The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the
Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada,
the parent Union of Local # 449 in Pittsburgh, has a long and
proud history that goes back more than 100 years.
Before and during the Civil War, plumbers and pipefitters were
organized in many major cities of the United States. The first
strong, long-lasting local Unions were established in the boom
construction decade, 1879-1889, when United States population
Journeymen in the pipe trades in the 1880s worked in three basic crafts: plumbers, steamfitters and gasfitters.
The first truly successful national body, the United Association of
Journeymen Plumbers, Gas Fitters, Steam Fitters, and Steam
Fitters' Helpers of the United States and Canada, was officially
founded on October 11, 1889.
Gradually, former members of rival Unions joined the United
Association. The depression of 1893-1897 slowed the development of a
stronger organization. Membership in the United Association grew
to 6,700 in 1893, but fell to 4,400 by 1897. Yet, by that year 151
local Unions were listed on its rolls.
Starting in 1898, the construction industry entered a period of
expansion and prosperity that lasted until 1914. From 1898 to 1906
the United Association quadrupled its membership.
During its first years, the United Association was essentially a
federation of local Unions, rather than a truly national Union of
the pipe trades. The major breakthrough toward a unified national
organization came at the 1902 national convention in Omaha, when
delegates approved a Nationalization Committee proposal
establishing a comprehensive system of sick, death and strike
As such reforms to strengthen the national organization were being
made in the early part of the century, however, some locals broke
ranks to form a rival Union. In August 1906, members of the
secessionist Union realized the futility of further rivalry and
agreed to affiliate with the United Association.
From 1898 to 1914, the United Association went through several
phases of a struggle with the International Association of Steam
and Hot Water Fitters and Helpers, a prolonged and sometimes bitter
dispute both over jurisdiction over a craft (steamfitting) and
work assignments (plumbers vs. steamfitters). The conflict
affected other building trades when walkouts by the rival
steamfitting organizations, as a result of their jurisdictional
dispute, led to work stoppages by other crafts.
The strength of the United Association, and favorable rulings by
the American Federation of Labor, including the revocation of the
International Association's charter in 1912, ended this
jurisdictional battle, but other jurisdictional issues would
continue to challenge the Union.
New disputes arose over the construction of chemical plants and
other manufacturing and service establishments that required
extensive piping systems. Large volumes of newer types of
pipefitting installation in the shift from World War I wartime
industries to peacetime construction caused considerable
difficulties. Jurisdictional problems also developed with other
national Unions, but the United Association retained jurisdiction
over important, growing areas of work like construction of
industrial plants, public utilities, petroleum facilities and
In the first half of the century, the United Association moved to
formalize apprenticeship training programs, including making a
five-year apprenticeship mandatory in 1921, and in 1938 holding
that all apprentices be members of the United Association and
attend related training classes. Its National Plumbing
Apprenticeship Plan of 1936 was the first set of standards
governing apprenticeship to win approval of the federal government.
In the Depression, United Association membership fell from its 1929 peak of 60,000 to 26,000 by 1933.
After several constitutional changes through the years, the 1946
convention changed the name of the organization to its present
name: The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the
Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada.
Throughout World War II and after, the United Association made
considerable gains in membership and prestige. Between 1940 and
1954 membership surged from 60,000 to 240,000 with veterans
entering the skilled craftsmen field.
United Association member George Meany was elected in 1952 to be
president of the newly formed AFL-CIO and was to provide a shaping
force in the American labor movement until his death in 1980.
The New Frontier of President John F. Kennedy and Great Society of
President Lyndon Johnson were movements supported by the United
Association. With expanded training programs beginning in 1956, the
UA was able to meet the demands of accelerated construction
activity in the 1960s. With the increased work the slogan, "There
is no substitute for UA skilled craftsmen" became widespread
throughout the industry. By 1971 the UA was 320,000 strong.
General President William P. Hite led the UA into the 21st century with
innovative programs including Standards for Excellence & Safety,
Accelerated welding and the UA VIP program. In 2016 Mark McManus was
unanimously elected General President at the 39th General convention.
General President McManus is implementing programs that will take the UA
to new levels of growth and leadership in the construction industry.