A LEGACY OF PROGRESS
Since it’s founding on April 30, 1893, District 15 has been a groundbreaking force in the labor movement in America. At the turn of the last century, District 15 was a key player in establishing many of the working conditions that we take for granted today. Now, as we head into a new century, your District is facing new challenges in the American workplace. As many companies attempt to downsize, export and outsource jobs at the expense of the American worker, District 15 is fighting to protect what we have gained over the past century while opening new opportunities in industries that have yet to enjoy the benefits of union power. We hope that this brief history of the early years of the District will make you proud of the legacy that you have created as a member of District 15 of the IAMAW. The Machinists Union was founded when Thomas Wilson Talbot organized a small group of southern railroad machinists in 1888. By the early 1890’s, several local lodges had been chartered in the New York metropolitan area and District 15 was created when eight lodges from New York and New Jersey united to further empower their members. At this time, the average machinist in New York City earned between $1.80 and $2.50 a day for a 6 day, 72 hour week. Sanitary and safety conditions in the shops were abominable and vacation, holidays and sick pay were unheard of. Thus, the progress we have made at this point is not something that just happened naturally: indeed, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and District 15 played a key role in achieving it.
One of the earliest campaigns in District history was the fight for the nine-hour workday without a loss in pay. As early as 1896, the IAM had agreed to take the lead for the entire labor movement on this critical issue. District 15, in turn, led the struggle within the IAM and after a successful strike by 3,500 workers in 1901, the 12,000 machinists in the area took this important step forward. Within ten years, the leaders and members of District 15 had set their sights on the 8-hour workday. Once again, the District was given the lead role in the fight and the Grand Lodge provided support with extra organizers and a Vice-President assigned specifically to the campaign. Eureka Lodge 434 emerged as the most effective and active lodge, led by "8-hour George" Stilgenbauer. Although more than 10,000 workers were on strike at various times, the workers kept their eyes on the prize. By 1911, the vast majority of District 15’s machinists had achieved the eight-hour day and had led the way for other unions and industries. Another kind of labor progress led by District 15 began in 1913 when the union began picketing New York locations of the Duplex Printing Press Company. District 15 was supporting a strike by Duplex workers in Michigan but the company successfully obtained a court injunction that barred the District from picketing. The District fought all the way to the Supreme Court but lost the decision 6 to 3 in 1921. Eleven years later, the dissenting opinion of Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis in that case became the basis of a sweeping new law that greatly curtailed the ability of the courts to issue injunctions against labor: the Norris-La Guardia Act. Today, that Act is a cornerstone of pro-labor legislation.
In past years, under the leadership of John Scarfi and Jimmy Conigliaro, District 15 is working to break new ground in the labor movement. As corporate America was finding new methods to avoid responsibility for their employees well-being, workers in many industries were seeking the advantages of union representation. One clear indication of the widespread impact of the irresponsible labor policies in many corporations today was illustrated by looking at two of the groups working closely with District 15's Past Director of Organizing Kevin Lynch, limousine drivers and physicians. Interestingly, the members of these radically different professions shared many similarities in their current situations. Physicians and limo drivers had been considered "independent contractors," meaning they work for themselves. In reality, these workers are anything but self-employed, limousine drivers’ compensation and working conditions are tightly controlled by the radio base that they work for while physicians are increasingly working for HMO’s that dictate medical care and set nonnegotiable reimbursement rates.
As many of you know, the District made great strides in these groundbreaking campaigns. After District Counsel Craig Livingston won a groundbreaking NLRB decision, the vast majority of limousine drivers now have the right to join the union and collectively bargain for better pay and working conditions. As the union drivers of the organized limousine companies know, it is only a matter of time before all 12,000 limousine drivers in New York will enjoy the benefits, compensation and dignity provided by a union contract.
Today, District 15 with DBR Dominic Taibbi continue to grow and continue to succeed both legislatively and economically for their members. It is constantly running campaigns for fairness, researching, and investigating avenues to aid in the long haul of "Organizing the Unorganized." The current team consisting of District 15 Assistant Directing Business Representative Mike Vartabedian, Business Manager Robert Motisi and the many other cherished Business Representatives believe that by working to gain the right to unionize these workers, we are fighting a battle that protects all of our members and, indeed, all working people. By standing together with these workers, we are sending a clear message to the bosses that we will not tolerate a labor market in which corporations can ignore the rights of the people who provide their profits.
As of 2016, District 15 is still working hard to live up to it’s reputation as a leader in the fight to protect the American Worker. While focusing on achieving the best possible contracts in the industry for its members, the District continues to introduce new members to the IAM while always finding new ways to provide benefits and protection to its members outside of their collective bargaining agreements. Since the late 1990s, District 15 has also become one of the largest donors in the Machinists Union to the "Guide Dogs of America" Foundation and has raised and donated nearly two million dollars to this great charity. Currently, the district finds itself at the top of Northeastern region with approximately 19,000 members. We hope that you, our members, take special pride in your contribution to this continuing legacy. Please keep up with our calendar and newsletter for opportunities to stay involved!