To gain some perspective on making it through troubled times, our own UBC history of nearly 139 years reminds us that our skills, ingenuity, leadership, and spirit will help us endure.
We took a look through archives of The Carpenter magazine (in continuous publication since 1881) and found compelling examples from more than 100 years ago of UBC locals and members grappling with challenges that are very similar to those we face today.
In early 1918, a ferocious epidemic of influenza began sweeping through many parts of the world, fueled in part by the ongoing world war. The epidemic lasted through 1920, infecting 500 million people worldwide and killing tens of millions at a time when vaccines had not yet been developed.
Of course, UBC members, their families, and the union were affected as many cities mandated quarantines and reduced or eliminated public gatherings. Like today, construction continued but was limited.
Here is part of a short news item from the January 1919 edition of The Carpenter:
Our Deaths’ Toll in November
For the first time in the history of the Brotherhood, attention is called to the inroad into our organization made by the Grim Reaper for the month of November. While it is with sincere regret and feeling this is done, yet, from a statistical basis, it should be of interest to our members….
The records show there were 657 claims passed on for the month…. Of those 339 died of influenza and 101 of pneumonia, of which, no doubt, influenza was the contributing cause, showing about 70 percent of the deaths for that month were caused by the epidemic which recently swept the country.
In March 1919, the Trade Notes section of The Carpenter included this letter from Local 28 in Missoula, Montana:
I am pleased to inform you that our demands for an increase in wages from $6.00 to $7.00 for 8 hours per day has been granted. The delay in notifying you was caused by the recent quarantine on account of influenza here. —Lynn D. Ambrose, Recording Secretary
In October 1919 the union was focused on recovering from the effects of the war, but the epidemic continued to take a toll. The leadership of Local 11 in Cleveland, Ohio, wrote a letter to The Carpenter urging support among members for a change of venue for the upcoming 1920 General Convention, from Butte, Montana, to the union’s headquarters city, Indianapolis.
Local 11 feels that conditions…have materially changed since 1916 [the previous convention]. Our country has passed through a world war, which, added to the recent epidemic of influenza, has entailed heavy expense upon the General Office and Local Unions. The cost of railroad transportation has nearly doubled, and the great distance that the majority of our representatives must travel to Butte will forbid many Local Unions from participating at our next General Convention.
The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing and many of the union’s usual events and practices have changed. But UBC members, locals, and councils continue to adapt and adjust, as we always have. With everyone’s dedication, we will get through this crisis strong and united.