HISTORY OF LOCAL UNION 494, I.B.E.W.
Twelve Men and One Hundred Years
Our story begins as Local Union 2 in 1892 with just 12 men united together by a common bond, undaunted by a rocky road ahead, who wrote the history of organization in Milwaukee for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
The path ahead was rough with high hopes that were often smashed to nothing without a word of warning. Money was scarce and they knew little of the obstacles they were to meet, or,of the final success they were to gain.
Milwaukee was a slow, easy going city. A workman’s hours were long and his wages small.
Our story began as Local Union 2 in 1892 but an ill-advised strike in 1897 doomed it in 1899. It was reorganized into a mixed Local No. 82 which lasted for twelve years.
1901 to 1910
In 1903 an Inside Local No. 424 was formed from members of Local No. 82 but that lasted just two years and then had to merge again. In June of 1906 the present Local Union 494 was started after being part of the outside local for a year.
The early years proved to be the most difficult for Local 494. Although the unit doubled in size shortly after being organized, the 25 members did not have a loud enough voice. Albeit small they were still able to negotiate its first closed shop agreement, and won a strike that resulted in the eight-hour day, 5-½ day workweek.
Wages were extremely low. Journeymen received $16.00 per week, and helpers $1.75 per day. A few top workers received the princely sum of $18.00 per week.
1910 to 1920
On May 11, 1911, Local 494 received its permanent charter as Local 494 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Local Union 494 began on a shoestring tied together by the shared belief that organizing would result in improved working conditions, both for themselves and for their fellow workers.
In 1912, the union membership rolls grew to more than 70 members. A health and welfare plan was implemented by Local 494 which provided sick, accident and death benefits. Curiously enough, the fund was started on $150.00 borrowed from the Local’s general fund. Frowned upon and laughed at by many at its inception, that plan is still providing benefits today for “A” members of Local 494.
Local Union 494 became a mixed local when the outside Local No. 83 was merged into Local Union 494 after the Reid-Murphy faction ended.
During this decade the world was at war and many of the members saw service in the armed forces. Toward the close of this period the membership had “soared” to 150 members with 15 shops being signed up in closed-shop agreements. Wages averaged 75 cents an hour for Journeymen and 45 cents for helpers. The local went on strike and won a ten-cent increase bringing the scale to 85 cents/hour for the Journeymen.
1920 to 1930
The Great Depression followed the war years and created a significant loss in membership. But with the rich and fertile years ahead these losses were soon regained and hundreds of members were added.
Boom times followed the depression and many private and public buildings were erected and manned by members of Local 494. Improved conditions and increased wages were also forthcoming. The period saw the establishment of the five-day week with overtime being paid at premium rate. Wages were increased to $1.25 per hour for Journeymen and 85 cents an hour for helpers.
1930 to 1940
This decade was to be the worst in the history of the union; and yet, in some ways it was the best. The early thirties saw the greatest unemployment problem our country had ever known.
Those fortunate enough to have work paid extra assessments so that the unemployed members could pay their dues.
Organizing continued however, and electrical contractors, motor shops, and industrial plants, many of which had never hired union men before, were doing so for the first time.
Apprenticeship training was instituted with a committee being set up composed of members of Local 494 and the Employers Association.
In 1934 a group from the Power and Light Company and its affiliates sought to become part of Local 494. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) held an election and Local 494 won the right to bargain for those coming under the jurisdiction of the IBEW.
During the early 1930’s, there were many improvements in wages and working conditions and these were written into agreements signed by the companies and Local Union 494.
As the decade neared a close, it looked like better times lie ahead. However, there was a foreshadowing of tragedy as the foreign armies of Europe invaded neighboring lands.
1940 to 1950
World War II broke out in all its fury. Many of our members were called into service, some never to return. Those left behind did meritorious service on the home front, in the shipyards and in industrial plants. There were countless jobs available as industry expanded and converted to war production. Members worked 10 and 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
In 1943, Local Union 494 established an indentured apprenticeship program, in which apprentices were certified by a committee composed of electricians and contractors supervised by the state. The newly established certification required five years of training, comprised of 500 hours of technical training and hands-on experience in all phases of the trade.
1950 to 1960
Local 494 experienced its greatest gains in the 1950’s. The biggest accomplishment was the purchase of an office building at 2121 West Wisconsin Avenue. This new headquarters had a brand new look in architectural design and office décor.
More than fifty years after the charter date of May 11, 1911, the original twelve men had become an organization of some 5,200. Different groups with one common bond – electricity; encompassing construction, utility, diverse manufacturing of electrical products, signs, sound and maintenance.
New contractual areas have been penetrated. In addition to increased hourly wages, the living wage now includes paid vacations, hospital and surgical care benefits and pensions. Job security provisions have been strengthened.
The apprenticeship program was revised and refined. The program was recognized nationally as one of the best in the nation and used as a model by many Locals.
Continuing advanced technical theory and training classes were offered regularly for the journeymen and the skilled workers in areas other than construction.
Local Unions 620 and 680 merged with Local Union 494 expanding the jurisdiction of Local Union 494 to include Fond du Lac and Sheboygan Counties.
As membership grew, the number of representatives increased as well. In the utility sector, union representatives service groups from the southern state line to the northernmost point of our state along the eastern border. Other representatives service many groups in manufacturing plants and in construction spread over the seven counties around Milwaukee.
Representatives of Local 494 were called upon to serve their community and their county in many capacities on various committees, civic organizations and official boards.
For Local 494 the 1950’s were a decade of great progress and achievement.
1960 to 1970
It was during this decade that the Local Union withstood the most severe test of its ability to survive during a period of declining financial resources. Expenses were exceeding income, and our Local was forced to regularly expend the reserves which had accumulated. This problem grew progressively worse throughout this period.
Membership rolls were reduced when Utility members withdrew from Local Union 494 and formed their own Local Union.
The two Local Unions, although separate, enjoy a continued working relationship.
This was the era when much political attention was given to social programs, civil rights and equal opportunity in employment. This paved the way for the advent of an affirmative action program in apprenticeship training. In addition the apprenticeship was reduced from 5 years to 4 years during this time period.
The concept of providing fringe benefits for the construction industry changed. Trust Funds, administered by an equal number of employer and employee Trustees, were established to administrate and assure the security of benefits for members and their families. This new concept enabled Local 494 to negotiate their own pension plan to provide a more comfortable retirement when combined with the national plan already in existence. The vacation stamp plan was changed to a new system to assure that vacation pay would keep pace with negotiated wage increases.
1970 to 1980
The financial problems plaguing the Local had not been resolved, and the Local was brought under the supervision of the International Union for eighteen months. Once the problems were resolved, Local Union membership began growing once again. Local 494 was then able to afford and sponsor trapshooting, golfing and baseball teams. New office equipment, including a computerized record keeping system, was also installed.
A new Local Union for line construction was chartered by the International Union. Line construction members of Local 494 as well as other Local Unions throughout the state transferred their membership to the new Local Union.
Historic legislation was enacted to make the workplace safer for all workers. Local 494 members worked long hours to correct safety hazards brought to light by new legislation – OSHA – hazards, which had been overlooked in the past. Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was initiated which guaranteed a greater degree of security for pension plan participants.
For the first time in the union’s history, the vacation plan covering members employed by contractors provided six paid holidays per year and was the only trade to do so in the Milwaukee area. The health and welfare plan designed an hour banking system to provide better coverage during periods of unemployment, and added Vision and Dental benefits.
Towards the end of the 1970’s the most severe double-digit inflation in history occurred. High inflation, coupled with high unemployment, caused hardship to our members, which was expected to continue well into the next decade.
1980 to 1990
The advancements in worker safety, wages and benefits achieved in the 1970’s remained strong entering the 1980’s. The membership of the Electrical Workers, Local 494, IBEW withstood some of the greatest hardships ever faced. Local 494 remained a well-organized team and each member played a valuable role in continued union growth and strength during these volatile economic times.
Members wore the I.B.E.W. badge with pride.
Political and economic factors coupled with a strike in 1982 continued to reduce the membership rolls and reduce the general fund. The work loss was due to the closing or relocation of numerous manufacturing plants and work that was not regained after the strike was resolved.
In order to counteract the revenue decline Local Union 494 initiated an austerity program. When this failed to meet the financial obligations, a new dues structure based on a minimum-maximum percent, was approved by the membership. A great example of Local 494’s ability to meet changing economic times was when dues were reduced to the minimum percentage. This flexibility was directly related to Local 494’s full employment for the first time in seven years.
Due to a change in the international leadership an energetic organizing program was developed. Local 494 put on a full- time organizer to spearhead organization of non-union members. This venture was a success and membership increased as a result. A residential agreement was also instituted in an attempt to regain losses in the housing market.
We hope that the many gains we have made throughout the years will continue through the ninety’s.
The early years were recalled as we prepared for and celebrated the one hundred year anniversary of the IBEW. The celebration re-ignited the founding belief that organizing would result in improved working and economic conditions for all members of the electrical industry.
New strategies were implemented and organizing while maintaining its core values became the top priority. It would take the efforts of everyone – members and contractors – to pull together. Committees were formed to solve the industry’s problems by working toward the common goal of what’s good for one is good for all.
Every member had to be reminded that unless every electrical worker was organized the market share enjoyed in the past could not be regained.
Having outgrown the union building that was built in the 50’s plans were made for the new Local 494 Headquarters. Land was purchased on the southwest side of Milwaukee County and the new headquarters was built, one large enough to house the Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee offices and some classrooms. Eventually, additional classrooms were built in the lower level and much of the training was brought in-house. The apprenticeship training was changed back to five years to allow more time for necessary schooling in new technologies.
A new computer system providing Internet access plus additional office equipment was added to the union headquarters for efficiency. More staff was hired as the workload and the number of contracts to be negotiated increased.
With the addition of an annuity plan and increases to the pension plans, the combination of which allowed the members to retire at an earlier age with the dignity they deserve.
A retirees club was started and continues to meet once a month for fellowship and common concerns.
A growing economy fueled many gains Local 494 achieved in the 1990’s.
2000 to 2006 – Our 100th Aniversary
At the beginning of this new millennium Local 494 was headed in a positive economic direction. Then with the blink of an eye, the tragedy of September 11th, 2001 (9-11) occurred, and would be etched into our memories, and our lives would be changed forever.
In retaliation against this attack our great country once again found itself in the midst of a war unlike any other fought by our country.
Local 494 as well as the rest of the nation had gone through unprecedented economic times. The work picture in Milwaukee and most of Wisconsin was comparable to the 1980’s. Many of our members were faced with long periods of unemployment, and for the first time in many years some of our members had to travel for work.
At the same time Local 494 made several changes to better both the membership and the industry. As health and welfare costs continue to increase, a prescription drug plan and mail order service were added to help contain costs. A pre-funding plan was initiated to ease the burden of health care costs for members when they retire.
Educating our members in new technology, safety and code became a high priority. The Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee employed a Continuing Education Coordinator and Code Consultant. Members working under construction agreements and other contracts are required to undergo safety training and random drug testing.
Our members continued their solidarity both on and off the jobsite at our annual Summer Picnic at the Zoo, Golf Outing, Bowling Tournament, Valentine’s Day Dance and Labor Day at the Lakefront. Our retirees continue their solidarity as well with monthly meetings at the 494 Hall, annual picnics and holiday parties.
In 2006 the times were changing again, and Local 494 was headed in the right direction. Work picked up in our area, and we were fortunate to have two power plant projects. The plants required a great deal of manpower, and our members enjoyed steady employment.
2006 marked our 100th Anniversary
In the last 100 years our Local has gone through many highs and many lows.
Our solidarity has allowed us to take great pride in our accomplishments,
continue on with our determination and strength,
and fight through the hard times.
We stand together as one and are prepared for and looking forward to our next 100 years.
Congratulations to Local 494 of the International Brotherhood
of Electrical Workers and to all who have helped us get to this monumental place in time.
Our 100th Anniversary Celebration was a great success. The event was semi-formal and held on Saturday, October 14th, 2006 at the Wisconsin Exposition Center.
The party truly was a once-in a-lifetime occasion.
2007 – 2010
2007 started with just about all of our members working on a steady basis. Book 1 averaged twelve to fifteen on the list. Port Washington and Oak Creek power plants were under construction. Expansion of three local hospitals and an addition to Potowatomi Casino were all in the works. Plans were underway for a new headquarters for Manpower and a Harley Davidson Museum.
Awards were given to WE Energies Port Washington Generating Station in recognition of one million hours and then two million hours without a lost time injury. These awards were the result of the collaborative effort made by the many trades that participated in working safely on the job site.
The Officers Election voting procedure was updated. A company that specializes in union elections was contracted to mail the ballots and count the returned votes electronically. Secrecy is maintained, and we have certified results in a matter of minutes.
We at Local 494 believe in giving back to our community. We have held blood drives, filled food banks, donated Brewers suites, and regularly collect pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald house. We also donate monies as well as our time and talents to a variety of charities on a continuing basis.
Our retiree group makes their own contributions to our local communities. For over a decade, they have “lit the way” for many non-profit groups in our area. We are fortunate to have such a knowledgeable and dedicated group of caring members who volunteer both their time and expertise. The retirees enjoy giving back to their communities while staying active at the same time.
The Apprenticeship office moved out of the Local 494 Hall and relocated to Wauwatosa. The state-of-the-art training facility will continue to turn out the best trained electricians in the country.
In late 2008 the Great Recession started with the collapse of the real estate bubble, and a prolonged stock market roller coaster ride ensued. 2010 ended with a gloomy outlook for both the economy and jobs. In December of 2010 there were 304 members on Book l.
This is a story – started by 12 men and continued by thousands.
It is not a story of individualism, but one of cooperation,
in which every member of Local 494 has participated.
The History of the Local 494 Business Managers
In the early days of Local 494 there is no indication that there was any one individual
who actually held the position of Business Manager.
The 1st recorded Business Manger of the Local was E.J. Brown, who coincidentally held the Office of the International President of the I.B.E.W at the same time. E.J. Brown was appointed to be the Business Manager of Local 494 by the 6th District Vice President Boyle.
The Local 494 Executive Board accepted the resignation of E.J. Brown in September of 1947 and appointed Edgar J. “Rex” Fransway. Rex Fransway became the 1st Business Manager
of Local Union 494 who was actually voted into office by the membership.
E.J. Brown – Business Manager/International President of the I.B.E.W.
Edgar J. “Rex” Fransway - Business Manager from 1947 - 1963
Guy Boldt - Business Manager from 1963 - 1965
George Mock - Business Manager from 1965 – 1969
George Pozanski – Business Manager from 1969 – 1971
James Kruse – Business Manager from 1971 – 1983
Neal F. Rosenberg – Business Manager from 1983 – 1989
Paul Welnak – Business Manager from 1989 - 2006
Michael Mueller – Business Manager from 2006 – 2010
Daniel Large – Business Manager from 2010 – 2012
John Bzdawka – Business Manager 2012 – 2015
Dean Warsh – Business Manager 2015 – to present
Page Last Updated: Oct 06, 2015 (09:08:58)