next one hundred years is begun, the Elevator Constructors of today, over 25,000 members strong, are equally determined to forge an ever-stronger union, safeguarding the spirit that was kindled at the old Griswold Hotel at the beginning of the 20th century for future generations of Elevator Constructors.