Chicago has played an instrumental role in the development of the piping industry since the inception of unions. The original UA headquarters was located in Chicago. Shortly after the UA was formed, the Steam Fitters’ Protection Association Local 2 of the International Association was organized, holding their first meeting at the Plasterers’ Hall in 1885.
Workers were on the job 10-12 hours a day, six days a week. Safety of workers was not a concern to most employers. Wages were low, and workers had no protection against medical bills if they were injured on the job. With the establishment of the Protection Association, steamfitters were able to negotiate with their employers, striking for the first time in 1886 to get an eight hour work day. Further negotiations brought health benefits and retirement plans to protect workers from unforeseen disaster.
Local 597 has enjoyed a stable history, electing only three Business Managers since 1900 when “Walking Delegates” were replaced by Business Managers. Charles Rau served his Union well for 50 years, 1901 - 1951. Martin J. Ward served as Business Manager from 1951 – 1958.
Francis X. McCartin became a legend in the labor movement during his 43 years as Business Manager 1958 - 2001. The Francis X. McCartin Training Center became Chicago’s first union apprenticeship training facility.
Elected in 2001, James Buchanan took apprenticeship training to a new level, with the construction of a state-of-the-art training facility in Mokena, Illinois. Through Mr. Buchanan’s leadership, Local 597 has seen changes in benefits and wages that improve the quality of life for its members.
In 1960 John F. Kennedy said, “Those who would destroy or further limit the rights of organized labor – those who would cripple collective bargaining or prevent organization of the unorganized – do a disservice to the cause of democracy.” Local 597 has indeed fought to keep America’s standard of living one of the highest in the world, through fair wages, reasonable working hours and the safest possible working conditions for its members.