Local 139 has rich history
By Mitch Rea
March 6, 2003
On July 31, 1902, 17 men from Milwaukee signed a petition creating Local 139 of the International Union of Steam Engineers. During the Roaring 20s, its name was changed to the International Union of Operating Engineers, representing heavy equipment operators throughout Wisconsin.
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With no resources outside of a rented hall, all these labor pioneers had was their collective will – and the intent to build a union to improve benefits and working conditions.
On Feb. 18, 1946, the first apprenticeship requirements were approved, and later that year, the first jointly administered apprenticeship was approved. By May 1948, Local 139′s membership had grown to 3,800 statewide. In May of 1952, Local 139 negotiated the first health-benefit fund for its membership. The fund included all other trades in the Milwaukee area, and it wasn’t until 1959 that pension contributions were negotiated for labor agreements in the Milwaukee area.
The Operating Engineer Joint Apprenticeship and Advanced Training Committee started the Skill Improvement & Apprenticeship Program. On May 5, 1969, 40 men, a majority of which were minorities, became the first apprentice operators of construction equipment in Wisconsin. From its meager start of six pieces of borrowed equipment and a gravel pit to train in, Local 139′s training program has grown to its present 400-acre training facility in Coloma, where members train on state-of-the-art equipment on loan from more than 40 contractors and suppliers. More than 2,500 members used the services of the school during the 2001-2002 training season.
The membership grew from 6,000 statewide in 1990 to more than 8,000 by 1999. These numbers have increased dramatically through a commitment to organizing by Business Manager Dale Miller, who said, "Organizing is the key to building market share, which helps us negotiate better agreements for our membership."
Safety and training have always come first with Local 139. In 1996, more than 60 members took part in the first crane-certification testing as set up by the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators at the training facility. Of the 60 participants tested, 97 percent passed; the national average is 84 percent. Actions speak louder than words, and these figures demonstrate the quality training involved. Today several hundred Local 139 members are NCCCO certified.
With a current membership of more 8,800, Local 139 is poised to move into the 21st century as a driving force in training and organizing. For more information on Local 139, visit the Web site or call 262-896-0139.
Mitch Rea is a writer for the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council.