100 years have passed since the Pipefitters from Boston were organized as members of the United Association, Local 537. Our Charter reads April 8, 1911, but organizing activity began before the turn of the century. As early as 1889 the American Federation of Labor issued a charter to the United Association made up of Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Helpers. The Steamfitters and Steamfitter Helpers had their own organization it was called the International Association. In 1911, the American Federation of Labor ordered the UA and the IA to merge, and with that merger the United Association of Plumbers, Gasfitters and Steamfitter Helpers was born.
In those early days Journeymen worked a six day week. Pipe was threaded with ungeared block dies and screwed together with chain tongs and flap back wrenches. Welding was considered new-fangled nonsense and the hourly wage was a whopping 43 cents an hour. A Temporary Heat job of the day consisted of taking coal from the bins to the boilers and hauling the ashes out, quite a change from today.
Working conditions slowly improved and the hourly wage had risen to $1.00 per hour when in 1921 the membership of Local 537 asked for a 50 cent per hour wage increase. What they received was a seven month lock-out and this ended only when they returned to work for a reduction in wages to 90 cents per hour. The lock out of 1921 marked the last instance of open hostility between the Employers and the Union in Boston.
The years 1922 and 1928 probably saw the greatest building boom the Boston Building Trades had ever seen. The Parker House, Ritz Carlton, Elks (Bradford) Hotel, Monsanto Chemical, along with many of the large theaters in Boston were built during this period. Harvard College, Boston University, Boston College and M.I.T. expanded their schools and dormitories and Boston Edison built their Kneeland Street and Edgar Station facilities.
Refrigeration piping was a big part of our industry then. A large number of ice making plants were built to service the food supply industry, and many hospitals had ice making plants of their own. Refrigeration piping and service
was always the work of the Pipefitter and we have been successful in protecting our jurisdiction over that part of our work to this day.
As the twenties ended the stock market crashed and the country entered the Great Depression. Unemployment rose, banks closed, and the Building Trades, like the rest of the nation, fell on hard times. Local 537’s membership went from 600 to 125 members and Helpers Local 635’s membership went from 500 members to 75. The United Association did not hold a National Convention until 1938.
When Franklin Roosevelt became President and the New Deal started, Labor began to make great strides in the area of Labor Reform and Social Legislation, the most noted among them were the Davis-Bacon Act and Social Security.
In 1936, the UA General Office ordered Helpers Local 635 to merge with Steamfitters Local 537, and the Union structure took on much of its present form. In l926 the UA Apprenticeship Programs came into being and membership in Local 537 increased as the country changed from war production to building construction and full employment again.
In September of l952, the Refrigeration Fitters of Local 537 applied for, and were granted, a separate charter by the UA. Local 801 was the new Union and it stayed in operation until January of l958 when UA General President Peter Schoeman issued an order of consolidation to bring the two Unions together.
Advances in technology and tools have made the work of the Pipefitter a bit easier than the days when we were bending 12” pipe and with Local 537’s commitment to Education and Training our members have been able to keep their skills current with today’s Industrial needs. The members of Local 537 are second to none when it comes to performance and productivity.
Now in our 101st year, our Local remains dedicated to the principles that founded and built this Union. We shall protect and preserve our Industry against encroachment and those who would compete with us. Today’s members are just as determined to keep our Union strong as those Charter Members were over 100 years ago. We have a proud heritage, it has been entrusted to us and we will carry it on so that a decent job, at a decent pay, in a decent environment will be passed on to our successors.
Pipefitters Association Local Union 537- Building Boston and Supporting our Community for Over 100 Years!