Retired Ironworker maintains steady presence in Local 512

Frank Sramek pauses for a photo with Local 512 Business Manager Barry Davies (R) and Duluth-area reps Keith Musolf and Darrell Godbout.

It’s been 33 years since Frank Sramek logged hours on a job site, but the retired member of Ironworkers Local 512 remains a fixture in his union. He attends meetings, speaks to graduating apprentices and stays active in the local labor movement.

And at 93 years old, Sramek has no plans to slow down.

“From time to time I meet someone who says he knows an Ironworker,” Sramek said. “I tell them, ‘Ask him if he knows Frank.’ And they always do.”

Local 512 Business Manager Barry Davies says there’s good reason so many people know Sramek.

“Frank is responsible for every Ironworker in northern Minnesota having a pension,” Davies said. “Frank was on the union’s executive board, and he pushed them to get into the pension fund. The business agent up there didn’t want to do it, but Frank stuck to his guns.”

It’s one of the many stories Sramek, who lives in the Duluth area with his wife, Jo-Ann, will gladly recount for fellow Ironworkers, union members or, in this case, a labor reporter with a recorder.

UA: When did you get into the Ironworkers union, and how?

FS: In those days you got a union book – not a union card – that you placed stamps in as you paid your dues. I got my book in 1955. There was no apprenticeship at that time. In fact, there was quite a bit of nepotism… I joined Local 563 in Duluth, which was smaller than the Twin Cities local. There was a pecking order, and we were lower on the totem pole than the guys in the Cities. But that all changed after the taconite plants began being built.

UA: What drew you to the trade?

FS: I grew up on a dairy farm near Meadow-lands. I’d never heard of an Ironworker, but my dad always talked about the need for unions. He was a very strong union supporter even though he was a farmer… My dad worked for the WPA during the Great Depression. I actually remember Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats. Just like nowadays Trump is on Twitter, in those days Roosevelt took advantage of the radio. My dad just admired him. He told me many times if it were not for Frank Roosevelt, we would’ve lost the farm.

UA: You kept farming the family’s land, even while you were working as an Ironworker?

FS: Yes, and I went around trying to organize other farmers in St. Louis County to join the National Farmers Organization. Let me tell you, farmers were impossible. They said, ‘I’m going to wait and see if it works first.’ What the hell? We don’t need you then… Eventually I thought to myself, ‘Why am I busting my ass when in the Ironworkers union, it was all set up?’ I made up my mind then and there to be a good union man.

UA: How did you learn your craft without an apprenticeship program?

FS: I remember my first job working on structural iron, I worked with a guy named Tom, and he was mad. ‘How in the hell,’ he said, ‘did I get teamed up with a dummy like this?’ I felt like just dropping everything and going home.

But you worked with some other guys who were good guys, and they’d show you some tricks here and there. And over the years, you got to be an experienced Ironworker.

UA: What was your role in getting the pension set up for Ironworkers on the Range?

FS: We had an influx of Ironworkers on the taconite mines. They came from all over the country, and they paid in work assessments and travel service dues. A lot of bucks came into our home local.

At the time, we had a participation agreement with Local 512, but our pension was only half of what those guys were getting. I was an observer to the pension fund at the time, and when it was my turn to speak I said, ‘Listen, we can use this money to double the pensions of our Ironworkers up here.’ And from that time on, we were on equal status with Local 512. (Eventually, the two locals merged.)

UA: What keeps you hanging around the union?

FS: I like the Ironworkers because I never had a brother Ironworker be an enemy of mine. I was OK with all the guys. I enjoyed the brotherhood. Now that I’m old, this is when it really matters. Even though there’s a big gap between me and these young guys, I can call a young guy to help me – and he’ll come and help me. Even after I’ve been retired longer than they’ve been a member!


  1. Hey Frank how is it going

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