Collinsville, IL
Business Manager and
Financial Secretary: Chris Hankins

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It’s been over 100 years since 11 gentlemen from the east side of the Mississippi River 
decided it was time for a change. They had been pushed around and abused; they had worked in unsafe conditions long enough. They wanted, and needed, a better life for themselves and their families. On September 11, 1902 the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers granted a charter to these 11 electrical workers, thus Local Union 309, in East Saint Louis, was born. These Charter members, including Grove Tangley, Eugene P. Chamberlain, C.D. Hunter, J.W. Gallagher, Emil C. Erlinger, Charles E. Wills, Ed C. Bardsey, Alexander Fox, Charles Americk, C.E. Kitchen, and George Cliff along with members of other trades, laid the foundations which, through the test of time, have proven strong enough to support a united labor effort. This type of solidarity has seldom been seen at any time, or for that matter, in any other place in the country.


Different in the BeginninWhile it is true that Local Union 309 had its start in 1902, it was very different from what we know as Local Union 309 today. When this local joined the International, it was strictly a lineman’s local. Local 1 in St. Louis had wireman’s jurisdiction on the east side of the river, and Local 50 in Belleville (which 309 would absorb in 1917) did some line work in the area as well. It was not until 1929 that 309 received the wiremen’s jurisdiction, and that was only on a trial basis. A full five years later, 23 years after the local was born, Local Union 309 received confirmation for the International Convention that they would be able to keep permanently the wiremen jurisdiction on the east side of the Mississippi. Since that time, Local 1 and 309 have had a good working relationship. It was not until 1905, three years after the organization of the Local, that Kastel Electric became on of the first contractors to establish a shop on the east side of the river. Other contractors, such as Belleville Electric, soon followed, and the first growth period for Local Union 309 as well as the International, was on. By this time, the International membership, which had changed its name from the National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in 1899 to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to accommodate Local 93 in Ottawa, Canada, numbered over 24,000.


A high ranking International officer once said that there were two jobs in this world that he wouldn’t want: President of the United States and Business Manager of Local Union 309. This was not a dig at 309, but a compliment. Since its inception, Local Union 309 has been known for its fighting spirit, both by the members, as well as the officers elected by this body. The Local Union at times has been both controversial and trend setting. But one consistent fiber can be found woven throughout the history of the local. That consistency is the fight for the good of the union. Through the years Local Union 309 has proven to be a force, absorbing not only the Belleville local, but also 383 in Gillespie in 1924, as well as 703 in Edwardsville in 1925 giving 309 jurisdictions in parts of 11 counties in Illinois. For a short time, 1937-1944, the Local even operated 832 in Jefferson City, Missouri. That Local was eventually taken over by Local 2 in 1944. It was during this period that one of the first known contracts negotiated by the Local comes to light. T.P. Middleton, E.C. Elliot, and F. Handcock, the elected officers of the Local in 1910, signed off the contract guaranteeing better working conditions. The two-year contract, dated May 15, 1910 to May 15, 1912, was the predecessor of what is now known as Union Electric. The wage scale section of the contract called for line foremen on railroad work to be paid $105 a month. Line foreman on electrical light work were paid 55 cents per hours; night troublemen and troublemen on line car work were given two days off per month and were contracted to do the work for $94.50 per month. Tree trimmers were paid $65 per month and were given only two days off a month. They were paid time-and-a-half for overtime, and double time for Sundays and holidays. There was a section in the contract dealing with grievance procedures; this was their way of trying to keep a smooth working relationship between labor and management.


Members of Local Union 309 have also moved on to higher levels. Perhaps the most notable is A.L. Wegener. He was business Manager of Local Union 309 from 1932 – 1939. In 1937 he was appointed as Special Assistant to the International President, D.W. Tracy. In 1945 United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt called Mr. Wegener to the White House for a secret meeting. The meeting concerned the attempted organization of a plant in Oak Ridge Tennessee. The workers at this plant were involved in a secret project. After being briefed on the project, Wegener spoke with International President Edward J. Brown and organizing efforts were stopped, thus keeping the secret safe. The secret project was the development of the atomic bomb, which ended World War II. Another influential man who had his origins in 309 was Fern Rauch. In 1949 Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson appointed Rauch the Assistant Secretary of Labor the State. He later assumed the role of Director in 1952.


Any journeyman who has gone through an apprentice program in Local Union 309 knows the importance of education. It was no different in the early 1900’s. As mentioned earlier, 309 did not acquire the wiremen’s jurisdiction on a permanent basis until 1925. In order to accomplish this, the powers that be within the Local felt compelled to use the same format Local 1 used before the transfer, including the program for apprentices. As a way of promptly establishing local men to man the work the new wiremen jurisdiction was going to provide, many linemen changed their classification to wiremen. There were a few in the membership who had some experience doing this sort of work, mostly those who had transferred their tickets from Local 1 to 309 after we were awarded the wiremen’s work. Those who had the experience helped those who had none, and the work was being completed. These experienced workers are part of the reason the first know apprentice, Ted Ballhausen, does not appear on the rolls until 1923. 

The first mention of apprentices in a recorded contract is found in 1920 in the contract between Locals 309 and 649 and the East St. Louis Light and Power, the East St. Louis Railway Co., The East St. Louis and Suburban Railway Co., and the Alton Gas and Electric Company. The contract called for lineman apprentices to be between the ages of 16 and 21. They would serve a four-year apprenticeship and were paid 25 cents per hour during their first year. They would receive a two-and-a-half cent increase for each six months thereafter, until they started their fourth year. At start of the fourth year they got 5 cents per hour more for the first six months. The last six months of the apprenticeship they received seven-and-a-half cents more or 67 ½ cents per hour. Journeymen were paid 85 cents per hour while journeymen wiremen collected 82 cents per hour. The ratio language in the contract called for one apprentice for every three journeymen. The workday was considered eight hours in the city, but nine hours in the country. An interesting fact is found in the very next contract between the same parties, all classifications not showed an eight-hour workday being the norm, but a reduction in pay rate for all classification is also indicated. Journeymen linemen were now making 76 ½ cents per hour while wiremen were 74 cents per hour. While the apprentice program was started in 1923, it was not until 1944 that 309 started the electricity and electronics school. The beginning of the school was relatively simple. There were two teachers and the students were required to pay tuition of $10 to $15. The budget expenditure for the whole program was $1690. By 1948 the classes had grown enough to warrant the addition of new courses and classroom facilities. The courses added at that time were meters and meter circuits. Blueprint reading and welding began around 1949. By 1950 the program had 50 students in the East St. Louis classes. In 1952, Local Union 309 registered its apprentice program with the Bureau of Apprenticeship, United States Department of Labor. By this time the school had gone through its growing pains and had become a major factor in providing the area with highly skilled electrical workers. The school had outgrown the small confines of the old hall in East St. Louis, so an addition was build on, making room for six welding machines and other training equipment. The total cost of the project, under the direction of Business Manager Roy Camerer, in 1954 was $25,000. It was not until 1965 that Local Union 309 joined the JATC and ALBAT programs, at the urging of the International. To hear some of the “Old Timers” tell, not everyone wanted to join the programs. Local Union 309, the body, and well as the elected officials, felt their school was as good as any in the IBEW.


Besides joining the JATC and ALBAT programs, the 1960’s saw many changes in the local. In 1961 the first formal agreement providing for pension, sick leave and hospitalization was signed between the Local and Illinois Power Company. The first negotiated health and welfare program dates back to 1952. There were no benefits paid the first year after this program was started, and even after that there was minimal coverage. No major medical was included any benefits were paid at a flat rate, a far cry from what the members enjoy today. The pension program for wiremen, not a popular subject back in the first days it was discussed, was established in 1965. Contractor contributions started on July 16, 1966 and have since changed the way members view retirement. No longer do they have to work well into their sixties.

When the pension was first started, the contribution was 15 cents per hour. Six months later it was 25 cents per hour. A change of address was in order for the local as well in the late sixties. After years of hopping around from meeting hall to meeting hall throughout East St. Louis, finding a permanent home because a top priority. The Illinois Street hall in East St. Louis, a building which 309 owned, had served the Local well, but had become too small for the expanding school programs and other activities held there on a regular basis. After exhausting several possibilities the body voted to purchase land on Route 157, near the Interstate 70 interchange in Collinsville, the current location. The cost of the land in 1966 was $32,000.


As with the history of any local in the I.B.E.W., Local 309’s work situation has had its ups and downs. For the most part, however, when you look back at the previous 100-years, work has been pretty good, except for three periods in the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s. The first period, the 1970’s, started to go bad as early as 1974. The country was in the middle of the biggest scandal ever to rock the White House and the office of the President of the United States. Republican President Richard Nixon would resign in disgrace after the Watergate fiasco in 1974. This left Gerald R. Ford as the Commander In Chief, and it seemed as though he was mostly concerned with being re-elected rather than addressing the unemployment issue. By 1976, things were getting worse. Although Jimmy Carter was elected, it was during this time the local instituted a 32-hour work week. It is believed this was the first time this had occurred and it only lasted a couple of months. Furthermore, many locals across the nation were experiencing eight to ten percent unemployment rates. Local 309 was able to keep the majority of its inside workforces busy, but the outside side of the house was a different story. There were many linemen off for extended periods of time. By December of 1976, the wiremen had begun to feel the pinch and another 32-hour work week was implemented. Work was so bad in this area that some brothers were forced to go tramping in order to find a job and keep their families fed. While there were 309 electricians all over the country Local 34 (Peoria), 146 (Decatur), and 193 (Springfield) did a fantastic job of employing 309 electricians and keeping them relatively close to home. The 32-hour week lasted until March 1977 when work started gradually picking up. It continued to be a roller coaster ride until the winter of 1978. That winter, for the first time since 1973, all wiremen worked. The start of 1982 saw the bottom fall out of the work situation again. By this time Ronald Reagan had replaced Carter in the White House and his system of trickle-down economics was failing miserable. The 32-hour workweek had been lost in contract negotiations. An average of 60 journeymen and apprentices were on the bench at all times. The law directs the hall in how they must put journeymen to work, but the JATC is granted more freedom to equalize the work. With so many apprentices out of work from October 1981. The idea was to rotate apprentices with low working hours into the field and sit those with the most working hours, just until the crisis was over. And finally, the work slowdown of the early 1990’s was reported to be as bad, if not worse than the previous. As it turned out, Local Union 309 had an unemployment rate of almost 40 percent in May of 1992. By September, it looked like things were going to break, but it was just a tease and the bottom fell out once again. The corner was finally turned in November 1993. When work began to break, it broke with a vengeance. The work situation in Local Union 309 since 1993 has been unparalleled at any time during the 100-year history. The membership of this Local had weathered the storm and came through it stronger than before.


In 1999 a new training center was built to accommodate continued growth. All that being said, one of the biggest changes in the past ten years has been the amount of organizing the local has done. A directive from the International made it mandatory that every local in the I.B.E.W. do this, and very few locals in the nation have done it as well as 309 has, putting a big hurt on the ever-present non-union contractors in the area. As we come to the end of our first 100 years I think Brother John Lorentzen summed up I.B.E.W. Local Union 309, and the union philosophy, as well as anyone could when he wrote in the 75th Anniversary book. “Brotherhood assures the progress of the Brotherhood. Each era commits to the writing of its history to the participants. We have written the history for the first 100 years for you, Brothers and Sisters. We commit to the future.”


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