August 2012: Electrical Workers Local 110 formed a century ago

It’s not a “golden anniversary” – that would be 110 years – but Local 110 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers will turn 100 years old this month, and members planned to celebrate July 28 with a picnic on Harriet Island.

The St. Paul-based union traces its roots to a division that took place in July 1912, when members of Electrical Workers Union No. 23 (now IBEW Local 23) voted to allow inside electrical workers to form their own local if they wished to do so.

[The Union Advocate’s “This Month in the Archives” feature offers a look back at what our newspaper was reporting from 5 to 100 years ago. Our digital archives are online, searchable and free to anyone. Click here for access.]

The split was amicable, as the Minnesota Union Advocate reported in its July 26, 1912, edition. “The membership of this union has increased so rapidly and so extensively during the last few months that the advisability of dividing it into two unions, a linemen’s and an inside wiremen’s union, has been seriously considered,” Editor Cornelius Guiney wrote.

Inside Electrical Workers’ Union No. 110 held its first membership meeting Aug. 16 at the St. Paul Trades & Labor Federation Hall. The new union, according to Guiney’s report in The Advocate’s Aug. 16 edition, boasted “seventy-five members and an all-conquering spirit of determination to get every inside electrical worker in the city on its roster.”

Local 110 Press Secreatry A.J. Velat told The Advocate the wiremen “intend to make their union one of the best of their craft in the history of St. Paul,” adding that they already have “struck a winning pace” with a “spirit of enthusiasm that stops at no obstacle.”

“If all the members stick and work, as they seem determined to do, there can be no doubt of early and great success,” Velat said.

One hundred years later, Local 110 members are still sticking, still working and, without a doubt, still succeeding. Congratulations!

• 75 Years Ago. In August 1937, beauty salons were a hotbed for organizing drives in St. Paul.

Ellen’s Beauty Shop, located on Cedar Street downtown, was the target of an ongoing action staged by members of the Beauty Workers Unit, a newly formed arm of Journeymen Barbers Local 31. The Advocate reported Aug. 12 that Ellen’s initially refused to recognize the local, prompting six beauty workers to picket outside the shop and the Journeymen Barbers to pull their working member from the salon.

Perhaps after watching what happened at his neighbor’s salon, Allan Goldman, owner of the Sha-Ri beauty salon at 6th and Cedar, “intimidated his employees and compelled them to sign individual contracts with him in addition to signing a statement … in which the employees declared they were satisfied with their employer,” Local 31 reported in the The Advocate’s Aug. 26 edition.

Goldman went so far as to seek an injunction to stop picketing outside Sha-Ri. “It was set up in the complaint that pickets were intimidating prospective customers, using abusive language, blocking the entrance to the shop and in other ways interfering with the conduct of the business,” The Advocate reported.

Goldman withdrew his complaint after a judge ruled picketing could continue – provided the wording on picketers’ signs was truthful. Court battles between Sha-Ri and the union would continue, however, for the next two years.

• 50 Years Ago. The nation was mired in an “economic lag” in August 1962. Unemployment had been stuck above 5 percent for 57 consecutive months. The Union Advocate’s Aug. 23 edition trumpeted the AFL-CIO’s plan to achieve full employment: a 35-hour workweek.

The nation’s largest labor federation urged its affiliate unions to push a 35-hour workweek at the bargaining table, and called on Congress and President Kennedy to pass an “amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act to require that all time worked in excess of 35 hours a week, in operations in interstate commerce, be paid double time.”

• 25 Years Ago. Unions representing workers at Continental Baking Co., maker of Wonder Bread, Twinkies and other products, rallied inside Minneapolis City Hall in August 1987, protesting the city’s role in the company’s decision to cease operations in the Twin Cities.

The city purchased Continental’s plant at 1200 Third Ave. South to make room for construction of the Convention Center. The company announced it would not relocate in the Twin Cities, displacing more than 100 workers, members of five local unions.

In the Aug. 24 Union Advocate, union leaders warned the decision would impact the freshness of Continental’s products.

“We want people to realize this is a fresh product made here in Minnesota,” said Bakery Local 22 steward Dave Bentley, who handed out Twinkies to the large group at the rally. “If they close the plant down it won’t be made fresh here. It will be made in another state.”

• 10 Years Ago. The Minneapolis Convention Center hosted 3,500 delegates to the American Postal Workers Union’s biennial convention in August 2002. When Vice President Dick Cheney dropped into town to help Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty raise money at the Hilton Hotel, most of those delegates were waiting to greet him.

“Postal workers engulfed the sidewalks around the block and across the street from the Hilton, chanting ‘Cheney No! Union Yes!’ and ‘Cheney is a crook!’” Union Advocate intern Hannah Clark reported. “In a point missed by most media reports, the protesters outside clearly outnumbered the guests inside.”

• 5 Years Ago. Among the 13 people killed when the Interstate 35-W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed Aug 1, 2007, was Greg Jolstad, a member of Operating Engineers Local 49 working to resurface the bridge at the time it collapsed. Members of AFSCME and the Laborers also were working on the bridge that day.

In the days that followed the disaster, union leaders joined the chorus of voices calling on policy makers to reevaluate the public’s level of investment in infrastructure.

“It’s been talked about for years – something’s going to happen like a bridge falls down,” said Jim Brady, president of the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota. “It’s not popular to spend money on this stuff. It tends to get ignored. Then something like this happens and you can’t ignore it.”

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