BAC: Over A Century of Protecting Masonry Workers

As far back as the 19th Century, North American masonry workers have protected their wages and working conditions by forming unions and associations. In 1823, for example, journeymen stone cutters in New York City struck in support of the ten- hour work day, while masons in Troy, New York, went on strike in 1835 for higher wages. Craft unions became stronger in Canada during the 1850s as employers tried to dismantle the wage system and undermine workers’ standard of living.

The financial crisis of 1857 wiped out most unions, but following the Civil War, bricklayer unions began to form in New York City; Brooklyn, Baltimore, Providence, Pittsburgh, Boston, St. Louis and New Jersey. Today’s BAC was formed October 17, 1865, with John A. White, a member of the Baltimore local, serving as president. Since its founding, BAC members have created a proud legacy of fighting for good jobs and wages, better and safer working conditions, and dignity for every worker.

In 1881, BAC became an international union with the admittance of locals representing workers from Hamilton and Toronto in Ontario, Canada. And in 1882 the Union took a stand against segregation by admitting locals representing the southern United States. The Union’s acceptance of all masonry workers was formalized at the 1897 convention, in Worcester, Massachusetts. Delegates to the Convention agreed that membership in the Union should be open to “all members of the mason craft. . . without condition as to servitude or race.”
BAC was one of the first unions to support the eight-hour work day, which was a top legislative priority for delegates to the 1869 convention. In the late 1 870s, Canadian workers began their push for the nine-hour day, and by the early 1890s, following successful strikes against the anti-union National Builders Association, the nine-hour day became part of the Union’s collective bargaining agreements. Eleven years later, and thanks in large part to the efforts of BAC members, the eight-hour day became the rule for workers across North America.

William J. Bowen was elected BAC president in 1904. Under his leadership BAC’s craft jurisdiction expanded. In 1917, for example, tilelayers became part of the Union. By 1928, when he left office, BAG’s membership had grown to roughly 130,000 members. But the Great Depression took its toll. By 1933, the Union’s membership dropped to 35,000.

Harry Bates became president of the union in 1935. He served until 1960, and was instrumental in expanding the Union’s participation in the creation of national policy. Bates helped to pass the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, a nationwide program to develop low-cost housing for workers. He worked to make fair labor standards a part of defense policy, and negotiated to ensure that 95 percent of defense construction would be performed with union members. Bates also participated in the development of the Seabees, the Construction Battalion of the U.S. Navy, and chaired the convention that voted to merge the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Unions to form the AFL-CIO.
By the 1950s, BAC’s membership included bricklayers, stone and marble masons, cement masons, plasterers, tile layers, terrazzo and mosaic workers, pointers, cleaners and caulkers. By 1960 the Union had grown to 156,000 members reflecting broader craft jurisdiction and new work opportunities.

New materials were introduced in the 1960s and 1970s, and work shifted to areas that had traditionally been non-union. In response, BAC took three important steps:

  • The International Masonry Institute (IMI) was established as a labor-management trust fund to promote the unionized masonry industry, apprenticeship training, research and development and labor management relations.
  • New departments were created to address collective bargaining, communications, education, organizing and trade jurisdiction.
  • The International Pension Fund, and BACPAC, BAC’s political action committee, were created.

The Union’s name was changed to the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen in 1975, and in 1979, John T. Joyce, the International’s Secretary-Treasurer became president.

In the early 1980s, poor economic conditions in the Canadian and U.S. construction industries, competing materials, non-union competition and a general deterioration in the political and legal climate for the labor movement caused BAC’s membership to drop again. The Project 2000 Committee was formed as a result of these challenges, and in 1985 the group presented a plan designed to ensure the Union’s survival as an independent masonry union. Using the committee’s plan as a blueprint, many improvements have been made to the union’s structure and operations. They include:

  • Establishment of ten regions; formation of an executive council with elected representatives from each region; creation of regional councils; and merging of smaller locals into larger locals.
  • Educational programs for local leaders and members.
  • New ways to communicate with members, such as chapter meetings, the Internet, and member surveys.
  • New benefit programs, including the International Health Fund, BACSave—a Retirement Savings Plan Annuity and a 401(k) plan, and BACF1ex—a flexible benefit program.
  • Creation of the Job Information Center.
  • More outreach to women and minorities; a name change in 1995 to the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers; and passage of a resolution in 1995 requiring gender-neutral language in union documents.
  • Establishment of craft committees and craft directors for the allied crafts.
  • Creation of the Membership Services Program and the Member Assistance Program.
  • Increased emphasis on safety.

In June of 1999, John T. Joyce retired and turned over the presidency of the International to BAC’s Secretary- Treasurer, John J. Flynn. In announcing the transition, President Joyce stated that he knew of “no other person better suited and qualified to assume the leadership of the Union.”

BAC has survived despite recessions, depressions, and political climates that have not always been hospitable to organized labor. BAC continues to provide its members with superior services and representation. Your membership in BAC makes you an important part of that proud history.