90 Years Building Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota
In honor of Local 49’s 90th Anniversary we celebrate the accomplishments that Local 49 has achieved and its history over the past 90 years. Most importantly we celebrate our members—past, present and future, and the work they have accomplished building Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota for the last 90 years.
Local 49 was chartered on June 10th, 1927 as a result of the unification of Twin Cities Locals 84 and 86, which had been chartered in late 1901 with Local 42A. On December 31, 1938, our charter was re-issued to cover approximately 300 Hoisting and Portable members in the state of Minnesota, holding meetings above Witts Grocery on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. Hoisting and Portable Local 723 of Fargo, North Dakota joined Local 49 on June 1st, 1946, which gave Local 49 jurisdiction over the entire state of North Dakota. Locals 560 and 560A of Rapid City, South Dakota, with territorial jurisdiction over all of South Dakota merged with Local 49 on December 1st, 1950, and our charter now includes all of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Local 49 has members that span throughout many generations, from members who have been with the union for more than 40 years to members who have just joined last year. In honor of Local 49’s 90th anniversary, we asked some of our members to share their thoughts and feelings on how the industry has changed over the years.
Darrell Martell, a 41-year member who primarily did sewer and water work, reflected on what has changed in the industry from when he first started compared to today.
“Safety has changed a lot,” Martell expressed. “They did a lot of gutsy things back then, things I wouldn’t do myself, but men would go down into these holes for certain sewer and water work and I couldn’t understand how they did that. I remember when OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) kicked in because then it got better and the companies had to abide by the new safety rules,” Martell added.
Al Gilbertson, a 13-year member, also noted the safety changes from when he had first started in 2004.
“One of the big things is the safety aspect, and from what I see, it went from one end of the pendulum all the way to the other; meaning that there wasn’t enough safety, and we probably did some things we shouldn’t have done, now it’s swung almost too far to the other way…We need to find a happy medium,” Gilbertson said.
Gilbertson also recalled change in technology over the past 10 years. “We still used conventional cranes when I first got into the industry and they are a little more difficult to run, and nowadays you see them phased out for the new hydraulic cranes,” Gilbertson said. “With that being said, I do believe that the newer hydraulic cranes are safer and a more operator friendly machine.”
Gilbertson also commented on the amount of computers that are in heavy equipment now.
“I never dreamt I would know this much about computers as I do now, all just to be able to run the crane. I had talked to some (Ziegler) CAT representatives a few years ago now, and some of the designers from CAT flat out told me that they’ve started designing their cabs to be more like a video game to get the younger generation to come into the industry,” Gilbertson said.
Lyle Olson, a 52-year member and retired crane operator, reflected on the changes in health care and pension benefits over the years., “I’m glad I was a steady union guy, because now I have a great union pension and health policy. People overlook the benefits side of it, and I’ve seen people who got in too late and wished they had joined the union sooner,” Olson said. “It’s been a good ride for me, and now I ended up with a really good pension and health insurance. Local 49 really took care of me, and I have no regrets."
Dave Doebel, a 32-year member, talked about the change in health care and how he’s glad that Local 49 and the Health Plan planned ahead for these changes. “I remember back in the day Glen [Johnson—Business Manager of Local 49] told all of us that health insurance costs are going to become astronomical and he was right,” Doebel said. “I’m fortunate that in 32 years I’ve always had carry over hours in the winter months (to maintain his health insurance) and I felt bad for those that didn’t and had to fork out that money and still put food on the table for their kids.”
Doebel’s father was also a member of Local 49 and inspired him to be a heavy equipment operator. Doebel said he even remembers what his father told him the day he said he was going to be a heavy equipment operator. “I remember my dad saying that if I was going to pursue this kind of work, you have to work hard and do a great job for a good day’s pay, and he was right,” Doebel said.
Local 49 Business Manager, Glen Johnson, commented on the changes he has seen over his time as both the Business Manger of Local 49, and as a member.
“Looking back at when Local 49 was first incepted compared to today so much has changed in our industry from safety regulations to the kind of technology that is in the equipment now. Despite these changes Local 49 has flourished because we have adapted to the times, and through our state-of-the-art Training Center, our members can train on the latest equipment to continue to set themselves apart from the rest of the industry,” Johnson said.
“On a national level, so much has changed in regards to health insurance and retirement benefits. With health care costs rising and pensions becoming almost non-existent, Local 49 has once again prospered because of the leadership and vision at our Health and Welfare Fund and Central Pension Fund. These organizations have had the foresight to plan for these influxes to make sure our members and their families are able to have quality and affordable health care, and to be able to retire with dignity,” Johnson added.
Looking to the future, Local 49 will continue to build Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota and will continue to do what is necessary to provide quality jobs for our members now and for years to come.
“As Local 49 stands right now we are at our highest membership numbers that we’ve had in decades – totaling more than 13,500 members -- and there are no signs of our membership slowing down,” said Local 49 Business Manager Glen Johnson. “Our members are some of the most hard-working, dedicated and talented people that I know, and with them I am certain Local 49 will last another 90 years and beyond.”
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Local 49 will be unveiling several 90th Anniversary stories, videos and much more. Stay tuned to local49.org and facebook.com/local49 for more information.