Mary Bobo: Oral history project, today is April 4, 1979. I’m talking withMr. Jimmy Stewart. Mr. Stewart was born June 1, 1925. He was born in Woodland, Tennessee, which is around the Clarksville area, presently Fort Campbell. He lives at this time on Algonquin Parkway. His parents were Garfield and Matty Mae Stewart. Mr. Stewart, would you at this time tell me something about your very early life, before you came to Louisville.
James Stewart: Yes, as was said, I was born in Montgomery County, which isClarksville, Tennessee. Clarksville is the county seat of Montgomery County. My mother and father were share croppers at that time so I attended public schools that were located in the country. At that time, blacks were not allowed to ride buses, even though they bussed the white students, we had to walk. And 1:00I remember very vividly the last three years of my elementary schooling in Montgomery County, I walked five miles a day, to and from school. Believe it or not, I had perfect attendance, even with all the bad weather. It was because we didn’t have the transportation to high school that my education was limited to the 8th grade. In order for us to attend the high school, which was known as Burt High School, in Clarksville, Tennessee, we would have had to ride the Greyhound bus and the cost was such that my parents at that time just could not 2:00afford it Even though there was a high school within rock throwing distance of my home, I was not allowed to attend that high school. Due to the fact that I could not go to high school, which I wanted to go very badly, I continued to work on the farm with my father. There were four of us boys at that time and there was not enough share cropping for all of us to be fully employed. The time when I was not working for my father, I worked as a hired hand. For, I believe we started off at seventy five cents a day. And that was from “can’t to can’t”, you can’t see in the morning until you can’t see at night.
I wanted to better myself somewhat, so when they started building Fort Campbell3:00I was driving a truck for the farmer, we’d utilize his truck at Fort Campbell, at that time to haul lumber from the rail cars over to the work site, the original construction of Fort Campbell. And this is where I came in contact with the unions and with the wage rates. They were making considerable more money than I was making, but because of my age I could not get a job in the building of Camp Campbell.
I decided to go up farther in Kentucky. I understood that the wages were alittle better. So, we went up to Henderson, Kentucky, and worked in an apple orchard one fall and picked apples. After the harvest of the apples we found 4:00out that they were needing some construction workers in Evansville, Indiana. We rode bicycles across the Ohio River everyday and went to the union hall over there and got hired that morning. I was put in the car by the business manager of that local union. I never will forget it, John Susa, who I became acquainted with and was a good friend of mine up to his retirement a couple years ago. I went to work there and worked until it got too cold that winter, then I went back to Clarksville and helped my father strip tobacco.
The next spring I went back to Henderson, Kentucky, and over in Evansville, andstarted working again for the contracting, Pioneer Construction Company, at that time. It was during the war, World War II. My mother was upset because I was becoming 18, and she insisted that I come back home, get on the phone, to stay 5:00out of the draft. Well I did. I went back to Tennessee and got deferred. But the wages were still low and I’d been used to making seventy cents an hour. When my money ran out, I ran out. I went back to Evansville. It wasn’t long before I got my papers to go, greetings to be inducted in the service. After I went back to Tennessee and was examined, and I passed with flying colors, I was inducted into the Navy in 1943. So I spent approximately two and a half years in the Navy. And the minute for my discharge I went back home and all my brothers were still there and my daddy had bought a farm. But there wasn’t 6:00enough room for me. One of my brothers was married and he was living there on the farm with his family, and I had two younger brothers.
I felt I had enough experience to get out again on my own. I had a job promisedto me in Detroit, Michigan. So, I started on my journey to Detroit from Clarksville, Tennessee. I got to Louisville, Kentucky, and I was going to spend a couple days here waiting for my friend in Detroit to call me, that he had found a place for me and my wife to stay. I guess I failed to mention that I had married at this time. And while waiting I got some information that they were hiring out at American Standard, () here in Louisville. So I went out 7:00there and I never could sit around. I went out there and got me a job. Got hired the same day I went out for an interview. Because of the way that you received your pay, standard at that time, I had to work a month before I got paid, and they held back two weeks. They paid off that two weeks, so I worked a month before I got paid and I guess that when I got paid I owed everybody that I knew in the city of Louisville. When I did get the call from Detroit that they’d found me a place to stay, I decided I would stay here a couple weeks longer. Then I found myself and my wife had moved here and we were pretty well situated in an apartment, so I just said there’s no need in going any farther at this time. So we stayed right here in Louisville and worked at Standard for three years.
MB: What date was this?
JS: This must have been in ‘49, ‘46. I got discharged in ‘46, so it was8:00after I got discharged from the Navy. I was a () Machinist () in the Navy. After about three years at Standard, things went down and I got laid off. One of the reasons I got laid off because I had failed to pay my union dues. If you go suspended, at that time, your union membership was your seniority. And of course later all of that was changed, but I got laid off because I had forgot to pay my union dues.
I jobbed around for about three or four months, then I decided, I said, “Whatother trade do I know?” And it was construction work. So I went after jobs in 9:00construction. I was hired after some very deliberate insistence that the foreman hire me. One of the reasons he did not want to hire me is because he said my size. That I was too small. Of course back then, I’m talking about ‘49, and ‘50, the construction companies looked for, or sought after, large black men who could lift heavy equipment and materials and so forth. After promising the foreman that if he hired me and if I didn’t suit him, he didn’t owe me anything, and he agreed to give me a try. That was for the Georgia Mead Construction Company. And believe it or not, I worked for Georgia Mead I think for thirteen years and I never missed a week of drawing a pay out 10:00of those thirteen years. The company was good to me and I tried to prove to them that I could do the work. I think I satisfied them to the extent that the last five years of my employment with the Georgia Mead company I was foreman. I understand that I was the first black foreman that they had employed. I kept my own time, hired my own people.
So, naturally Georgia Mead was a union contractor and I had joined the localunion here in 1950, I believe it was. One of the time keepers at Georgia Mead Company ran for office here at the local union, had insisted that I come down and maybe get on the slate with him to run for office. I believe that I ran for 11:00recording secretary and I won the election of the recording secretary for the local union and didn’t even come vote for myself. By then, my being elected the recording secretary of the local union naturally put me on the executive board. I was able to obtain some knowledge of how the local union operated. At that time there was a lot of discrimination going on, and it was getting complaints about discrimination. I was a member of the NAACP executive board at that time. Because of things that were not going to the best of my thinking, the way it should be, in regard to black construction workers, I sought to try 12:00to correct some of these changes within the frame work of the local union. Some cases we had success and many cases we didn’t. After the course of about three years there was a split in the union here because of the way that they were operating, and I ran for the top job for the local union. I believe that was in ‘59. I lost the election the first time around. The election was for four years. That was before the law was changed where the local union officer can only hold office for three years. In 1963 I was on the slate of officers 13:00here at the local union and I again ran for assistant business agent and recording secretary and I was elected. After about a year and a half, the head of our slate went to work for the international union and that again left our local union without a top officer. In 1966 I was selected by the executive board, and the members encouraged me to run again for the business agent job, which is the top job in local union. I was successful and won the job and been there ever since, since 1963 as the Business Agent, Chief Business Agent, now it’s known in our constitution as the Business Manager. I’ve been there since. 14:00
MB: What are some of the most important changes that you’ve seen in the last20 years here in the Louisville community?
JS: In the past 20 years, as I indicated earlier, most of the construction workwas--and when I say construction work I’m talking about in this specialty, heavy and highway construction--that’s what I was involved in at that time. We have two phases, or two contracts in construction. One is heavy and highway construction, the other is building construction, and I was in the heavy and highway segment all of my construction life. I had some experience on building work, but it was due to our contract would be either doing the foundation work and streets and parking lots and things of that nature. At that time, most all of the employees, construction workers for heavy and highway contractors were black. I remember the first white construction worker that was hired by Georgia 15:00Mead Company, laborer, I’m speaking of a laborer. He was in the yard one morning and the superintendent was going across the yard and he asked him what could he do for him. And he told him, he said, “I’m waiting for my boss,” and it struck him that there’s a white guy telling the construction superintendent that he was waiting for his boss. The superintendent was very upset. He said, “Who in the hell is your boss? Who hired you?” He had a few words with him and told him who hired him and he said, “You know, we don’t hire your kind because you all don’t work and you’re always complaining.” He said, “I’m going to let you go, but every time I see you, I want to see you working.”
Now, and as I indicated, at that time there were practically all black laborers16:00as far as the heavy and highway construction because it was a lot of strenuous work. I’ve heard them say about the Henry Bickel Company and they still do, they still try to work the ( ) predominantly black. The motto of the Henry Bickel company was to “kill a nigger and hire another one, kill a mule and buy another one.” That’s how bad it was. But things have changed considerably since that time. The changes that we have now is that most of, with the exception of a few, we have problems getting blacks in the construction trades. At the same time contractors today are discriminating as far as hiring minority 17:00construction workers. In fact, I’ve got a complaint today where the superintendent has discriminated against minority employees.
I would suppose it is because the change in the work habits. When I say habits,should I say work procedure. Say twenty years ago, most all the labor was labor. The pick and shovel days are gone. When I started in the labor union, wage rates were $1.55, $1.45 per hour, no help from welfare and no pension. Today the lowest labor on the job in building construction makes $7.93 an hour, 18:00plus 35 cents an hour health and welfare and 47 cents an hour pension. Now whether it is the good wages that we make or just () discrimination, I think it’s some of both, labor makes good money today. You can take home $400 a week. I think that has a lot to do with the discrimination today.
MB: These are sought after jobs by all groups?
JS: Right. As I said, most of the contracts today, they are hiring whiteemployees to the extent that they get in trouble doing so. Then they have to 19:00call the local union and say, “Hey look I’m in trouble. The EEO man’s on, send us some minority.” Back several years ago we had a meeting with all the contractors and forced them to live up to our agreement. Instead of selective hiring, call the union hall, because our contract says that the contractors, if they need additional people, they will first call the union hall. And if they would do this then that would keep the racial minorities on the job because our local union, I would say at this time, it’s made up of about 50-50 blacks and whites as far as our membership in construction industry. So that’s some of the changes that I’ve seen in the past fifteen to twenty years.
MB: Do you have a smaller labor pool to draw from in the black community, in20:00that blacks have gone into other areas of the unions?
MB: What is some of the other types of trades that they’re being attracted to?
JS: They’re being attracted to all the trades in the construction industry.We’re talking about nineteen different crafts. The carpenters are taking a good number of our laborers that are qualified in local construction work. They’re taking from the training programs and promoting up to general carpenters. The iron workers are doing the same thing and the plumbers and the pipe fitters. The people that are in the construction industry and know something about construction, people that already have the experience, and the other trades are siphoning off a lot of our experienced people. So we have to continue to train, seek after minority laborers. They’re just hard to find because there’s so many other jobs open now that minorities can go into that 21:00they couldn’t go into at the beginning, they couldn’t get jobs in when I first started in the labor movement here. For instance, I have been at the General Electric plant and I helped put some additions onto the Brown-Foreman, Brown and Williams tobacco, and I remember when there was only four black people working at Brown & Williams tobacco corporation. There was two male janitors and two female minority, and this is all that was there. Since the past twenty years all of these places have opened up their employment to all people. This puts a hardship on getting some, what we would call, good qualified laborers. Today contractors pay from $7 to $9, $10 an hour for labor. Might as well say from $8 to $10 an hour for labor. They want the experienced people. So now the 22:00interest is more on women than it is on minority males to get them in too, because of some of the guidelines in construction.
MB: Well if a young individual, male or female, wanted to be involved in yourunion and seek work, what type of background would they need? Where would they receive the training today?
JS: That’s another problem. Our international union has never--only onlimited occasions--been able to get the U.S. Department of Labor, to say that labor, general labor, is a trainable program and should be included in the apprenticeship program same as other trades. Department of Labor just won’t do it. Basically, labor or construction worker coming into the labor market as a general laborer has got to train himself, or a contractors will train him. The only time that they will do this is when we completely exhaust our 23:00membership with experienced people. So they say, “Well just send me a laborer and we’ll teach him.” This is what’s happening today. We tell people about the labor market, the construction industry, and encourage them to seek out. But still the thought that’s in most the peoples minds today is a laborer in construction is a common job. I guess because of the international unions name, in the early beginning, was International Hod Carriers’ and Common Laborers’ Union. The word ‘common’, I think turned some people off. But, there’s no more common labor today. In fact, a laborer has to know more today in the construction industry than some of the basic trades. They only learn one thing, only being taught one thing, as far as a pipe fitter or 24:00carpenter. A laborer has to know how to mix mortar for the brick layer, he’s got to know how to dig trenches for the plumber, and he’s got to know how to assist the carpenter. And in some trades, some work in the construction industry that we do by ourselves. I’m talking about such as laying pipe, big concrete pipe for sewers, water lines, drilling rock and dynamite man. This is a guy that shoots powder. When you drive along the highway and you see these rock walls along the interstate, well, the rock was drilled and shot by laborers. These sophisticated machines that they’ve got that we use now, it calls for some experience as far as the laborer is concerned. We’ve got a trade and a skill even though it says labor, but it’s skilled labor. 25:00
MB: But you’re not really getting people coming from the vocational school?
JS: No. There’s no vocational training program to train a laborer.
MS: Is this an area in which you’re working on legislation?
JS: No. We’ve been trying to work through our contractors here in Kentucky.Now most of the other states, for instance, Indiana, they have what they call an AGC laborer training program, whereby X amount of cents per hour is sent in to a joint training program that’s being sponsored by labor and the contractors. And they take these people that are interested in construction and send them to these training schools and let them stay and work with the contractors right on the sites. We haven’t been able to put that together in Kentucky yet, a training program for laborers. We have engaged on a limited basis, on specific 26:00trades, I mean specific skills, such as laying of pipe, how to shore up ditches, operating an air track drill, and learning how to mix mortar to work with the brick masons. We have had schools of that nature set up on a limited basis. They’d work for so many weeks and then we would try to encourage our people to upgrade and train some of our people that we’ve already got. But as far as an on going training program, we do not have one.
MB: Well does this again cause you problems with people going across the riverseeking jobs?
JS: Oh yes. Right. It’s caused us a problem. And the problem is, as Iindicated earlier, that the contractors paying $8 an hour for labor, he don’t want to waste too much time trying to train somebody. He wants somebody there. 27:00When they call, they say, “Send me some qualified people.” And a lot of times we just don’t have them. We’ve got plenty of people available, but I couldn’t say that they’re all qualified.
MB: How many people do you represent though in general? Paying dues members?
JS: Paying dues members, our local union, about 2,000 members at the presenttime, but only about 1400 of those are in construction. The local union has organized several plants throughout our jurisdiction like the plant in Somerset where I was yesterday. Kingsford Company, that makes the charcoal briquettes, we’ve got that organized, got about 160 people in that plant. We’ve got another plant organized in Monticello Kentucky, Gama Brothers, who is a subsidiary of Gama Brothers here in Louisville, that make cabinet doors and 28:00kitchen furniture. Would you believe the maintenance people at Churchill Downs belong to our local union. We organized those about ten years ago. Kentucky Concrete Pipe, a factory down in the west end of Louisville, that make concrete pipe, got those organized. I represent about 90 percent of the maintenance employees of the Metropolitan Sewer District. Got another little plant out here that’s just beginning to operate, it’s called () Plastic, it’s made to be involved in making plastic liners for smoke stacks. But I would say that makes up our total membership of approximately 2,000. In construction, we’ve got about 1400 in the construction industry.
MB: When you say region, is the remaining part of Kentucky also divided into29:00regions? Are they covered under this union?
JS: Jurisdiction. Our local union represents 29 counties. Jurisdiction of 29counties. We’ve got two branch offices, one in Elizabethtown and one in Somerset. Of course, I’m the overseer of all of the general operations.
MB: So you actually will be traveling around?
JS: Yes, I just came out of Somerset yesterday. I was down there yesterday allday, Somerset and Jamestown. Got work going down there sometime I guess.
MB: What do you see as the things most needed in the future, since constructionis obviously one of the backbones of the nation, to keep your union as strong as it is and to get the supply of man power, woman power that you need?
JS: Since the guidelines are what they are, and I was reading in the Engineer30:00News last week that they’re not going to change them. The Association of General Contractors are saying that we can not find the three percent minority of women that the Department of Labor called for in construction industry. They can’t find them. We can’t get them. This is in all trades. It’s suppose to go up to five percent by 1980. If they’re going to continue to enforce those guidelines, the Department of Labor is going to have to increase their training and set up some training programs for minorities and women in the construction field if we are to meet our guidelines that have been set down by the administration.
MB: Are there any real physical barriers to keep women from doing most of the31:00jobs you’re talking about?
MB: What are some of these?
JS: Well for instance, when I spoke of main sewer pipe, most of them today youuse machines to lay them, to put them in a ditch.
JS: ( ) leveled and put in straight lines. The machine can’t do it, soit’s got to be done with physical labor. I may be wrong, but I just don’t think it’s a place for women. Most of the ladies work, you’re talking about a carpenter helper, a flagman, flag traffic, maybe waiting on the cement masons. Possibly they can mix mortar because most of this is done by machine, they 32:00don’t carry hod anymore. They said our name was hod carrier, well there’s no more hod carriers. IMS has changed that name from hod carriers to mason tenants, because we don’t put them on our shoulders anymore and go up a ladder with them. They use convey belts or elevators or hoist them up to the scaffold with ( ). Seventy five to eighty percent of our work is strenuous, calls for physical manpower.
I hope that I’m proved wrong, but I just can not see women being able to holdup to do this work. We sent a female out to the University of Louisville to contract about a month ago as a carpenter helper. IFE told me, “Jim, if 33:00you’ve got some more, send them, she’s the best carpenter helper that I’ve had.” Certain types of work that they can do and can do it good, but a lot of the work, as far as the labor is concerned, I’d be very skeptical that they could do it and stand up. I think they’d be more hindrance to their health. When I speak of running track drills, you’re talking about drill bits that are twenty feet long and weigh one hundred and eighty to two hundred pounds that you’ve got to manually put them in the drill or the auger. Work of this nature, the shoveling of concrete, the spreading of concrete, I just can not see women stooping over, even though the concrete is poured, pumped in place or either poured in place out of a bucket. The laborer has still got to get in that concrete with his boots on, wade around in that concrete sometimes that is eighteen inches deep and on steel, and use a shovel to spread the concrete, 34:00level it out so the finisher can finish. Concrete’s heavy. I just can’t see two or three days of this, everyday, I just don’t think women could stand up.
MB: Well who’s responsibility is it really to let minorities or women knowthat these jobs are available? When jobs come up is there anyway they’re advertised or bids, or what? What is the procedure?
JS: This is something else that the specs come, in the specification it saysthat the employment guidelines will be strictly enforced. They don’t tell us how. It’s up to the contractor to hire them. He says, “Well, I call the union hall for all my manpower, whether it be minorities or female.” This is his policy, this is where he calls, and if we don’t have it, they don’t come by here. So where do we get them? The contractors have indicated they will try 35:00to assist us in getting females in the construction industry. There’s just not enough applying. The labor, the men, they come by and they put their names on the list, they come by every morning seeking work. Well, the women just don’t come by. I’ve got a few names that women came by seeking employment, but when I have an opening where I can send them, I call them back, they’re not there anymore. Have to wait for some more to come by. I guess we could run an ad in the paper.
MB: But you aren’t required by law to do this?
JS: No, it’s on the shoulders of the contractor to hire who he’s sure, hire36:00these jobs out. They say three percent women on the job, then it’s up to the contractor. Of course, we will assist him and we try to. We do our best to help him, but lot of instances we just don’t have them.
MB: Would we be fair in saying that overall that for the average black laborerthe situation has improved though as far as him going into all of these various trades? I mean, is it a much brighter future?
JS: Oh yes. It’s two hundred percent better today than it was ten years agoas far as the blacks getting into the other trades. In fact, I was the chairman of the Urban League Board of Directors for four years and the Urban League’s got a program called LEAP. We’ve had the cooperation of most of the trades 37:00and we got a quota. We had a quota we had to meet because we were funded by the Department of Labor as far as the LEAP program was concerned. We had all kinds of problems getting people to go in, getting minorities to go into the training program. In fact, we went all out, we went to schools, we went to vocational schools, we went to churches, we went to where ever we could find a congregation somewhere, and put up posters that we were seeking minorities for job training. For instance the masonairy, the brick masons, the brick layers union was on our board and was working with us. They started off with something like thirty names and started an apprenticeship brick layer training program. The time came 38:00to get out of the orientation, out of the classroom, and to mixing mortar, to put the trowel in his hand, we were down to eight. Out of thirty that we started with, there’s four or five maybe that completed the program, if that many. Just couldn’t get them to stay with the program. And there’s a lot of problems with that. Most of the people that were going into that area, they couldn’t stand by long enough to wait until the training was complete because of financial problems. My son went through the apprenticeship program to be a carpenter. He’s a journeyman carpenter. But he was at home and he had some support. He didn’t have to worry about anything. After he got out of high school and right into the journeyman training program for a carpenter. He was at an advantage that most of the minorities don’t have. 39:00
MB: In other words he was not receiving any living stipend at this point.
JS: No, not while he was going to school. For the first eight weeks, orsomething like that, he wasn’t getting any financial support. When they go on the job they’re on a limited, the apprenticeship trade calls for a certain amount the first six months, a certain amount the 1/3 of journeymen, and so forth, and go up by steps or whatever. I’m not familiar with the amount of money that’s involved. But, they say, “To hell with this program, we can go out and get a job as a laborer and make more.” They’re after money. They will leave the program once they get to know about it, and go work as a laborer for maybe fifty percent for the journeymen rate. There’s no apprenticeship as 40:00I indicated, but as far as the training, so if he’s on a public works job, the contracts have got to pay him whether he knows or whether he don’t know the trade. He’s got to pay him the prevailing wage rate that’s specified in the contract. So he can go to work for general rates as labor, say for twice as much as he’d be making if he started off as apprenticeship in one of the trades. I would say this is one of the reasons the retention rate is very low in getting them in these other trades.
MB: We read almost daily about the unemployment rate, particularly ( ) onblacks, and this must be very frustrating to you to know that you have jobs available and can’t get them in.
JS: Can’t get them in. Very frustrating.
MB: But what you’re pointing out is that many just do not have the financialsupport to stay with the program.
JS: Right. Maybe if the Department of Labor could increase, or give someassistance or a subsidy of some type while they’re in this program. I’m 41:00sure that would help, in fact, I know it would because that’s the main thing that they just can not . . . lot of them are married and have families and have just dropped out of school for one reason or another and they’ve got to support. There’s quite a few problems that we have. MB: Well one problem you may or may not want to comment on, I just know that in general, people say there’s a difference in the work ethic, say in the young people from under thirty, and the people over thirty. Now it crosses all bounds, racial and otherwise. Is this part of your problem? Maybe you took a job that a young man, twenty five, would not be willing to take now, when you were coming along. Do you see this?
JS: Yes, that is a problem. It’s a great problem. The work habits or thework attitude of the young, both white and black, is so much different today. 42:00They seem to think that somebody owes them something. I’m out here on the job because you’ve got to work me, and I can do like I’ve done, when I please, or I’ll quit. You can’t fire me. The work attitude is a lot different. I think it comes from home training. They’ve never been taught to work. Most of these people I guess have been on either welfare or some kind of assistance. Then again, if not, there was no job for them to work on in the early teen age. They just don’t know how to work. They were never taught to work and that’s a problem. I was taught to work from the time I was large enough to get a hoe in my hand, in the country. We had some chores to do. I worked all my life and I like to work, got used to work. If I can’t work, I’m in trouble mentally. 43:00I’ve got to do something. But, as you said, that attitude is not there today. And I don’t know how you can ever get it out of the working people, especially younger people. They think that the company they work for owes them. That I’m doing you a favor by coming in and working. It should be just the opposite. MB: Do you foresee that technology will change enough that there will be a time when there is no, use the word common labor, or type of labor that you’re describing, it would hard physically? Will there be ways of getting around this so the manpower will not have to be?
JS: Not completely. I can’t foresee in the very near future the elimination44:00of labor all together, common labor. I can’t see this because there’s so many things that you’ve got to have some labor there to do. It might be curtailed quite a bit, for instance a job today, say the U of L hospital. Twenty years ago they’d have three times the men in laborers on that job that they’ve got today. I’d say our labor force has been on construction probably due to techniques, have been cut by a third of what they used to employ. So I would say it’s going to be cut more, that they won’t utilize as many laborers or other crafts, as far as that matters, on the jobs that they are using now. But I can’t see them not being able to use laborers at all in the near future. There’s got to be some things that have got to be done by 45:00hand. If no more than clean up. Clean down the brick, clean the walls and get material in place. There’s got to be some labor there.
MB: Is there any problem in getting against, still talking about the youngpeople, in having them to join the union or pay the union dues? Do they see the union as a viable way to protect them, security?
JS: No. That’s changed too. Most of the people today, we call them cardcarrying members. When I started in the union, the business agent didn’t have to go out ( ), but things have changed since then. Didn’t anybody have to come out and tell me to come in and join the union. I found out what a union 46:00was and I volunteered to come in and join the union. Back at that time, if you didn’t belong to the union, which it was not a must in a lot of cases, the contractor paid you what he wanted to pay. So they sought to come in and get the union with them, they could tell the company, “Look I’m in the union now, you’ve got to pay me union wages.” That was the reason they would come to the union hall. And then we would have what we would call initiation meeting, that we’d just initiated new members. We’d orientate them about the union. Well the Supreme Court, the law says that you don’t have to initiate them anymore. So all we do is, if we send them out, we tell them, “Ok, when you get paid, come back in and join the union.” Well, now he’s come back because he’s got to. Their attitude toward the union is that I’m paying you for the money for nothing.
They don’t really know the labor history, how and why that they’re gettingthe wages they’re getting, what the union has to do for them until they go out 47:00and work on a non-union job, then they know. We’ve got a lot of non-union construction work going on here in this town. This is one of the ways we get some of our union people experienced today. They go over there and work on a non-union job and get the experience. When they get the experience and then they find out what the union is paying and then they come over and get union jobs. But the only reason they join the union is because they have to. Most of them could care less. Not only the laborers, I’ve talked to other trades and they say the same thing. They say we’ve got a lot of card carrying members, but as far as supporters of the union, they’re just not interested. I guess because everything has been handed to them. They didn’t have to get it the way we got it. For instance, we used to have the union meetings here. I remember 48:00when we’ve had two meetings, back when they were having a split in the administration. We’d have 300 on one floor and 300 on the other floor having meetings. Our constitution says that we must have twenty members present to hold a meeting, and we’ve had to cancel a meeting because we didn’t have twenty people present out of 2,000. And you ask them why, they say, “Well I’m tired, I’m looking at TV, there’s so many other things to do. Watch television, go to ball games.” They’re privileged to do this because of the money they’re making, they can do other things than go to a union meeting. They say, “Well we got no problems, you all take care of everything.” We get all kinds of excuses. “I want to go drink me some beer, I had to go do this, I went shopping.” When you ask them why they didn’t attend the union meeting they got a good excuse. Some of them leave home going to the union meeting but they never get there.
MB: How many people do you actually employ here that keeps the operation going,49:00staff type people?
JS: There’s seven elected offices, or higher offices, and two secretaries.
MB: And how often do these offices come up for election?
JS: Every three years.
MB: Is there much competition?
JS: There’s some competition out there, but we haven’t had any viablecompetition since I’ve been here. I’ve been elected 2 to 1 every three years ever since 1966.
MB: And this is just done at a general meeting?
JS: No. On election. General election of officers every three years. We’vegot a protest now of our last election, last August. The ( ) said that due to 50:00some things that happened, that I didn’t know it had happened, they’ve said that we should have another election. Went before the US Department of Labor now, but I don’t know what the outcomes going to be. As I said, you’ve got people that will try to find ways, they’re really not interested, they’re just trying to find ways to take technicality on those that are in. They’re not interested in doing something for the local union, they’re just interested in tearing it down, grappling after power for themselves. So this is what we face today.
MB: Well just a couple of more questions. I know Mr. Lewis Valdez also, is hehere with you in your union? 51:00
JS: Valdez is heading up a program. We call it the A. Phillip RandolphInstitute. The Phil Randolph Institute, nationally, is the black political arm of the AFL-CIO. If you’re familiar with Phil Randolph, all that comes from that he was able to do in his heyday, if you want to call it that. He’s retired now. He was the only black on the executive board of the AFLCIO for years. And as you know, x amount of dollars from each individual, dues, membership dues that go through the various international union, so much of that monies is set aside for COPE, Committee on Political Education. It is sent back 52:00to the states. State AFL-CIO, central labor councils, to get our members registered to vote, to get them out to the polls to vote. The committee on political education program. But due to the fact that there was such a limited number of blacks in the heads of offices in local unions, Phil Randolph says, “Look, we’re missing a lot of support that we could be getting as far as get out to vote on issues that concern the working people.” We’re missing the black vote because nobody’s there to go back into the black area, the black neighborhood, and tell them that this is the guy we should vote for and we should get registered to vote, some of the issues. They set up an organization called the A. Phillip Randolph Institute and this is what that organization 53:00does. The executive director of the national office came to Louisville back seven years ago. Because I’m on the board of the AFL-CIO, he encouraged me to try to put together a Louisville chapter. We did put together a Louisville chapter and we were able to get funded, to seek to get some funds. We hired Valdez as the political director and through CETA we got two employees full time that work for Phil Randolph Institute chapter here.
MB: Out of this office?
JS: Our local union gave them office space, we just furnish the office space.So he heads up our Phil Randolph program. We’re having a banquet Friday night 54:00in honor of his 90th birthday at the Galt House. This is our fourth annual banquet that we’re having. I would say according to looking at it at the meeting here last night, these are people, unions and organizations that have bought tables, and individual participants, looks like we’ll have better than 500 people at the banquet dinner Friday night. Byron Rustid, who, you know Byron? He’s going to be the keynote speaker. I’ve got ( ) schedule here. There’ll be a lot of politicians there, politicking. And these are some of the things we’re doing.
MB: You have found that this is really in part keeping this, as you said, thepolitical ( ) that’s going. 55:00
JS: Through banquets and things of this nature we’re able too. This is someof the things that we may encourage or pass the word along to some of the minorities that there’s openings in the construction industry. All they have to do is seek out. I was down at OIC last week, Jonetta Marshall, you may know her. She heads up OIC. Have you ever heard of OIC? Opportunities Industrial Center. It’s also a program that’s funded by industry, mostly. They’ve got some CETA money and this is what they try to do. They get individuals in then try to let them work with their hands and see what kind of talent that they’ve got, to see what they can do with their hands. Then they feel out the various industries and unions to help get jobs for minorities and under privileged. 56:00
MB: So they would be working with a lot of types that we’ve been talking about?
JS: Right. Drop outs and disadvantaged, and so forth, that don’t know whereelse to go. They’ll try to help get them back into the work force.
MB: It seems that there are things available if you can just get the word to theones that need it and get them back involved in a program.
JS: That’s what I’ve spent most of my time the last ten years trying to dosomething for the community as a whole, especially minorities. Getting them in and getting them employed.
MB: This certainly has been interesting to me and I appreciate you talking withme and if at any time you feel that there’s some things that you’d like to add to the tape, there are additional individuals that you feel could also 57:00confirm some of the things that you’ve said, or elaborate on it, I wish you would contact us and we’d be more than glad to come and talk with you. Because I can’t think of anything that would be more worthwhile to the total community than the things you’ve been involved in here. (Recorder Off, then ON)
MB: This time we’d like to add to the tape. We have some things that havebeen brought to mind dealing with accomplishments through the labor union as far as the increased benefits to the worker. Would you state some of these for the record, Mr. Stewart?
JS: Well as I was telling you, we’ve got one of the better health and welfarefunds in this area for the amount of contributions that’s being paid by the employer for the employee. We’ve got one of the best pension funds, I 58:00believe, that’s in the country, that was set up by our international union. And I might add that our international union tries and does do things for its members because they realize what many problems confronted organized labor throughout the South. They set up a pension fund at the headquarters in Dallas, Texas. A pension fund that would cover twenty two states. All the contractors that work union, they pay into this one pension fund, due to the fact that cuts down on administrative expenses. This is one of the reasons that we were able to, our international union, was able to put this pension fund together. I think it’s one of the best ones in the country for the amount of contributions. For instance, today there’s one of our members who has ten 59:00years in the construction industry, accredited service five past and five future, put contributions in. If he’s sixty five years old and he’s got twenty five years in, he can get $350 a month. He can retire at age fifty on disability and he can retire at an early age of fifty five. Of course the pension benefits are prorated according to the number of years that he’s been in the construction industry and his age. We’ve got, I know, one of the better pension funds in the country. And all this was that I ever would have to take credit for, you know, a lot of the members won’t give it to me, but we had to railroad at our membership meeting back in ‘68 to get it passed. They would rather have a nickel in wages than to have fifteen cents into health welfare fund. This was proposed at the contract. They could see the need that we needed a health and welfare fund, and a pension fund, and this was one of the 60:00proposals that they made. We’ll give you an additional nickel in wages, or we’ll give you fifteen cents in health and welfare funds. I could see that the fifteen cents in health and welfare fund would be of more benefit than a nickel in wages. It was hard to convince some of our members of that. Of course, I had some competition from people that were seeking office. They were up on the floor saying it wasn’t worth a nickel and that we were buying a pig in a poke. I had to fight all of that even at a membership meeting. But, we were able to get the membership at that time to accept the health and welfare and pension fund program. It’s been better every year that we negotiate. We negotiate more into the funds and we’ve been able to raise the benefits. For instance, when we started off I think we were paying $250 for a child birth, now we’re up to $800 for one of our members wife’s with dependants for child 61:00birth. So here’s some of the accomplishments we’ve made in the past ten years.
MB: Does this include disability payments also? I would think that there wouldbe accidents in this business.
JS: Yes. Some accidents that occur off the job, they can get $50 a week. Ifthey’re sick and off work, $50 a week on our health and welfare program.
MB: Well thank you for adding this to it, and again, this is open tape and canbe added to at any time.