The impact of the labor movement in America is evident in the history of the Sheet Metal Workers, particularly that of Local 2. From 1880 – 1889, 62 international unions were established. Among them was the ancestor of the present Sheet Metal Workers International Association. It was called the Tin, Sheet Iron and Cornice Workers International Association, established Jan. 25, 1888. Not all of the 62 continued, but the Cornice Workers survived to make their place in the history of modern trade unionism.
The origins of the union really go back to period in American labor and industrial history when tinners, tinsmiths or metal workers were constantly growing in numbers of shops to satisfy the increasing demand for their products and services of their skill – for utensils as well as for their construction skills. The metal workers found, as all craftsmen find and come to realize, that only in unity is there strength.
While skills in an expanding economy were at a premium, the advances in wages were not enough to satisfy the more farsighted of the leaders among the tin workers. The perceptions of one of these men, Robert Kellerstrass, were to be translated into effective action. Early in 1887, Kellerstrass began communicating with other tinners’ locals. His letter struck a warm response; other locals and members had been having similar thoughts about combining forces
The official convention call included reference both to Archibald Barnes of Kansas City, Mo., and to Kellerstrass to whom acceptances could be sent. Perhaps credit for the origin and calling should be shared; some observers think so.
The site of the founding event: Toledo, Ohio; the day: January 25, 1888. Tinners’ organizations from Peoria, Ill., Kansas City, Omaha, Memphis, Toledo, Dayton and Youngstown convened to “better our conditions morally and socially”, as Kellerstrass put it. Sessions were held for four days during which the problems of wages, hours and conditions, as well as labor relations, economic conditions, construction industry matters were discussed.
-from The Sheet Metal Workers’ Story: A Chronicle of Fine Craftsmanship 1888 – 1980. By Arch A. Mercey