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History of the United Association Local 190

United Association Local 190 has a long and proud history, dating back to the turn of the century when fifteen men gathered in Ann Arbor to accept the Charter of Local 190. That document granted them the jurisdictional territory in and around Washtenaw County.

As with any new organization, the first years were marked by periods of both growth and uncertainty. The Local’s activity at that time was primarily centered around Ann Arbor. Much of the work was based at the University of Michigan, where a number of members were employed by the state government, which acted as the contractor for most of the University’s buildings at that time.

The early years were also marked by resistance to the Local’s activities. For nearly two decades, anti-union interests followed a strategy called the “American Plan.” This program was designed to halt the growth of unionized labor, and it had the effect of creating tension between workers and their customers. This unrest led to both strikes and lockouts, which challenged the very survival of the Local and caused many members to leave the union at this time.

In the 1930’s, like all workers, the union membership was hard hit by the Great Depression. Many members were forced to drop out, seeking work where they could. Those that stayed were often unemployed and destitute. Recognizing the need to sustain its members, the Local’s office became a distribution center for welfare packages for needy workers.

Then, in the 1940’s, as World War II raged, the union began once again to grow. A key project was the construction of a bomber plant at Willow Run. At the end of the conflict, Local 190 officials recognized the need to maintain both the growth and the skills of its members. This led to the establishment of the apprentice training program, and, in recognition of their sacrifice, returning veterans were given priority admission as trainees.

The postwar years also brought government wage controls, with allowances for fringe benefit programs. To ensure continued living wage platforms, Local 190 staged its first modern strike to obtain a Health and Welfare Plan for its members. In addition, to further build solidarity, Local 190 also began hosting an annual summer picnic at the “German Park” for its members. These affairs were later replaced by banquets for members and guests.

In the early 1950s, industrial expansion at Willow Run pushed Local 190 into national prominence, as 800 U.A. members came here to work on the “Gold Rush Job.” Membership numbers increased dramatically and the Local hired its first full time Business Manager. Then, in the late 1950s, the national recession hit Local 190’s area and slowed local construction. Many of the members were forced to travel to find work, with many taking jobs at defense missile sites across the country.

As the 1960s arrived, the Local once again began to regain its strength and growth. Construction boomed all over the territory and the membership tripled. Many of the fringe benefits enjoyed today were negotiated in peaceful settlements. Thanks to this growth, a second full-time agent was hired to oversee the housing and apartment field. Further growth occurred as the Local became the sole bargaining agent for the gas-distribution workers throughout Michigan, and a third agent was hired to cover this field. As the decade came to a close, a major agreement was signed with The University of Michigan, and the Plant Department became a total union shop.

In the 1970s, the Local’s jurisdiction grew as the northern part of Ohio became part of the Gas Distribution division’s territory. Further growth occurred with the construction of a nuclear power plant was built in western Michigan. Local 190 was assigned the monumental task of furnishing piping craftsmen for that project, and a temporary branch office was opened in Bridgeman, Michigan.

As Local 190’s reputation for expertise grew, so, too, did the opportunities for work for our members. In the mid-1970s, many members traveled to the northwest to work on the Alaska Pipeline, and our national profile continued to rise.

This period also saw significant changes in the Local’s training system. As the demand for qualified pipe welders increased, the U.A. selected Local 190 to validate the aptitude test for the federal government. This, in turn, led to the hiring of another agent to coordinate these programs. Of course, there were also periods of minor recession, and members often traveled to other areas for work. Thanks to the outstanding network of contacts established across the country by our business manager, our members were able to find work with our sister locals.

The 1980s presented a fresh set of challenges as the Local prepared to combat the continuing threat of nonunion encroachment, particularly in the residential and service fields. These were met, in part, through readjustments in the agreements with the Contractor’s Association.  This period also brought about a loss of part of Local 190’s jurisdiction, when a reassignment by the U.A. took away northern Ohio as a territory of the Gas Distribution division. Membership numbers remained stable during this period, even though employment was often very low in the latter part of this decade. To maintain the spirit of our community in our members, the annual picnics were reinstated.

The 1990s brought still more changes, including the move to this area by the U.A. Instructor Training program. Being named as host organization for this project added to the already prestigious national reputation enjoyed by Local 190. In addition, in recognition of its members’ skills, the U.A. selected Local 190 to participate in the official Welder Certification Program. Another significant change was the regaining of the northern Ohio jurisdiction by the Gas Distribution division, which led to the hiring of another organizer/agent to oversee activities in the area. Thanks to these initiatives and the opportunities for more work in the region, the mid- and late-1990s brought full employment to our members. This period of prosperity led to the institution of a Christmas program for members and their families.

As U.A. Local 190 entered the new millennium, there was the promise of continued energy, prosperity and optimism. The Local moved into new headquarters at 7920 Jackson Road in Ann Arbor, and the many new initiatives that had been established are showing positive results. Local 190 was the first Local to present a telecom class and the first Local to develop and present an Internet-based class. As we move forward, we see that Distance Learning Techniques, Orbital Welding, High-Purity Piping and other new technologies are all part of Local 190’s future. Our growth has also led to the hiring of a residential organizer to strengthen our presence in the residential field and regain a leading position in the residential and service market.

From its earliest days, Local 190 has faced and met its challenges, to the benefit of our members, their families, our customers and our area. We are proud of our bold past and look forward to a proud future.

Note: Throughout its history, the union has been active in state, local and civic affairs, and many members of Local 190 have filled public sector positions. Space does not permit a comprehensive listing of these members, but it should be recognized that the contributions and team work by all of these individuals helped build the Local and were in no small way part of the reason for our success and growth, as well as to the vitality of the communities we serve.

2004 Historical Research: Neil Bucholz