The History of Carpenters Local #308


Before the mid-nineteenth century in America, most carpenters worked under the artisan system. After a four-to seven-year stint as an apprentice the carpenter became a journeyman. The Journeyman carpenter during this time worked indoors and outdoors. The carpenter spent many hours indoors turning out by hand "window cases, door cases, baseboard, moldings, stairs, nailing, newel posts, doors and every kind of wooden finishing." He also worked outdoors, framing buildings with his saw, chisel, plane, and molding tools. Employers did not "boss" or rush him because "a good carpenter took such pride in the quality of his work that rather than work beyond what he knew to be the proper limit of his speed, he would pack up his tools and quit."

During the 1840s, 18505, and 18605, planning mills and door, sash, and blind factories took over the indoor work once done by journeymen. Semi-skilled workers operated machines that mass-produced the doors, moldings, and window frames that journeymen carpenters once crafted by hand. The conditions for carpenters on outside work also began to worsen. The growing use of factory-made wood allowed contractors to teach inexperienced pieceworkers simple installation tasks in several weeks and pay them less wages. The competition from inexperienced pieceworkers left many carpenters with a living standard not much higher than a laborer. In Washington, D.C. the average wage for all workers was $2 a day but journeymen carpenters earned $1.50 for a day work and piecework could net a carpenter less than $1 each day. In Chicago carpenters earned the lowest wages among all the building trades and were only able to work an average of thirty weeks in 1886.

The early challenges to these conditions came from mostly skilled carpenters who formed protective unions. Protective unions had no paid leaders, and had a high turnover among union officials. To enforce demands protective associations would call strikes. A strike usually started after a small group of the union carpenters organized a strike committee. Striking carpenters, accompanied by a brass band and carrying a union banner would march to building sites around the city to display to non-union workers the strength of the union. Once they gave the strike notice the union drew up a "rat list" of contractors who refused to agree to union demands. The strike would probably fail if it lasted longer than a few weeks, especially with the absence of strike benefits. These protective unions did not resolve the problem of piecework, oversupply of workers, declining wages, longer hours, and degradation of the trade.

In 1881, alter a series of attempts to form a national organization of carpenters' protective organizations, Peter McGuire organized a provisional committee that issued a call for an organizing convention. Thirty-six delegates from eleven cities attended the first convention on August 8, 1881, at the Trades Assembly Hall in Chicago. The carpenters at the convention passed resolutions demanding shorter hours of work, increased compensation to skilled labor, and sought to "stamp out subcontract and piecework." Unlike the protective unions, the newly formed United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners (UBCJ) had a formal organization.

After 1886 the Brotherhood experienced a large increase in membership. By 1890 the UBCJ represented more than 53,769 members. But alter an economic depression set in during 1893, membership declined for the next five years. By 1896 at the ninth general convention the Brotherhood lost 121 chartered locals. Two years later the economy slowly improved and the brotherhood started to grow again. The average hourly wages in construction rose 15% between 1897-1903 and unemployment hovered at 2.6%. The Brotherhood soon experienced a spectacular growth in membership. Between 1897-1903, 139,000 new members joined Journeymen carpenters in Cedar Rapids took advantage of this union upsurge. In 1899 more than 40 journeymen signed a petition calling for a meeting on May 9th at the plasterers' union hall for "organizing a carpenters union."


Most workers in the United States worked over ten hours a day and wanted relief Their slogan was "eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, and eight hours for what we will".

At 308's founding meeting, supporters from the community backed the carpenters call for a union. The carpenters had a choice, they could stand apart and take pauper pay or stand together and receive a living wage.

The choice was clear to the founding members of Local 308. Before the carpenters of Cedar Rapids could get shorter hours and higher wages they had to build a union. While the carpenters of 308 sought to advance the labor movement as a whole, they also fought to advance their own interests. They aggressively claimed new material and jobs for themselves and tried to bring other unions of woodworkers under Brotherhood jurisdiction.

During the late 1800's, factories began to replace skilled carpenters who once completed an entire job with their own tools both inside and outside their shop. Beams and pillars used to be "fashioned with the ax and adz." And window frames and doors were cut, fitted together, and put into place by the journeymen carpenter. After the Civil War, journeymen lost this indoor work to semi-skilled operatives using machines in mills and factories. The growth of factories also threatened carpenters position on outside work. As technology improved factories began to produce non-wood building material. Hollow steel, for example, replaced wood doors and trim. A carpenter from New York City wrote in the Carpenter that "wood in office buildings could become as extinct as the Dodo." Iron workers and sheet metal workers now began to claim jurisdiction over jobs once done by carpenters.

The journeymen carpenters did not' however, resist technological innovation. Instead they claimed the new work and materials for themselves. The UBCJ told carpenters to claim jurisdiction over work formerly done by them, even if the material was not wood. For instance, carpenters, including the members of 308, claimed jurisdiction over the erection of metal doors and trim because they made and hung them when they were wood. The carpenters also went about proving that the new material was carpenters' work by showing how it required the use of carpenters' tools.

While the carpenters in Cedar Rapids sought to advance their own interests, they also wanted to advance the entire labor movement. So, four months after the carpenters founded 308, they formed a committee to confer with the other construction unions in Cedar Rapids to form a building trade council that consisted of the Plumbers, Painters, Plasterers, Hod Carriers, and Carpenters. On Dec. 1, 1899, 308 elected its first slate of delegates to the trades council committee. Over the next four years, the building trades committee grew into a cohesive council that helped coordinate the activity of all the trades in Cedar Rapids and improved workers' lives.


The Decade between 1910 and 1920 were years of growth and stability for local 308. Membership grew 339 in 1910 to 415 in 1915. By 1910 the 308 trade rules included the eight-hour day. In 1918 members of 308 made 62.5 cents per hour, elected stewards to defend workers on the job site, and contractors had to provide suitable scaffolding for their employees.

The carpenters of Cedar Rapids also began to hold social events and expand the union's activities into the community during the teen years. In 1916 Local 308 sponsored a labor day picnic. And by 1917,308 had established an annual oyster dinner and dance that included contractors and city officials as regular guests.

Between 1899 and 1919 the carpenters of Cedar Rapids had built a union that would serve them well for the challenges of the next two decades.


The members of 308 did not let the optimism of the early 1920's turn into complacency. The carpenters believed that their union had to be prepared to confront employers and politicians in Iowa who might decide to wage anti-union assaults against the working class. So at the start of the decade, confident in the durability of their twenty-year-old union, local 308 extended its organizational reach into the political arena. As it had done during the previous three decades, 308 took the lead in organizing the trades in Cedar Rapids. On March l, 1920, unions representing nine different crafts gathered at a meeting sponsored by local 308 to organize a committee to influence the direction of local politics. After a lengthy discussion, carpenters, bricklayers, millwrights, millworkers, painters, meat cutters, coopers, teamsters, sheetmetal workers, and railway mail service workers decided to endorse Louis Roth for Mayor and Pitcher, Thomas and Zika for commissioners.

Out of this meeting and the work of a committee appointed by 308, a "sifting" committee emerged to coordinate this joint political campaign. The committee assessed the carpenters five cents and each of the forty-two unions in Cedar Rapids had one delegate, except for the carpenters who had three. The unions gave the committee the power to recommend certain candidates for city offices and to advise them "who were and were not friends of organized labor." The "sifting" committee also established 308 as a force in local politics. In response to the activity of the "sifting" committee, local politicians consulted 308 on major decisions that affected the city.

Along with political activity, Local 308 also mobilized its members to take militant action of the job to fight intense employer attacks on union. Beginning in 1920 open shop associations began to form all around the country. In January 1921 a national convention of employers adopted the name "American Plan" for anti-union offensive. For the next decade, businesses, contractors, and industrialists fought to keep unions out of their work places, reduce workers' wages, and increase the pace of production. With contractors committed to the open shop and lower wages, the 1920's would be a decade that tested the organizing strength of local 308.

The strike in 1921 emerged largely in response to the contractors' attempts to cut wages and rollback the power of local 308. But the strike lasted so long because neither the contractors nor the carpenters of Cedar Rapids had resolved the persistent and pressing problem of jurisdiction over new materials.

The union had not prospered during the 1920's, but it had made some important gains in working conditions and took some internal initiatives that helped ensure the strength of the union. The members of 308 thought that the next decade would be a time of growth for the building industry and for their union. On the last day of the 1920's, the business agent reported that things had been busy in his office during the past week and that "things look very good for work this year."


The optimism of the business agent was short-lived. Soon the entire country (including the carpenters in Cedar Rapids), realized the United States had plunged into one of the worst economic crises in its history, the Great Depression. Between 1929 and 1933, unemployment rose from 3.2% to 24.9% and employed workers faced wage cutbacks and lived with the constant fear of being laid off. Business investment fell 88% between 1931-1933. The gross national product dropped from $103.1 billion to $58 billion in 1932.

The Depression hit the building trades especially hard. Construction fell by 78%, and the average annual earnings of a full-time construction worker in 1933 were less than half of what they were in 1929. The general secretary of the UBCJ reported in January 1932, that over 80% of the Brotherhood members were out of work. The Des Moines local reported the same level of unemployment a year earlier. The number of members in arrears also more than doubled in a period of four years. Between 1928 and 1932 the number of delinquent Brotherhood members increased from 36,384 to 100,013. Local carpenter unions around the country placed stay-away notices in The Carpenter and some members argued that the Brotherhood should limit membership and deny clearance cards.

After thirty years of growth and accomplishment, Cedar Rapids Local 308 faced the most difficult period in its history. Declining membership, high unemployment, and uncooperative contractors threatened to destroy or drastically diminish the power of their union. But the members of 308 did not remain passive in the face of seemingly overwhelming obstacles. Through a combination of determined resistance, expanded political activity, and skillful leadership, the members of 308 kept the union intact. Locals around the country experienced a sharp reduction in members. Much of this decline occurred because new members could not afford to pay dues and potential members could not pay the initiation fee.

Declining wages posed one of the most serious threats to carpenters in Cedar Rapids. In 1932 carpenters' wages fell below their 1920 level after 308 accepted a 17-1/2 cents per hour wage reduction to 87-1/2 cents. Employer organizations at both a national and local level, exerted more power in setting the wage scales and hours than the unions. Union wages in Cedar Rapids drooped to 70 cents per hour, and many carpenters accepted jobs below the 40 cents minimum wage.

Soon after the National Labor Relations Act, Roosevelt believed that the new legislation would be successful in raising wages because it guaranteed workers the right to create strong labor unions. The outlawed many unfair labor practices, and established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB supervised representation elections, protected workers from employer coercion, and enforced collective bargaining agreements. Local 308 could now use labor commissioners from the NLRB to pressure Contractors to bargain in good faith. Within two years of the enactment of the Wagner act in 1935, unemployment was still high in Cedar Rapids, but the contractors were less likely to delay negotiations and in 1937 carpenters' wages increased to $1.10 per hour from a low of 70 cents in 1934.

The carpenters union in Cedar Rapids looked very different at die end of the decade of Depression than it did in 1929. Local 308 no longer confined its activity to negotiating and enforcing voluntary wage agreements with contractors. Under the leadership of Walt Shadle, the local survived the Great Depression and adjusted to numerous government agencies created by the New Deal legislation during the 1930's.

In August 1939, 308 held a fortieth anniversary celebration to mark the end of almost a half-century-long struggle to establish their union as a leading member of the labor movement in Iowa. The carpenters' local grew during the early years of trying to establish a new union, lasted through the employer assaults of the 1920's, survived the harsh effects of the Depression in the 1930's.


The members of Local 308 responded to the war effort with energetic patriotism. The local's first response to the war was to pass a motion that protected its members who served in the armed forces from delinquency. In January 1940 the local voted to pay the per cap tax and suspend the non-attendance assessment for any member that served in the army. The local also bought more than $1000 dollars worth of defense bonds, and donated money to the American Legion's "Keep'em Smokin" campaign that sent cigarettes to the soldiers overseas. In May 1942 the union joined a parade held in Cedar Rapids for the Iowa Volunteers. The parade was over two-miles long and had a strong labor contingent. Meetings were also occasionally adjourned early so members could return home during blackouts. Despite the carpenters' patriotism and the promise of increased prosperity, the war years were difficult ones for local 308. But the demands of the wartime economy and military service led to a decline in membership and severely strained Local 308's resources.

Even with declining membership during the war, the union bargained strong contracts. In 1942 the carpenters negotiated a contract for $1.25 per hour and improved working rules. Three years later the contractors agreed to a 25-cents-wage increase. The carpenters, however, had to wait another year to receive the increase until the Wage Adjustment Board approved it. Roosevelt created the board in 1941 to regulate wages and "maintain industrial peace" during the war.

A postwar boom in housing and highway construction also made cooperation with other skilled trades increasingly important. The number of new housed being built more than tripled from 1945 to 1946. The expansion of housing construction around the country and in Cedar Rapids, however, led to increased use of non-union labor. It also threatened to undermine the safety and building codes 308 fought hard to establish the 1920's.

Many of the new houses that contractors sought to build in Cedar Rapids were prefabricated. Before the 1940's, contractors relied heavily on the carpenters from 308 who had the skills to build durable housing. The spread of prefabricated houses after WWII, however, reduced contractors dependence on local 308. House builders could now hire relatively unskilled non-union workers whom they could easily train to install specialized parts of the house. In order for contractors to build these prefabricated houses, however, they had to undo city and state building codes that set certain safety and durability standards.

The members of 308 knew that the elimination of building codes threatened their livelihood. So they to pressure city and state politicians to maintain the codes. At a general meeting in March 1946, the members of 308 unanimously opposed "letting down the bars it took too many years of hard work to get what we now have" and opposed code revision so contractors could build "cracker box houses." Many house contractors in Cedar Rapids agreed with 308's efforts to prevent the spread of prefabricated non-union built houses.

The 1940's had been a decade full of promise and challenge. World War, anti-labor legislation, a conservative political climate, the rise of industrial union, and the spread of prefabricated housing presented the members of 308 with significant barriers and opportunities. The members of 308 and their leaders met the challenges and left the decade stronger than at any point in the history of their union. By 1950 membership reached an all time high of 493, the Cedar Rapids local had become an influential voice in local and state politics, the trades in Cedar Rapids were united, and an unprecedented economic boom would make the next three decades years of growth for local 308.


Organized labor expanded rapidly during the 1950's. Four-million new workers joined unions during the fifties, and 25.2% of the labor force belonged to unions in 1956. The 1950's were also prosperous years for the UBCJ. Membership rose by 20%, the real hourly wage rates of union carpenters went up by 30%, and the number of apprentices increased. The Cedar Rapids' local prospered as well!

While the 1950's were relatively stable and prosperous for local 308, its members realized they could not to become complacent. Right-to-work laws and subcontracting threatened to favor non-union contractors. The members of 308, however, flexed their union muscle to fight anti-union politicians and employers. During the 1952 elections for example, carpenters canvassed door to door and drove people to the polls in "get out the vote campaigns." They also regularly used pickets to win good contracts, enforce trade rules, and protest non-union labor.

Despite the militancy of carpenters in Cedar Rapids, changing labor law made it more difficulty for 308 to use pickets in labor struggles. Taft-Hartley had banned unrestricted picketing in 1947 and in mid-1950's the Supreme Court banned site picketing, which prevented unions from shutting down an entire building site to prevent subcontracting. The union's new business agent, William Schaell, and the business agent for the Cedar Rapids Building Trades Council, however, continued to support workers' refusal to cross picket lines. In December a representative from the labor relations board came to Cedar Rapids to investigate trade unions whose members refused to cross an "illegal" picket. The representative accused Schnell and Evans of telling the trades not to cross. Schaell denied telling workers not to cross the line but added "any union man knows what to do without told."

Local 308's approach to resolving jurisdictional disputes, however, had to change during the 1950's. Before the 1930's the carpenters of Local 308 were not legally bound to settle conflicts over jurisdiction. Often Local 308 along with the general office withdrew from jurisdictional boards and claimed new work aggressively through work stoppages. The NLRB and Taft-Hartley, however, required unions and contractors to resolve jurisdictional issues and made work stoppages over jurisdiction illegal. So in 1948 the AF. of L. Building Trades Department and contractor associations created the National Joint Board for the Settlement of Jurisdictional Disputes.

Nineteen unions and a number of contractor groups joined the Board to resolve the jurisdictional disputes that continued to disrupt the construction industry.

Most of the time 308 avoided the Joint Board and settled the disputes locally through negotiation. Sometimes, however the local had to appeal to the Joint Board, often with little success. The leaders of the Carpenters union, encouraged members of 308 to "claim the work first and argue later." The rank and file agreed and forced lathers off a job putting up a ceiling at an Eagle Market and took welding classes so they could claim jobs done be the iron workers.


The 1960's were a good decade for carpenters around the country and for local 308 in Cedar Rapids. During these years the economy remained stable and carpenters benefited. The average unemployment rate during the 1960's was 4.8%, and union carpenters' real wages increased by more than 30%. In Cedar Rapids wages for union carpenters increased from $3.17 in 1959 to $5.49 by 1969. After a drop in membership between 1960-1963, the number of carpenters who joined 308 increased steadily from 500 in 1963 to 687 in 1969.

The relationship between the carpenters and union contractors m Allied Construction remained stable during most of the 1960's. The local and the union contractors continued to bargain regular contracts every "two to three years." In the first two contracts of the decade, the carpenters gained wage increases, fought for insurance to cover stolen tools, won enforcement mechanisms for safety violations, and began to elect stewards on the job. Local 308 and Allied construction also established a Joint Apprenticeship school. Before the 1960's apprentice carpenters were "indentured" to a contractor usually for four years. Starting in the mid 1960's apprentices were "indentured" to the Joint Apprenticeship school and sent out to work for contractors until the jobs were done.

By the end of the decade, however, the contractors and carpenters, were unable to agree on a new contract. In 1969 Local 308 decided to try to win more "non-taxable items" in their contract. The carpenters also tried to get wage increases to "catch up with the other crafts." They wanted .65 increase for hourly wages to close the growing wage spread between carpenters and the other crafts.

The contractors rejected the proposal and offered a smaller hourly wage increase distributed over a longer period Local 308 refused to accept the contractors' proposal, and on April 30, 1969, for the second time in its seventy-year history, the local went on a major strike. The carpenters were not alone. Throughout eastern Iowa 40 building trades contracts expired in the spring. In Cedar Rapids, the sheetmetal workers and roofers also called strikes over contract disputes. The picket lines the three trades set up around the city brought major construction to a standstill. Most of the carpenters of 308 held the line and picketed. Twenty-six days later they won the largest increase 308 ever bargained, $1.47-1/2 per hour increase in wages and fringes over a two year period.

By the end of the 1960's, it seemed like some stability had emerged in Local 308 after the leadership transition of the early 1960's. The union bargained solid contracts for its members, and local 308's membership reached a high of 687 in 1969. The union had a firm financial footing, and the officers had convinced the members to vote for the first Health and Welfare plan. By 1970 the first signs appeared that the seventies would be years of high wages and plenty jobs for the carpenters of Cedar Rapids.


Past and current members of Local 308 remember the years between 1970 and 1982 as "boom years." Jobs were plentiful and wages more than tripled from $5.49 in 1969 to 16.52 by 1982. Even the wage controls the Nixon administration implemented in 1971 did not hamper the rising wages of Cedar Rapids carpenters. Increased construction, a tight labor market, and inflation were partly responsible for the wage raises. They were also a result of the seventy years Cedar Rapids carpenters spent fighting to improve working conditions and building their union. Carpenters from Cedar Rapids recognized the historic role the union played in securing them a decent wage, and membership reached an all time high in 1979 of 722 members.

Though 308 gained members during the seventies, its overall growth was modest. To increase membership, the leaders of 308 began to strengthen its apprenticeship programs. Throughout the seventies 308 brought young carpenters into its Joint Apprenticeship Program and participated in local and state wide apprenticeship contests.

Strong apprenticeship programs not only helped strengthen the union but also gained Cedar Rapids carpenters a reputation as among the most skilled in the state.

Local 308 also participated in the Coordinated Housing Organizing Program (CHOP) to fight the increase in non-union housing construction. In 1974 the Local passed a $1 per month assessment for CHOP, allowed organizers to write and accept applications in the field and authorized the state and district council to establish a collective bargaining agreement for the local under the CHOP program.

Many rank and file members of 308, however, were as concerned about their diminished control over the internal affairs of the union as they were about declining membership. In the fall of 1968, 308 was directed to merge with the South East Iowa District Council. In December 1973, the UBCJ executive board merged the SE Iowa District with the Eastern Iowa District to form the Five River District Council that included Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Ottawa and Davenport. This trend toward limiting local autonomy culminated in 1974 when a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the national union authority to "establish, dissolve, and determine the geographical jurisdictions of local unions and district councils." The members of Local 308, however, refused to concede their right to rank and file control over union affairs and were militant in their defense of local autonomy.

The rank and file became increasingly concerned about the centralization of power on April 1, 1974 after Locals 308, 767, 1260, and 2158 formed the Five River District Council. The general office gave the Council the "executive powers to negotiate contracts and handle all matters relating to the general interest and welfare of the local unions and their members." The national and executive officers argued that the formation of the District Council would benefit both the carpenters and the contractors. Consolidation would provide opportunity for better training of men, improve the union's ability to supply men, allow carpenters to move within jurisdictional boundaries unrestricted, and help the UBCJ negotiate higher uniform wage rates.

Local 308's rank and file did not object in principal to the idea of a District Council, and they understood its potential benefits. However, the members of 308 did object to their lack of democratic control over the finances and decisions of the Council. Local 308 lent Five River $10,000, and the members paid $10 per member per month to the Council until a percentage check-off was passed to fund the district. However, the Council kept assessing members the $10 even after the general office instituted a 2% check-off. Many members of 308 also claimed the officers of Five River were mismanaging the funds.

The rank and file of 308 decided to take action to restore their control over the affairs and finances of their local. In the months following the creation of Five River, several rank and file leaders organized meetings involving hundreds of carpenters about the Five River issue. On September 16, 1974 this rank and file group made its mandate clear at a special meeting attended by hundreds of 308 carpenters and several general officers. The members successfully reduced the per cap to Five River from $10 to $8, but they were unable to force the general office to rescind the 2%. According to several members of Local 308 who were active during the 1970's, the controversy over the 2% check-off weakened the strength of the carpenters union in Cedar Rapids. Some members refused to sign authorization cards for the 2% and were dropped from membership and others just resigned from the Local. A number of these carpenters began to work for non-union house contractors and by the mid-1970s, 308 lost the remaining house building to non-union contractors.

Two years after the rank and file warned the general office about the leaders and functioning of Five River, the Council finally faced reform. In the fall of 1976 a committee was formed to investigate the affairs of Five River. After the investigation uncovered patterns of illegal use of funds, the national placed the Five River under supervision.


In the spring of 1981 the locals in Five River regained their right to elect the officers of the Council, and the internal affairs of 308 became more stable. During this year the carpenters completed a new building to house the District Council and an expanding apprenticeship training program. The union sold its old building in 1985 and began renting space from the District Council at the new building. Local 308's first woman member became Financial Secretary in 1982.

Soon after 308 recovered from the conflicts surrounding the District Council, an economic recession almost as severe as the Great Depression threatened the strength of Local 308. In 1980, the economy began to stagnate. The carpenters' wage increase slowed to .2% and in 1983 wages for carpenters in 308 actually declined by 17.5% from $16.39 per hour to $13.54. Unemployment also rose dramatically. An average of 200 members were so desperate for a job that they worked for as low a $5 per hour. It is no coincidence that 308's password for 1982 was "Recovery."

The leaders of 308 tried to provide some relief for carpenters and maintain its membership. For example, they allowed unemployed members to clean the hall once a month instead of paying one month's dues. Eventually, the economy began to improve and 308's membership and wages began to rise. After 1986, 308's membership rose steadily from 340 to 507 in 1996. In 1987, union carpenters wages had increased to their 1982 level, and between 1987-1999 wage increases averaged 3.8%.

The 1980's also brought permanent changes to the Five River District Council. In 1988 the UBCJ executive board decided once again to restructure the district councils in Iowa. In August 1988 the general office dissolved the Five River District Council. They directed the eastern Iowa Locals 308, 1260, 767, and 2158 to affiliate with the Northwest Illinois District Council to form the Northwest Illinois and Eastern Iowa District council. Local 308 was also given jurisdiction over Tama county. The executive board believed that a combined district would be more financially stable and allowed the general office more centralized control.

A number of members of 308 opposed the merger between Five River and Northwest Illinois. They believed that the merger diminished the local autonomy 308 had always fought to protect. Local 308 appealed the decision to consolidate, but the appeal was denied by the executive board. The District Council is still expanding. In December 1996 the Northwest Illinois and Eastern Iowa District Council became the Heartland District Council and now includes Des Moines and Sioux City.


One-hundred-years ago the carpenters in Cedar Rapids had to confront low wages, unsafe working conditions, itinerant carpenters, technological change, and piecework. They also lived in a city with high rent and prices. On May 9, 1899, forty journeymen carpenters formed Cedar Rapids Local Union 308 at the Plasterers Union Hall to improve these conditions. Within three years carpenters' wages increased, safety conditions improved, and 308 had a signed contract with the Master Builders Association. For the next ninety-seven years Local 308 won its members regular wage increases, shortened the hours of work, and fought against the employment of low paid non-union carpenters.

Local 308's struggle for better working conditions helped create a stable relationship with union contractors. The members of 308 always believed that a strong union would allow contractors and carpenters to cooperate. When contractors paid decent wages, for example, skilled carpenters produced quality craftsmanship.

The members of 308 also fought to protect their interests from anti-union politicians and employers. The members of 308 became involved in political activity to guarantee carpenters a voice in local, state, and national legislation. They picketed non-union contractors, organized non-union carpenters, and built apprenticeship schools to keep the union strong at the jobsite. And they built trade associations, district councils, and joined with other workers in the AFL-CIO to advance the entire labor movement in Iowa.

Local 308's first one-hundred years is a history of a struggle, stability, and contribution. It is a story of skilled journeymen who joined together to build a union to improve the lives of carpenters and the life of Cedar Rapids. These union carpenters built much of Cedar Rapids, participated in its civic life, strengthened families with union wages, energized the city's labor movement, and shaped Iowa's rich working-class history. It is a history that shows that the prosperity of carpenters and Cedar Rapids in the next century depends on the vitality of its unions and the empowerment of its workers.