89-19 97TH AVENUE

OZONE PARK, N.Y.  11416

Voice: (718) 322-1016

FAX: (718) 322-1053












The History of

Ironworkers Local 361


 The leadership of Local 361 is pleased to present our members and fellow brothers throughout the ironworkers trade, past and present, the following history of our organization.


 For those of us who have dedicated our lives to the Building and Construction Trades, this history traces Local 361 's roots from the days when we were Locals 2 & 35. As you will see, those early days were marked with disarray and unrest not only in the ironworkers' trade, but throughout the entire labor movement.


 To say that we have come a long way would certainly not be an understatement.


 It is important that we pay tribute to our former brethren, who more or less, "paved the way" for the successes we enjoy today. Local 361 's reputation as an accommodating and thoroughly professional organization is due in part to the contributions of our brothers of past generations.


 We have had the duty and responsibility of erecting architectural wonders throughout the greatest region in the world -- from Red Hook to Montauk Local 361's structural work is an integral link to this area's history. All of us can be proud of our achievements -- from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to the World's Fair -- there  is  no doubt Local 361 will continue to have an  important role in future construction of this unique infrastructure.


A spirit of camaraderie has always been evident throughout the ranks of our local. At times perhaps, we begin to lose focus of what we are, what we stand for and who we represent -- this history is intended to re-emphasize that we are always working to improve our trade for future generations of Local 361 members. We must never lose sight of this idea.



We hope everyone that reads, "The History of Ironworkers Local 361", will come to realize just how much we have endured throughout the years as we prepare for our one-hundred year anniversary. Please enjoy!





The History of Ironworkers

Local 361




 "Did you ever give thought to these men? They gave us a fair sample of their work when they hung the Brooklyn Bridge over the East River. The duty has never given a banquet in their honor, or even passes a note of thanks for their services. And yet these structural ironworkers risk their lives every weekday in the year for their country's sake."

November 19,1900 editorial New York Evening Journal


 THE EARLY DAYS: LOCAL 2 (1895-1903)





 FROM BUST TO BOOM (1929-1950)












Perhaps the most unique aspect of the New York City area is the architectural design and dimension of the city infrastructure. "How high can a skyscraper go? .. as high as the air is breathable." Steel can stand any strain, and the men who build these structures are as durable as the steel they work with. The motto of the Ironworkers, "We do not die; we are killed," justifies their self-defiance when facing constant danger of injury and death.


The credit of constructing these amazing skyscrapers usually goes to the architects who design them and the politicians who attend the groundbreaking ceremonies. However, the ironworker, like the everyday blue-collar employee, has always been taken for granted and receives little recognition for his hard work. That is as true today as it was when the first steel structure was built over a century ago.


The history of the ironworkers in New York City is rich with tradition; sharing in this tradition is Ironworkers Local 361. Today, Local 361 is operating out of the first building the union has ever owned at 89-19 97th Avenue in Ozone Park; and represents all of Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens.


Within those halls are the ghosts of the past - Paul "Whitey" Rockhold, "Skinny" Crocker, "Toots" Garrity, Jimmy "the Bear" Baird, Jerry "the Deacon" Feltham, "Pop" Miles, "Dusty" Rhodes, Thomas "Slatts" Slattery, "Rubber legs" Martinsen, "Hole in the Head" Himpler, "Chicken Charley" and Old Man Gunnersen. All of them are part of the Structural, Riggers, Machinery Movers and Erectors of Local 361.


The history of Local 361 dates back to the late 1800's then as Local 2 and later Local 35. At that time, the union movement was struggling for recognition in a nation controlled by domineering businessmen like J.P. Morgan, John Rockefeller and Phillip Armor, who were successful in their persuasion of government officials that unions threatened the livelihood of the United States as a rapidly advancing world power.

Though construction in New York City happened to be increasing, the members of Local 2 were forced to compete with a great number of immigrants looking for work as well. In fact, between 1865 and 1910, twenty-five million immigrants arrived at Ellis Island, thus creating a large class of unemployed workers willing to do anything, for any price, to survive.


As a result of a powerful anti-union coalition of business leaders and a large pool of immigrants looking for employment, unions such as Local 2 faced an uncertain future. It was a struggle to find work for their members and to promote the causes of the labor movement itself.




THE EARLY DAYS: LOCAL 2 (1895-1903)


The first ironworkers in New York City originated in April,1886 from a group of German immigrants who within three years had opened an office in Brooklyn. Their organization would later be the first of many to succumb to the pressures of unionizing and taking on the "bosses" of the big construction companies.


At that time, unions lacked centralized leadership due to the collapse of various national labor organizations such as the National Labor Union (1866-1873) and the Knights of Labor (1869-1890). The advent of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1881 brought representation to skilled laborers; meanwhile the AFL had merely a token relationship with locals comprised of ironworkers and other unskilled laborers.


It was in 1895 that Local 361 was established, but under the House smiths and Bridgemen Local 2 in New York City and Brooklyn. The following year, the International Association of Bridge and Structural Ironworkers was formed and Local 2 joined the International on February 4, 1896.


The International Association, along with Local 2 in New York City, struggled to negotiate contracts and were continually "locked-out" of work through the use of "scab" employees. A lively character by the name of Sam Parks was Business Agent of Local 2 and earned a reputation for promoting higher wages for members. Personally slandered throughout his tenure by contractors, who created outlandish lies and distortions about him, Parks was eventually tried and convicted of extortion.




Though the local leader was later acquitted, the damage was done, and a message sent to those unions in the Building and Construction Trades industry that their policies would not be implemented, was heard loud and clear.


Another fiery official of Local 2 was Financial Secretary R.B. Davison, The "Bridgemens' Magazine"(today the "Ironworkers' Magazine") stated, " ... the secretary of the largest local in the world could not rest upon more willing shoulders, nor could the interests of any body of organized labor be placed in more capable hands." The Bridgemens' Magazine was then just becoming the communications link for the International Association and member unions throughout the country.


   The influential membership of Local 2 and other New York City locals was evident as the very first edition of the periodical was titled "In Greater Gotham: A Page of Pertinent Paragraphs Pertaining to New York." Other cities had large memberships as well, including the "Great Lakes" cities of Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo and Detroit.



"President Roosevelt has decided that a man who deliberately jilts a girl to whom he is engaged to be married is not fit for appointment as an officer in the army. This is sure to make the President strong with the girls."

-1901 quote/rom the Bridgemen's Magazine


As America entered the 20th Century, the Progressive Era was just beginning, led by Eugene V. Debs, the radical founder of the Socialist Party. Debs fought for improved labor conditions, including the 8 hour work day and various safety regulations. Unfortunately, AFL President Samuel Gompers disregarded Debbs' philosophies, thus causing conflict for those labor groups adhering to Socialist principles.

Nonetheless, by 1902 a standard wage for ironworkers was set at $3.50 a day for 9 hours of work, a figure respected nationally by most employers, but vigorously opposed by officials at Local 2 who demanded a wage scale of $4.50. Labor conditions for the most part were "abominable." The winter of 1902 was particularly harsh as materials arriving in New York Harbor and other borough piers came in at "terribly slow rates."


  At that point in time, the annual average of union members killed on the job was 12.5 percent; one accident even claimed 27 lives! The Bridgemens' Magazine stated " ... bridgemen may be excused for shuddering at the gruesome number of deaths occurring in the Building and Construction Trades industry in 1901-1902."


One event dramatically affecting members of Local 2 was an accident at a construction site on the East River Bridge where a brother fell 150 feet to his death. Fellow workers were greatly disturbed at the fact that his body was never found and refused to go back to work until the Pennsylvania Steel Company placed boats under the span to recover bodies(in the event such a tragedy occurred again).


  When a brother dies on the job it is indeed a very difficult period for an ironworker. Historically, the crew would "knock off for the day and head to the nearest ginmill to try and forget about the incident," stated one ironworker. As difficult as it may seem to outsiders, ironworkers realize they have no choice but to cope because they are expected to be at work the next day, no excuses. Regardless of circumstances including weather, death or illness, they are paid strictly hour to hour.




Records obtained from the New York State Bureau of Compensation prove that one of the best "times" an ironworker ever received was 207 days of full pay for one year. Of course, summer months dominated while winter, as expected, was miserable.




Of the thirty-two separate construction trades, ironwork is considered the most dangerous. Men walk on four inch beams at dazzling heights carrying planks, tools and their lunch pails. According to many ironworkers though, they would rather be working at the top than at the bottom because "you control your own fate" and "you can't get hit on top of the head from where you work." Regardless, common sense is the best approach an ironworker can take.




Historical events that have become part of the folk-lore associated with the New York City ironworkers include the infamous "run-ins" with scabs along the borough piers. These occurred at the time of the first Open Shop Wars and the fights were very bitter and violent, but according to the Bridgemens' "the boys took care of things."




Also in 1902, an expedition from the local traveled to Cuba where they worked for the Cuba Construction Company for about four months and later that year an ironworker from Local 2, William Demery, ran on the independent labor ticket for Mayor of New York City. He lost quite convincingly. Another member, Gustave Lindenthal, was appointed Commissioner of Bridges by mayor-elect Seth Low.




For all the excitement and progress that Local 2 seemed to be making at this time, a series of events dramatically destroyed the union, as one of the first Open Shop Battles proved injurious to their organization.








Business was booming: 250 men were employed for $16 million worth of repairs to the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company; the construction of a sugar refinery in Yonkers was underway as well as construction of a 12 mile long Rapid Transit Tunnel connecting one end of Manhattan to the other; the Brooklyn Union Gas Company was being constructed; and the finishing touches were put on the East River Bridge and vaults in the New York Stock Exchange. Then there occurred one of the most vicious battles of the Open Shop War.

  The episode plunged America into one of the darkest periods of labor history to

  date, as members of the New York City Iron League(composed of 14 steel companies) and the Building Employers' Association would not concede to union demands to hire only union workers, implement a wage scale and provide safer working conditions.


This was only the first of many confrontations between the ironworkers and the two contracting organizations. As union men were striking against the corporations, scab workers were brought in and naturally, numerous riots ensued. Violence became more and more a way of  life in the Building and Construction Trades industry.


Members of the Iron League were very influential with the press and insisted that the unions were responsible for the violence and the extremely slow pace of construction. The companies even made the outrageous accusation that union men deliberately sabotaged construction work done by non-union workers. Public perception of the labor movement quickly deteriorated and the movement was labeled anti-American.


After many attempts by the International to resolve the dispute between Local 2 and the Iron League, it was inevitable that all arbitration efforts would fail and ultimately, talks broke off. There were simply too many factions in Local 2 to accommodate.


At the national convention later that year in Chicago, members of the Iron League and Employers Association overtly attempted to buy the votes of national delegates in order to defeat International President Frank Buchanan as well as remove Sam Parks as Business Agent of Local 2.

  Unfortunately for Parks, he was eventually convicted of criminal acts seven years after the original charges of extortion were brought against him. An editorial by the New York Sun stated that, " ... after seven years, Sam Parks is finally convicted of criminal acts, but it is important to note that employers in the building trades are never convicted because of their skills in covering up their misdeeds."

  As a result of a difficult and tumultuous year plagued by scandals, innuendo and other unsavory events, Local 2 became the first local to pass into history as the International revoked their charter. Restructuring would incorporate Local 2 into Structural Union Local 35 in 1904.








In January 1904, the New York City District Council was officially formed and was composed of Locals 40 (Manhattan), 52 (Manhattan), 35 (Brooklyn), 45 (Jersey City, New Jersey) and 11 (Newark, New Jersey). The jurisdiction of the Council spanned 35 miles from City Hall and to all of Long Island. A universal exchange of working cards was permitted and no transfer was required between locals comprising the District Council. Even though working conditions were still deplorable, " ... delegates were under the impression that no trouble would be encountered in enforcing employers to a newly devised wage scale ... "


The new Business Agent for Local 35 was J.D. O'Brien and John Brady was elected President. Meetings took place every Friday at the Clinton Assembly Rooms, 164 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. A working agreement was arranged between the International and some members of the Iron League as well as the Erector's Association, but there were bitter suspicions on both sides for most of the year.


In 1905, a national strike seemed imminent, but the International decided against such action claiming, " ... a successful prosecution of a war, or a strike, demands centralized authority." In an attempt  to centralize their leadership, the International divided the country into eight steel regions - Eastern, New England, Canadian, Southern, Pacific, North Western, Northern and Central.


Despite improvements in central administration, violence continued on many of the projects throughout New York City and involving Local 35. These included Blackwells Island Bridge and the 57th Street Armory in Brooklyn where union men fought with "snake" locals; confrontations soon developed between riggers and boilermakers that would eventually help lead to the demise of Local 35.




In 1905 the First Grand Annual Picnic was held on Labor Day in Union Park on Long Island (Maspeth) while 800 men marched in the annual Labor Day parade earlier that day. The local also boasted the International Amateur Tug War Champions, who won their first championship in 1904 at Madison Square Garden.




Despite escalating violence, the District Council became more organized and as a result, more work developed, especially in the Brooklyn area. All in all, membership was up: 3,200 ironworkers were associated with the five unions of the District Council and the number was growing daily.




New protective laws in other industrial trades, implemented by President t Theodore Roosevelt's administration, helped ironworkers somewhat, particularly in the meatpacking industry in which the Meat Inspection Act revealed the horrible working conditions in the processing plants. For a short time, working conditions throughout the entire labor movement gradually improved, however another series of notorious events would eventually bring the labor movement to an unprecedented low.




Right before the annual District Council convention in 1907, members of Local 40 (Manhattan) joined their fellow New York City locals in condemning the leadership of that local under "Johnston/Warner/Flynn." After this trio nearly bankrupted the local by favoring "open-shopism," the rank and file of the District Council disposed of them. Meanwhile at Local 35, the "Bridgemen's Magazine" stated, " ... the peace and harmony that exists is very pronounced, and the ease and precision with which they handle their financial end shows that the disturbing antics of Local 40 are non-existent."


Around this time, the Kahnawake (Caughnawaga) Indians (a branch of the Mohawk tribe) began migrating from Quebec to the New York City area. Working conditions in Canada had worsened leading to several tragic accidents including the "Quebec Disaster" which took the lives of 50 tribe members. Though considered a token minority work force upon their arrival, the Kahnawakes proved to be hardworking, followed union activities around town and eventually became an integral part of the membership. Presently, tribe members still migrate from Canada and generations continue to join the ranks of Local 361.


The Kahnawakes became part of a large melting pot within the trade. Scandanavians, Irish, Newfoundlanders, Germans and migrators from the South all joined the ironworkers at this time. They had various nicknames from "fish" and "goofynoofies"(Newfoundlanders) to "Squareheads"(Swedes and Norwegians) to "tar heels" and "deacons" (Southerners), but they had one thing in common - the brotherhood of being an ironworker and a union man.


In the Spring of 1908, members of Local 35 began work on the towers of the Manhattan Bridge in which 52 ton pieces of steel were carried 300 feet skyward as travelers carried an additional 64 tons of steel. Two hundred men were employed on the job providing relief from the District Council's unpopular decision forcing Local 35 to complete work on the Blackwell Island Bridge even though the contractor (Pennsylvania Steel Company) "carried on contracts in other localities with non-union men."


At the same time, District Council President Joseph English turned out to be a " ... traitor to the entire organization." He was secretly employed by one of the Iron League members (Cleveland Company) and basically served as a spy, supplying business leaders with daily reports on union activities. This "gentleman" was expelled by a twelve man jury of his former brethren.




Another member caused irritation, but under different circumstances. Business Agent Thomas Slattery was in a dispute with the International over policy regarding use of steel H-beams. Slattery was vigorously opposed to any outside interference from the International over regional concerns -- i.e. negotiating with contractors -- regardless if he was right or wrong.




TOASTS TO WOMEN "Here's to women, present and past, And those to come thereafter. But if one comes here after us, We'll have no cause for laughter!"

-Bridgemen's Magazine, May 1908




As the age of mergers, cartels and trusts began to dominate the nation's business realm in 1910, the International struggled for survival. It seemed to union leaders that for all of President Roosevelt's rhetoric on safety regulations and other protections for labor, his presidency turned out to be nothing but "all talk and no action" and unions continued to suffer tremendously.

Adding to the woes of the ironworkers and the labor movement as a whole was what was referred to as the "Crime of the Century." International officials were charged with blowing up the Los Angeles Times Building and newspapers throughout the country were declaring, " ... this trial would decide thefutur.e of trade unionism in North America."


At this time, the International decided to levy a $.25 fee on all ironworkers for a defense fund. Luckily, members of Local 35 were working full-time; they were busy finishing construction on the 22nd Street Armory of Greater New York, which when completed, " ... will be the greatest armory in the state."




" ... the open shop has always furnished the best possible means of destroying the organization of men ... closed shops are the only sure protection for the trade

  agreements for the defense of the individual. "


-Trial Lawyer'Clarence Darrow Representing union leaders at their trial for the "Crlme of the Century"


For the most part, despite charges of corruption ~and violence, construction work continued at a good pace for Local 35 and members of the New York City District Council. The Woolworth Building was being constructe(j and at the time, would be one of the largest in the world. The giant skyscraper consisted of 56 floors and was made with 22,000 tons of steel. Two other large projects were underway - the Municipal Building (42 floors, composed of 26 tons of steel) and the McAlpine Hotel at the corner of 34th Street and Broadway (26 stories, composed of 15,000 tons oLsteel and when finished would have a remarkable 1,800 rooms).

  One technique perfected by members of Local 35 at this time was rivet catching. By using a cone-shaped catching device made from steel, the rivet gang increased their work dramatically and great crowds would gaze at these "cannon ball catchers" from the ground below.


Rivet gangs were usually composed of members from one ethnic group in order to further production as well as communications between the heater, catcher, bucker-up and gunman. Though all jobs were interchangeable, the gunman usually did not want to call for relief or his fellow workers would see him as becoming sissified (sic).


The gunman was indeed a job requiring much endurance and strength because of the constant pounding of rivets while one's body lay intertwined among the pieces of steel at incredible heights.


In 1914, President William Howard Taft was petitioned by unions throughout the country, requesting a federal investigation of turbulent industrial relations. Events such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the "Great Dynamite Conspiracy" in which ironworkers were accused and convicted of "running" dynamite to construction sites in an irresponsible and threatening manner, prompted union officials to ask for presidential intervention.


The result was the creation of the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations. The panel publicly revealed the " ... exploitation and oppression of the working class ... " State legislators responded sympathetically and finally began to address workers' compensation for individual accidents, recognized Sunday as a working holiday, set limits on night work, and established minimum wage laws for women and the eight hour day.






Beginning in 1916, problems were rapidly developing between the AFL and the New York City District Council, particularly, the leadership at Local 35.

  Because the AFL was exclusively made up of craft/trade unions (each national or international trade union affiliated with the AFL was made up of local unions with a membership that followed a particular trade or specific craft; there was no such thing as an industrial craft as we know them today), a great controversy emerged over pile driver workers: would they become associated with the carpenters or the ironworkers?

  As pile drivers changed from wood H-beams to steel H-beam (today reinforced concrete), it became evident that a struggle was to emerge over who the pile drivers would affiliate with.


Unfortunately, the carpenters union had much more leverage and power at this point in the labor movement than the ironworkers. But the District Council following Local 35's lead, continued the fight, despite being threatened with suspension from their own International.



Eventually, the International Association, after intense pressure from the AFL and President Gompers, suspended Local 35. The seeds for expulsion had been planted. Subsequently, other jurisdictional problems crystallized between the AFL and the New York City locals, led once again by Local 35. Dockbuilders, of which many were former ironworkers, received a union charter from the District Council, outraging the leaders of the AFL. At the convention in San Francisco in 1917, the AFL stripped the District Council affiliates of their charter(s), thus causing utter chaos within the New York City labor movement.




International President Patrick "Paddy" Morrin, was virtually useless in providing assistance. He did not like the leaders of the New York City locals and showed them no respect. In fact, at Morrin's funeral years later, Local 11(Newark, New Jersey) Business Agent Jimmy Low commented, "I just want to be there to see the dirt thrown on him!"



Causing further chaos were the newly created New York State Workers' Compensation laws proving once again government's disregard for the blue-collar worker. These so-called "laws" claimed employees had to be idle for at least two weeks before receiving any compensation and that benefit amounted to only 2/3 of one's salary, but could not exceed $15! Making matters worse, doctors from the large casualty companies (insurance companies) examined the injured worker and if they found him fit for work, the worker had to return, or lose his job.




Despite the popularity of outspoken Local 35 President Patrick Flynn, relations with the International and the AFL continued to deteriorate. The new president was beginning to face opposition from the other members of the New York District Council as well.




Younger members became more and more apathetic, believing their commitment to Local.35 ended at paying dues. When problems developed, they would simply pick up and move on to another job with another local. Thus, President Flynn proposed that a union member must remain with the local in the city he resides in, but the proposal never caught momentum. He continually repeated his message to the younger workers that the leadership was fighting for them. Whether they believed it or not, the ultimate goal of their union was to provide the best working conditions possible for future members.




"Because no where else is a singleness of purpose more exemplified than in the ranks of unionism, and that the purpose is the securing of better conditions, in my particular craft, not so much for myself as to those that follow.


To insure myself and those to follow a fair share of the world's foods which Almighty God intended we should have when he placed us on this Earth!"


-Local 35 President Patrick Flynn




Shortly after America's entry into World War I, the American Federation of Labor officially suspended the International Association of Ironworkers, thus forcing the leadership to concede the pile drivers to the carpenters union, despite the outspoken objections of the New York City District Council.




All public building in New York City came to a virtual standstill because of the war as many ironworkers either left to fight in Europe, or were employed by the government in the shipyards. Though the District Council practically disbanded during this period, leaders of the International Association continued to meet regularly becoming increasingly concerned about the "rebellious" attitude of Local 35.




In 1919, the leadership of Local 35 was suspended by the International Association after it was revealed that Business Agent Thomas Slattery and Recording Secretary J.P. Gillen were distributing "false statements" in a circular letter to locals throughout the country, assailing the character of International officers.




Slattery and Gillen were not present at their "trial" on October 25th in Indianapolis, Indiana at the International Association's annual convention. At the hearing, both men were found guilty of the following violations of the International Charter:




SECTION 74 - " ... sending out false informational letters without first seeking permission from the International. "


  SECTION 102 - " .. .improper conduct by slandering officers of the International and causing dissension against the International as well as working against the interests of the International."


After further debate, it was finally decided that Slattery and Gillen would be expelled. Those members of Local 35 wishing to retain their good standing could apply to the Secretary-Treasurer of the International under Section 93 which states:


"Any member belonging to a lapsed or suspended local union, can procure a transfer if no charges exist against him, by applying to the International Association Secretary- Treasurer and paying all arrearages."



As opinions over what direction the union movement should proceed widened between the International, New York City District Council and Local 35, it was clear even more problems were to develop. Ultimately, the remaining members of Local 35 contacted the International Secretary-Treasurer regarding transfers to other locals in the New York City vicinity. After a short time, Local 35 quietly faded into history.


Soon thereafter, a reputable businessman by the name of Earl Calvert lobbied International President P.I. Morrin and International Secretary-Treasurer Harry Jones for a new charter to replace the defunct Local 35. After persuading both leaders, Calvert received his charter on August 6, 1920 for Local 361 of New York City and the neighboring vicinity.


Entering the 1920's, the labor movement was optimistic about improving working conditions due in part to America's contribution to the Allied victory in Europe and a growing recognition of America as a leading industrial, economic and military power. Little did union leaders realize though, that the next two decades would present some of the most trying periods for the labor movement in American history.








Ironworkers in the metropolitan area during the 1920's(union and non-union) remained for the most part, unorganized and quickly gained the worst reputation of any trade. Regarded as "roughnecks" and "rowdies," the union literally tried to " ... beat the hell out of the non-union men," again revealing to Americans the notion that unionism was associated with radicalism. Federal courts consistently sided with management in key decisions affecting the lfl.bor movement, as well.


Added to the mounting problems was a brief economic collapse in 1921(a revelation of things to come), which forced 5,000 members to leave the International membership. Business and financial leaders were also discussing the implementation of the "American Plan" - a grand design for the annihilation of organized labor. Local 361 was certainly entering the lab9r movement at a very difficult time.

The new directory of the New York City District Council was released in 1921.

Local 361 had jurisdiction over structural iron work only and wages per hour were $1.12.50 and members were now expected to pay $2.00 monthly for dues:


Local #1 I-Newark, New Jersey

Local #45-Jersey City, New Jersey

Local #170-New York, New York

Local #197-New York, New York

Local #244-Brooklyn, New York

Local #274-Brooklyn, New York

Local #361-Brooklyn, New York

Local #40-New York, New York

Local #52-New York, New York

Local #187-Brooklyn, New York

Local #217-New York, New York

Local #273-New York, New York

Local #334-Hoboken, New Jersey




After World War I, ironworkers continued to be plagued by employers and contractors who refused to negotiate with them, thus creating a surplus of non-union construction throughout the city. It was increasingly difficult to keep union workers from working on non-union jobs even though most that did continued to pay monthly dues.


International President Morrin began an extensive national organizing campaign, focusing on New York City in particular, which attempted to offset the dramatic drop in membership in 1921. Additionally, the campaign sought to persuade union men not to work on non-union job sites. But how could one refuse a job when so little work was available for union members?




Dramatizing Local 361's situation was ~he announcement of a strike by structural unions of the New York City District Council on May 1,1924 against the Iron League and National Erectors Association. The strike would last 14 years and during that time, union members began forming Ironworkers Guilds, composed of non-union scab workers (most of whom were former union men). The guilds were organized by former members of Locals 11 (Newark), 40 (New York City), 45 (Jersey City) and 361 (Brooklyn).


Adding to the steady decline in union membership and union work was the arrival of a new band of immigrants, this time from Eastern Europe, particularly countries threatened by Germany and the Soviet Union. These immigrants entered the United States "en-masse," causing further unrest within the labor movement. Meanwhile, the AFL urged Congress to enact a restriction on the influx of immigrants even though throughout this period American Federation of Labor President Samuel Gompers was declaring enthusiastically " ... the AFL had a membership of six million workers strong!"




Despite the "snowballing" events restricting and depleting union membership, Locals such as 361 were working. When a union and a contractor settled on a negotiated agreement, there was always enough union men willing to work, but if a non-union man attempted to seek employment on a union job, " ... he'd better fear for his life." Although this seemed to be a double standard, non-union men were the people originally taking union jobs away in the first place. For the most part, former union men and active members only left their locals in order to find work to survive.




Members of Local 361 during this difficult time traveled to Puerto Barios, Guatamala completing the construction of a bridge with towers 439 feet high with a 150 foot bridge cross arm; the agreement was contracted by the United Fruit Company.




In order to alleviate some of the burden individual unions were experiencing, joint contracting became a popular means of finding work for as many separate locals as possible. In fact, Locals 361 and 40 began joint-contracting assignments on numerous projects throughout the area, most notably on many schools. This relationship has grown and prospered to this day under the leadership of Local 361 Business Manager Ed Cush and Local 40 Business Manager Ray Corbett.

  In an effort to keep spirits up, the "Bridgemen's Magazine" reported, " ... there is an unprecedented volume of building going on in New York City; one area around 35th and Broadway has 14 large structures under construction; never before was there so much steel being erected in the metro area." What the magazine failed to report however, was that construction projects were predominantly non-union.

  In an effort to combat the ongoing 14 year strike, each local in the region organized a strike committee. The committee was responsible for keeping watch on the various working conditions in their respective territories while developing an index card system that monitored the ever-changing situation. Each local also implemented a policy of not receiving any transfers.


Still the unions faced antagonism from both the police and the Iron League and Erectors Association. Continuing their old tactics of "feeding" misrepresentations to the press on union activities, the contractors hoped to create dissension within union ranks; however, no disorder or violence occurred and the strike dragged on.

Steel contractors attempted to undermine the strike through various methods, most notably by sending out notices throughout the country regarding the unprecedented amount of work available in the New York City area. The idea was that once these men arrived, they would be stranded and forced to work on whatever jobs were available, specifically as non-union workers for sub-standard wages. When this ploy failed, the Iron League and Erectors Association attempted to seek an injunction against the strikers. This method failed as well for lack of evidence.


In 1925, the General Executive Council convened in New York City and decided once again to undertake an in-depth organizing plan because of the large number of nonunion members working for the Iron League and Erectors Association. The following resolutions were adopted:




-members shall be reinstated upon payment of all back dues/assessments;

-all fines levied prior to the strike shall be eliminated

  except in aggravated cases;

  -any member permitting membership lapse after the strike began shall only be reinstated upon payment of a new initiation fee and all back dues and assessments;

  -any member going to work at a non-union job/open shop shall be fined $25;

  -campaign to be initiated in each district under the guidance of the International Association;

  -all union meetings will require members without influence of intoxicants($25 fine imposed if otherwise);




These resolutions were not only considered outrageous, but also completely ignored. Unfortunately, the International simply did not understand the seriousness of labor conditions in the New York metropolitan area. Officials of the New York City locals were obviously more sympathetic to their members at a time when everyone was struggling to find work, than they were toward the goals of the International, regardless of the effect on the labor movement in the country.




FROM BUST TO BOOM (1929-1950)




Though most of the nation experienced prosperous times during the "Roaring Twenties," members of Local 361 were only working part-time as the strike against the Iron League and Erectors Association continued to limit union contracts. Those union men leaving for work on non-union job sites had better luck.


Soon however, the bottom fell out as a result of "Black Friday," October 29, 1929, when the stock market crashed. Panic quickly spread throughout Wall Street and shortly thereafter, all construction on public buildings came to a virtual standstill not only in New York City, but throughout the country.




Thus the Great Depression took a drastic toll on the nation's economy as unemployment skyrocketed. From 1929 until the mid thirties, Local 361 and other locals throughout the country were existent in name only. Attempts by the federal government to provide workers the right to collective bargaining, establishing codes for fair competition and exclusion from anti-trust laws failed when the Supreme Court decided that such rules against big business were unconstitutional.




Ironically, many. union men, including members of Local 361, found relief through federally sponsored work programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps(CCC) and the Works Projects Administration(WPA). The turning point of the labor movement occurred however, in 1935 when the government created the National Labor Relations Board(Wagner Act). Management was strictly forbidden from interfering with the formation of unions and this time the Supreme Court did not interfere.




Another turning point for the ironworkers in the labor movement was the historic formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations(CIO) in 1937. For the first time, unskilled laborers(ironworkers, auto makers and mass production workers) were directly involved in shaping national labor policy, as well as, in protecting their rights and interests as a single entity.




Also in 1937, the Steelworker Organizing Committee was formed, proving to be a powerful faction, as steel companies were forced to recognize the SOC's bargaining power. By July, 75% of the steel industry was organized.




The turning point in Local 361 history occurred the following year when the 14 year strike against the Iron League and Erectors Association came to an end. Union men were no longer allowed to work on non-union job sites without jeopardizing their membership or their welfare.




New York City Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia helped end the strike by announcing, " ... non-union labor will not be permitted to work. .. " on the 1st World's Fair which was held in Flushing Meadow, Queens. The amount of construction to be involved on the fairgrounds compelled both labor and management to settle their differences. Large economic benefits were to be gained by each party.




In celebration of gathering union strength, 4,000 members of the New York City District Council participated in a monstrous parade as New York trade unionists gave a rousing welcome to the delegates convening for the annual meeting of the New York State Labor Federation.




Members of Local 361 were very active in the 12 hour celebration on 5th Avenue that included 178 marching bands interspersed with an assortment of floats, banners and trucks. American Federation of Labor President George Meany exclaimed, " ... today we enjoy 100% working conditions for all branches of our trade in all the territories covered by the Ironworkers District Council of New York City and vicinity!"




As the nation recovered from the doldrums of the Great Depression, employment and wages increased tremendously. Local 361 members saw their wages increase approximately $2.00 per hour in July of 1940.


Once again however, the labor movement was disrupted, this time due to America's entrance into World War II. Ironworkers "dropped their books" either to join the armed forces or work on federal contracts in the shipyards.


Members of Local 361 worked on various government projects throughout the war, most notably the impressive and imposing gun shelters situated on Montauk Point, Long Island. Local 361 also assisted in the construction of Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York and the New London Naval Station in Connecticut.




Also gained through a federal government contract was the biggest job Local 361 ever took part in at that time -- the construction of the Brookhaven National Laboratory which was begun in 1942 and completed in 1943. Union workers would rotate on 12 hour shifts for almost two years while living on the job site, a former army camp(Camp Upton) in Brookhaven, Long Island. Members from all of the ironworkers' unions comprising the New York City District Council participated.




After the war, the District Council executive board convened but once again the leadership was in disarray. There was mass confusion at local meetings, poor attendance and disagreement over what direction the union movement should take. In the meantime, nationwide strikes by mineworkers and the steel industry were broken by President Truman, infuriating labor leaders.




Another setback to the union movement was the 1946 Taft-Hartley Act which placed severe limitations on labor in disputes with management. Among the harshest restrictions -- the closed-shop was abolished; strike mediators could force labor back to work for an 80 day "cooling off' period; employers were given the right to sue over breach of contract; unions could not use coercive force against non-union workers; unions were required to publish financial statements; contributions to political parties were forbidden and Communists barred from union leadership. Interestingly enough, one member of Local 361 was an acknowledged Communist, but he was ignored and even laughed at for his preaching's.


  Despite these setbacks, the economy was beginning to show signs of resurgence toward the end of the 1940's. Three important events would help stimulate productivity and professionalism in the iron industry. As the trade entered the 1950's, International President John J. Lyons planned for a national apprenticeship program, the newly developed technique of welding came into practice and a welfare fund was created. For the first time, ironworkers also were required to wear hardhats and uniforms - brown denim overalls.



Welders would gradually become certified members of the ironworkers trade, eventually replacing the rivet catching gangs by increasing productivity, efficiency and reliability at construction sites.

The 1950's and 1960's were very productive years for ironworkers throughout New York City as additional programs and techniques were implemented. The ironworkers quickly became a significant and persuasive voice in the American labor movement.








Under the leadership of Business Agent Paul "Whitey" Rockhold and President Jerry "The

 Deacon" Feltham, Local 361 prospered. Wages increased considerably and the establishment of welfare, vacation and pension funds brought further prosperity. The union movement as a whole prospered during the Eisenhower years comprising 30% of the American labor force.


Relations in this period were generally very good; ironworkers minded their own business and therefore were not associated with the Communist "scare" episodes occurring throughout the country. Local 361 was initiating one of the best apprenticeship programs in the country, the members were respected by their leaders and perhaps for the fIrst time in their history, union offIcers were respected by contractors as well.


After years of picnics, bar room gatherings and an assortment of rowdy entertainment, the new leadership at Local 361 started the yearly tradition of dinner dances at the Manhattan Center on 8th Avenue and 14th Street. The dance consisted of an orchestra band and sit down dinner. Although the first of these dinner dances were more or less indoor picnics with beer and hot dogs, the event became one of the highlights of the year. Award ceremonies also became an important part of these gatherings which hosted union leaders, members, their families and distinguished guests.


A spirit of harmony developed between the New York City locals and the International Association during these years. Both pledged to work together to improve job security, wages, safety conditions and benefits while at the same time, devising plans to combat the threat of inflation.


  After the Korean War, in 1953 wages jumped to $3.65 per hour for structural workers and increased another $.10 by the following July to $3.75 per hour. Local 361 also moved their headquarters to 99 Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. The new office had an interesting quality that kept weekly meetings well attended as well as a flurry of activity(members of Locals 361 and 40 were always playing cards) between meetings -underneath the local office was a bar -- the Long Island Rail Road Restaurant.


  Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the decade was the first industry-wide pension plan for ironworkers officially inaugurated on May 5, 1955 by Locals 361 and 40. This plan came about through the tireless work of "Whitey" Rockhold and President Feltham. Under the plan, five types of benefits payments were devised:


$50 per month/65 years of age/25 years of service



$2 per month for each year of creditl65 years of age/15 years minimum service



  total or permanent disability/at least 55 years of age and less than 65/amount depends upon age and time of service



  retired on an International pension or were an honorable member by Jan. 1, 1954/minimum is $15 per month



  iron workers that have worked parttime for 25 years or more/$15 per month


Pensions were available even if a member was already receiving Social Security benefit payments; sixty-five years of age was not compulsory for retirement; in cases where collective bargaining agreements were made by 200 employers, ironworkers had to contribute 3% of their wages for a strike fund. The comprehensive package became a national model for unions throughout the entire labor movement.


  Locals 361 and 40 retained the Manhattan law firm of Martin E. Segal & Company for consulting purposes. The pension fund was hailed as " ... providing the needs and security of those men who have dedicated their lives in the service of the Building and , Construction Trades industry."


  Expansion at the Brookhaven National Laboratory also took place throughout 1955- 56 as members from Local 361 modernized the facility under guidance from the Atomic Energy Commission(AEC). The United States and the Soviet Union were experiencing hostile relations because of the Cold War and nuclear research was dramatically increasing. The following year, the labor movement became one of the most formidable organizations in the country as the American Federation of Labor(AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations(CIO) merged. The AFL-CIO became the voice of millions of working men and women throughout the United States.


  Also a sign of the dramatic changing times in the metropolitan New York area, the last of the elevated transit structures in the city were demolished through an order given by Mayor LaGuardia and the New York City Council. Members of Local 361 participated in scrapping 260,000 tons of metal in about four months. Mayor LaGuardia marked the occasion by applying an acetylene torch to a steel girder on 3rd Avenue.


  This project was originally begun by Local 361 right before America's entrance into World War II. The famous debate for years -- the metal previously scrapped was sold to the Japanese who in turn, manufactured ammunitions that would eventually be used against American soldiers in the Pacific.


  As wages climbed to $4.55 per hour in January 1959, the first formal graduating class of apprentices from Local 361 held a ceremony at the Century Dining Room of the Hotel Commodore. Among those in attendance were Harry Van Arsdale, President of the New York City Central Labor Council and New York State AFL-CIO President Harold Hanover.


  Apprentice classes were conducted at Brooklyn Technical High School, " ... one of the best technical schools in the nation," said New YorkState Comptroller, Colonel Arthur Levitt, but ironically built by non-union workers. Upon receiving their journeyman certificates, the new ironworkers were free to work outside of the local districts they were trained in.


Throughout 1959, members of Local 361 began construction on the passage terminal of the New York International Airport. Today known worldwide as Kennedy International Airport, the area where this dome shape stands was first known as Idlewild. The structure was composed of 32 giant girders weighing over 2,000 tons, stretching approximately 124 feet beyond the wall of the terminal and fanning out from the core to form an oval roof large enough to cover Yankee Stadium. Each girder was pre-stressed with heavy wire cables, making it necessary to lift the girders three stories high in order to ensure they were positioned at a very exact level.


  At the same time, Bethlehem Steel Company was secretly devising an examination for the unions in order to evaluate ironworkers' job performance. Led by Whitey Rockhold, ironworkers under contract with Bethlehem walked out of their jobs. The steel company conceded to the union ten days later, realizing they were in a no-win situation.

Culminating an exciting year -- and decade -- was the annual Labor Day Parade.

Over 3,000 participants from Local 361 and the other New York metropolitan unions marched in unison, celebrating their strength and prosperity.


The 1960's were somewhat similar to the prosperous times experienced in the 50' s by the labor movement. Toward the end of the decade however, the war in Viet Nam and other strains on the economy took their toll on the labor movement and would account for the disastrous years of the mid-seventies and early eighties.


The early 60' s carried the momentum of the preceding decade as construction continued to boom. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which would connect the boroughs of Brooklyn and Staten Island, ultimately became the longest suspension bridge in the world with a total length of 13,700 feet upon its completion in 1966. During this period, Whitey Rockhold and Local 40 Business gent Ray Corbett negotiated a contract with the American Bridge Company, securing ironworkers a guaranteed $8.00 start-up fee just for showing up at work on time, as well as establishing the precedent of using safety nets. As a result, only two men lost their lives during the six year project involving literally thousands of men. Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority Chairman Robert Moses was present at the groundbreaking ceremonies in connection with placing the first steel segment.

Verrazano Bridge towers were 690 feet high; diameter of one cable 35 7/8 inches; length of one cable 7,205 feet; wires per cable 26,108; total length of wire 143,000 miles; and the amount of structural steel in the main bridge totalling 120,000 tons. In order to spin the tremendous cables for carrying the roadway steel, two catwalks were erected.


To this day the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge remains one of the most remarkable architectural projects ever constructed.

Among the other notable projects involving ironworkers in this decade: work was completed on Shea Stadium; the

Queens/Astoria powerhouse; the Ravenwood powerhouse; and the St Charles Cancer Research Center on Long  Island was built by members of numerous trades associations. Because they built the  structure without charging time, unions Q

  involved in the construction of the research center were applauded for their magnanimous gesture.

  Services for New York's second  World Fair again were provided by  members of Local 361, due III part for t their fine work at the first World's Fair,

but also because of Local 361's reputation for accommodation and reliability: a fact known throughout the entire industry.

  The second World's Fair is probably most noted for the famous Unisphere  the stainless steel, stationary, welded globe, 120 feet in diameter with a polar axis incline of 23.5 degrees to the vertical. This structure was perfected by ironworkers at Local 361. The world's largest "tinker toy" was also constructed by Local 361; this structure consisted of over 400 tons of steel of which there were 80,000 individual pieces, including 2,200 columns and 80,000 bolts.


In addition to the numerous projects undertaken by Local 361, revisions were taking place in the apprenticeship program. In an attempt to improve the industry, new regulations required a three year training period with on the job training, testing and appearances before an examining board for potential ironworkers.


As wages rose, so did percentages put aside for the various funds established by the union.

In September of 1964 with wages at $5.80 per hour, a 5% welfare fund, 4% pension fund and 6% vacation

fund were allotted, based on the hourly wage scale


Unfortunately, the saying "all good things must come to an end" applies to the ironworkers' situation toward the end of the sixties. As previously stated, the effects of the war in Viet Nam as well a

the numerous domestic programs initiated by President Lyndon B. Johnson

contributed significantly to a major recession throughout the country, adversely affecting the plight of the ironworkers at this time. Wages were diminishing and work in the New York metropolitan area was steadily decreasing as well.


The decade however, ended on two promising notes -- the Mets won the 1969 World Series and Local 361 had a new office at 220-24 Jamaica Avenue, Queens with meetings taking place at VFW Post #6478 on Braddock Avenue in Bellrose.








Membership, wages and most importantly, work dropped tremendously throughout the 70's, especially during the years 1974-1979. Alarmingly, membership at Local 361 was shrinking to an all-time low and approximately 1,000-2,000 New York City ironworkers left the trade as a result of the deteriorating economy.


If work was available, it was part-time for a short period of time and usually required travel -- "booming out." As the Southwest was becoming more and more industrialized, especially in states like Texas and Louisiana, contractors desperately needed ironworkers and looked to locals such as 361 for assistance. Although wages were at $8.18 per hour in August of 1970 and continued to rise up until 1974, Viet Nam and budgetary problems would ultimately take their toll, forcing a great majority of ironworkers in the New York City area to "boom-out."

  As a result of the 1970 cease fIre in Viet Nam, the New York City labor community sponsored one of the largest parades in recent city history, praising America's war effort. About 150,000 workers paraded peacefully to City Hall where they verbally abused Mayor John Lindsay because of his opposition to any American involvement in Viet Nam. Ironworkers, plumbers, steamfitters, roofers, bricklayers, longshoremen, and virtually every other blue-collar worker in New York City gathered to back America's war effort.


Further gaining the admiration of blue-collar workers and union men in particular was President Nixon who signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), created to enforce employers to comply with federally mandated safeguards in the work place. Only time would reveal that the Act itself was less a protective agency for employees than a ploy used by Nixon and members of his administration to gain labor support.


  As the International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Ironworkers celebrated their 75th anniversary(1896-1971), members of Local 361 worked on the World Trade Center. The project consisted of 210,000 tons of steel for the 110 story structure, and for the first time, involved the use of "Kangaroo Cranes."


  This powerful apparatus, imported from Australia, straddled each corner of the elevator core area of the building and at 40 feet, projected into the air above the top working level. A jacking operation hoisted the crane and tower upwards. According to those involved in the construction of the World Trade Center, these cranes were the "difference between night and day" and "a lifesaver."


Another imposing structure built by members of Local 361 was the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant. In November of 1972, construction began on the hull of the reactor, numerous administrative buildings, and other facilities in one of the last large projects of the 70's. As New York City began running out of money and fell into near bankruptcy, almost all construction work in the metropolitan area and Long Island would eventually come to a standstill. Though members from Local 361 continue to work at the Shoreham site to this day, government leaders are at odds over whether to dismantle Shoreham's nuclear reactor or begin operating procedures.


Of all the industries operating in the United States perhaps none suffered as harshly as the steelworkers and subsequently, the ironworkers. Many American steel plants closed, leaving hundreds of thousands unemployed due to foreign countries modernizing and improving technology in their factories. This allowed American construction companies to purchase imported steel at much cheaper costs. Ironworkers were forced not only into accepting lower wages, but a sudden antagonism toward the labor movement developed as well.


  With almost all building construction corning to a halt in New York City during this period, members of Local 361 and other metropolitan locals suffered miserably. Construction work was as dead as it had been during the Great Depression while showing no signs of recovery. Once again, union leaders had to devise a strategy to save their livelihood and secure the future of their trade.








Despite the severe work shortages of the last decade, Local 361 is making a strong comeback. Members of Local 361 are looking toward the future while putting behind them the tough times of the past.

One of the major projects of this decade included replacing the webbing of strays and suspenders on the Brooklyn Bridge in a $52 million rehabilitation project in 1984. Members of Local 361 continue maintenance work on the Brooklyn Bridge and present Business Manager Ed Cush recently announced a new agreement for a Rehabilitation Completion Program on all East River bridge crossings (Manhattan Bridge, Queensborough Bridge at 59th Street as well as the Williamsburg Bridge), that should last for a number of years, while providing members many hours of work at excellent pay.


Providing further encouragement of an economic recovery in the metropolitan area was the recent announcement of the Metrotech project in downtown Brooklyn and a major rehabilitation program at the New York/New Jersey Port Authority.

  Members of Local 361 are preparing to construct the first building on Bridge Street and Myrtle Avenue as part ofthe Metrotech project, while $4 billion is being set aside for a huge ten year development program at LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark airports. A 350 foot observation tower, as well as a 280 million square foot administrative building and an innovative underground baggage system are all part of an elaborate project that will provide good jobs at good pay for thousands of ironworkers throughout metropolitan New York and New Jersey.

  Improvements continue in the apprenticeship field program as training courses are becoming more professionalized through video/slide presentations, training manuals, detailed on-the-job training and funds for developing re-training programs for workers adjusting to the new climate of labor/management relations, as well as technological advances in equipment.

Members of Local 361 today enjoy major dental, medical, eye and ear coverage, as well as a very comfortable pension plan, unlike the modest one introduced in 1955. Though government is placing more restrictions on the labor movement today, Local 361 is becoming more formidable in protecting the rights of members and more flexible in adjusting to these government regulations.


The leadership of Local 361 is as strong today as it ever was under the various leaders of the past - Parks, Slattery, Flynn and Rockhold, to name just a few. Echoing the sentiments of former President Flynn in 1918, are officers such as Local 361 Business Manager Ed Cush and New York City District Council President Al Simmons. The leadership is working to promote a spirit of camaraderie, the goal being to improve the ironworkers' trade for future members. Though the names have changed at Local 361, there continues to be a commitment to accommodation, reliability and professionalism which is exuded by both leadership and the members that comprise Local 361. This commitment ultimately rests on the shoulders of the next generation of leadership.


Throughout the stormy history of Local 361, from the days as Locals 2 and 35, the union has survived. In order to continue surviving, the union follows the lead of the past -- learning both from the mistakes, as well as the successes. As Local 361 enters the next century, difficult times will undoubtedly arise, but Local 361 will not die, nor will it be killed.