The convention proceeded to draw up a constitution for a new organization called the United Association of Journeymen Plumbers, Gas Fitters, Steam Fitters and Steam Fitters Helpers of the United States and Canada. Among the 32 delegates who signed the preamble (including one who later walked out) were LA 2079 members Richard A. O’Brien and John F. Murphy, who were elected general secretary-treasurer and executive board member, respectively.
Although officially founded in October 1889, the United Association did not charter any locals until after the circulation of an official call for affiliation in December 1889. The independent unions and the Knights local assemblies quickly answered the call to join the UA. The Knights’ local assemblies in New York City affiliated in December 1889 as UA Local 1 and 2. On January 2, 1890, the UA issued a charter for locals in Denver, Colorado Washington, D.C.; Kansas City, Missouri; Boston, Massachusetts, and Rochester, New York and assigned them the numbers, 3, 5, 8, 12 and 13, respectively.
At the time of Local 5’s chartering, wages were about 15 cents an hour and the 60-hour work week was the norm. Within two years, the local had 60 members while the UA claimed a total membership of 4,806. By 1896, Local 5’s membership stood at 107. Membership rose again in 1898 and 1899 but remained at 144 members for the succeeding two years.
These figures reflect the turbulence of a period when recurrent economic depressions, particularly those of 1893 and 1897, destabilized the construction industry. Labor and management frequently resorted to prolonged boycotts, strikes, and lockouts in order to settle disputes.
Five months before the stock market crash in 1929, Local 5 negotiated an agreement covering the period of May 7, 1929, to June 1, 1931. For the first four months of the agreement, wages were set at $11.50 per day. After August 15, wages increased to $12.00 and were to remain at that level for the term of the contract. While the normal working hours were 7:30 to 4:00, five days a week, the agreement allowed emergency repair work at regular wages on Saturday mornings.
Under the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the United States slowly emerged from the Great Depression in the mid to late 1930s. Roosevelt pushed Congress to pass legislation which not only relieved the suffering of the unemployed but also provided government subsidized work. The National Recovery Act, the Public Works Administration, the Civil Works Administration, and the Work Progress Administration created jobs for work-starved building tradesmen. In this period, Local 5 members installed the plumbing systems in many of our government buildings still used today, including the National Archives, a new Post Office building and office buildings for the Federal Communications Commission and the departments of Justice, Commerce, and Agriculture.