In 1980 the work picture for Local 46 was very healthy, with plenty of work in the shipyards and the construction units (it was reported 450 Book 2’s were working in the jurisdiction). However, the population in Seattle took another tumble to 493,846; this was the lowest number since the 1950’s.

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General Election

The Movie, Norma Rae, was shown at the October General Meeting. The General Election of 1980 was about to have some devastating effects for the members of Local 46.

Warren “Maggie” Magnuson, the longtime Senator for Washington State, was defeated. Maggie had secured contract after contract for the shipyards of Washington State; had delivered for Boeing, and when needed, got the funding for the new West Seattle Bridge.

The other Democratic Senator, Henry Jackson, would die in office in 1983; and because Washington State had a Republican in the Governor’s office, Jackson, a Democrat, would be replaced by a Republican.

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The President elected in 1980, Ronald Reagan, was extremely hostile to working people, especially if you belonged to a Union. The country went into a nose dive and the economy tanked; over 25% of the Local’s Wire unit were unemployed in the early 80’s.

Fortunately, the Marine work was still holding steady in those early days of the decade, but that would also take a hit as the work secured under the previous administration would dry up and the new contracts would go to other areas of the country.

1982 - Small rise in membership

In 1982, before the International Convention, the members in that traditional fashion once again instructed the elected delegates to vote against any wage and benefit increases for the International officers. The work picture, at this time, was very bleak with the only work of any scale being done in the shipyards. Fortunately, many wiremen and other members got work in the yards. There was discussion at the meetings about NECA running a dual shop of Union and non-union contractors.

The membership had risen substantially since our last count four years ago to 3,846, an increase of 800 members. This was due to the increased workload in the shipyards. The Convention in 1982 was in Los Angeles, California and was the 32nd in IBEW history. Our elected delegates were:

L. Ackerman, D. Jordan, S. Anderson, B. Keller, W. D. Carpine, K. Sturgeon, W. L. English Jr, J. Tosh, J. R. Foote, S. Vondette

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1983 - the USS Halyburton FFG 40 under construction.

In the summer of 1983, the shipyards were on strike. The only yard not on strike was Lockheed, which signed a separate agreement with the Seattle Metal Trades Council. The Marine members were out for five weeks, but eventually got a contract they could accept and members went back to work. Work for the construction units was still not good and many members hit the road once again. There is a quip by our scribe in the International Journal that our wiremen were learning about Reaganomics from the road!

Some Local Wiremen began discussing forming their own electrical contracting company in the structure of a Co-Op. During this period, the Wiremen agreed to take a roll back in wages, and then were forced by CIR to take another roll back. The following year, the Wire unit agreed to a wage freeze. In all, those roll backs and freezes took about $5 an hour off a Wireman’s wage.

In negotiations that year, seven large IBEW contractors refuse to sign the Wire Agreement. They were dubbed the “Seattle Seven”. These contractors eventually signed, but it wasn’t until October of 1986 that the last holdout finally saw the light!


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1985 - Columbia Tower

In 1985, the tallest building to be built in Seattle is opened. The Columbia Tower stands at 999.5 feet tall and is 76 stories. It has 1,550,000 square feet of leasable space and still stands as the tallest building ever built in Seattle and Local 46 members wired that building.

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1986 - LOCKED OUT!

The shipyards had been in bargaining for months and negotiations were going nowhere fast. Due to Reagan’s policies, new construction work was drying up. The yards wanted the Metal Trades Unions to take wage and benefit cuts, which were roundly rejected. Lockheed, which had broken away from the Shipbuilders Association, was negotiating separately.

On November 17, 1986, Lockheed locked-out the 900 Metal Trades workers who were employed at the shipyard, (some would describe this as an employer strike). Local 46 had 143 members at Lockheed.

The Lockheed tradesmen and women had not yet had a chance to vote on a proposal that Lockheed had presented as a last and final. The ballots showed up four days after the lockout began. That proposal was rejected by 94% of the Metal Trades members. So, even though the workers had no unemployment benefits and no jobs, they still rejected the employer proposal.

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Being locked out meant you did not qualify for unemployment benefits because of a quirk in state law. At the General Meeting in December, members voted to set aside $15,000 for a food bank and a change to the By-Laws was proposed assessing each member $5 per month to help the locked-out workers.

At the meeting in January, the By-Law passed 82-9. The By-Law was never acted upon by the IBEW International. As locked-out members lost homes and cars, and after our members voted by 90% to approve the assessment, our International Union did not approve the change!

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Eventually, after almost three months of constant lobbying, the state law was changed and locked-out workers began receiving unemployment benefits. The campaign at the state level was intense and lots of members lobbied tirelessly to get the change. Members in the Local organized fundraisers for the locked-out members, had a Christmas party for the kids, and did all they could to help. Lockheed hired scabs and the yard eventually closed. It was a sad final chapter for a once proud shipyard, and an even prouder workforce.

In reading the minutes, it is clear that the 1980’s were a turbulent time with strikes, lockouts, wage rollbacks, company closures, and the ups and downs in member employment.

It was also a time of Local change, with a new organizing program trying to find its way. It is clear that some established Union norms have to change if a Local is to grow in membership and maintain, if not grow, market share in construction.

There was resistance to change and the meetings sometimes became heated, but it appeared that the great bulk of members understood that to survive and prosper, we had to change as an organization and prepare for the future. Read on!

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Sunday, May 18th, 1980 at 8:32 a.m., Mount St. Helens erupted

On Sunday, May 18th, 1980 at 8:32 a.m., Mount St. Helens erupted and caused death and disruption for our neighbors in Southwest Washington and other parts of the state. At the July 1980 General Meeting, the Local goes on record in favor of harvesting the blown down timber on Mount St. Helens in a safe and reasonable manner, instead of leaving it to rot.


On June 1, 1981, two Union reformers, who were officers of the Cannery Workers Local 37, an affiliate of the Longshore Union (ILWU), were gunned down and murdered in their office near Pioneer Square in Seattle. Gene Viernes and Silme Domingo were trying to improve conditions in the canneries and bring democracy to their Union.

Four people went to prison, for life, for those murders. This horrible crime had a very sobering effect on the Seattle Labor movement, and Local 46 sent a letter to Local 37 offering condolences and solidarity. (Video)



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1981 - PATCO - Union Busting

On August 3, 1981, more than 12,000 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) walked off the job (some would say the strike was ill advised as well as illegal). This strike, perhaps more than any other Labor dispute, changed Labor Relations for the Nation and would certainly have an effect on Local 46 members as the decade progressed. Interestingly, PATCO was one of the very few Unions to endorse Reagan for President.


A Reagan Letter to Robert Poli, PATCO (Oct. 20, 1980)

Dear Mr. Poli: I have been briefed by members of my staff as to the deplorable state of our nation's air traffic control system. They have told me that too few people working unreasonable hours with obsolete equipment has placed the nation's air travellers in unwarranted danger. In an area so clearly related to public safety the Carter administration has failed to act responsibly.

You can rest assured that if I am elected President, I will take whatever steps are necessary to provide our air traffic controllers with the most modern equipment available and to adjust staff levels and work days so that they are commensurate with achieving a maximum degree of public safety....

I pledge to you that my administration will work very closely with you to bring about a spirit of cooperation between the President and the air traffic controllers.


Ronald Reagan

Reagan fired the striking controllers, thus sending a message to the employer community that it was okay to fire, lockout, force a strike, whatever it took, to bust or weaken your workers’ organization! The message could not have been clearer.

At the September 9, 1981 General Meeting, a local member of PATCO attended and gave a report and answered questions from the members. The Local donated $2,000 to the PATCO strike fund and agreed to have picket signs made supporting the PATCO cause. Some would argue that the response of the AFL-CIO, and that of other National Unions, was inadequate. In hindsight it may have been, considering the affects it has had on workers since that strike.

That month, Local 46 sponsored two of our Local members to attend a rally in Washington, DC called ‘Solidarity Day’. This was in response to the firing of the PATCO members and in opposition to the Reagan policies. The two delegates, along with other trade unionists from Washington State, told of quite a journey to get to Washington, DC. First, they left Seattle by bus to the Vancouver Airport in British Columbia, Canada. Then, they caught a flight to Toronto, Canada and rode a bus down to Washington, DC. This way they were honoring the PATCO picket line by not flying in the United States. The rally attracted, by some estimates, 400,000 trade unionists. The PATCO strike still haunts workers to this day!


By 1984, the shipyards were beginning to feel the effects of a declining backlog and started to lay off members. So the work picture continued to be quite bleak.


By the beginning of 1986, work was just about back to normal for the Wire unit. The Local was even sending out Book 2’s. The Metro Bus Tunnel began construction, which began driving other development in the downtown core, and the Convention Center was taking off, so work was plentiful once again.

In 1986, for the first time, at least in the written historical minutes, the Local hired an organizer. Never before was there a mention of an organizer. There are Organizing Committees discussed and Units and shops had been organized over the years, but there was never mention of a dedicated organizer.

In 1986, the 33rd International Convention was held in Toronto, Canada. Due to the downturn in the shipyards, and lack of construction work in the preceding years, the Local has lost almost a thousand members; our count stood at 2,870, as our delegates headed to convention, they were:

S. Anderson, H. McGuire, B. English, J. Toby, D. Hurlburt, S. Vondette, D. Jordan, P. Schwendiman, B. Keller

At this Convention tragedy struck down one of our long time members, Bill English. Bill died in Toronto serving the Union he loved. Bill and his family have been connected with Local 46 for decades. I think the 75th Anniversary committee framed it best in their booklet when they said Local 46 was stunned by Bill’s death. Yes, we were!

In October of that same year, Square D announced they were closing their Seattle manufacturing plant. The Local’s staff worked hard to save the plant, taking out newspaper ads in the city where Square D was headquartered, plus the rank and file members working at Square D got very active. But nothing could save the plant that had been in Seattle since 1944.

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1986 - IBEW Local 46 Hall

On a lighter note, throughout the 80’s and into the 90’s our delegates to the Kitsap Central Labor Council organized a picnic every Labor Day. In addition to the picnic, they organized a Labor Day 10K run, which attracted attention to the Labor Movement in a very positive way. They also began advertising on one of the radio stations in the Bremerton area.

By 1987, it was clear that the Local 46 market share in the construction industry was shrinking and non-union contractors were making inroads in markets that were once dominated by Union contractors.

In June of that year, after a very comprehensive meeting and the facts of the matter were laid out, Wiremen voted to assess themselves $0.25 per hour to start an organizing program. That program has sailed over many rocky shoals since then, but some say it was the best investment the Wiremen, and later the other construction units, ever made.

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At the May 1988 meeting, it was motioned and carried that Local 46 send a letter to the Solidarity Union (Solidarnosc) in Poland stating that IBEW 46 supports their struggle, and that their struggle is our struggle, and we stand in solidarity with them. The Solidarnosc Union was led by an electrician named Lech Walesa who worked in the Gdansk Shipyard in Poland. The Local received a letter from Solidarnosc a month or two later, and of course Lech Walesa, the Union electrician, went on to be the President of Poland.

In 1988, after two attempts, the members voted to make all the meeting rooms at the Union Hall smoke free.

In 1989, after some jurisdictional issues, the Tacoma and Seattle Metal Trades Councils merged, forming one Council, the Puget Sound Metal Trades Council.

In the late 80’s, the IBEW reciprocity system took effect nationwide, allowing traveling members to have benefits sent to their home Local.

As the decade ends, members were once again busy with plenty of work in both construction work and overhaul and repair work in the shipyard

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