The story of Local 103 and the International Union of Operating Engineers is a fascinating glimpse into the history of labor in Indiana and the United States. Local 103 has responded to the many challenges posed by ongoing changes in technology, the boom-bust cycle of the American economy, jurisdictional disputes with rival unions, and, at times, virulent anti-union attacks. The union has survived these challenges, and others, and remains an important organization within American society and within the labor movement.
It is not possible to capture the stories of every engineer whose hard work built this country, this union, and this local. These organizations, and the country in which they thrive, are testaments to the working people who have created them with their skills, their commitment, and their tireless efforts. Similarly, the buildings, the highways, and bridges that constitute our American environment are tributes to the skills and efforts of OPERATING ENGINEERS LOCAL 103!
- Local 103 was granted a charter from the International Union of Steam Engineers of America on April 8, 1902. The original local covered the Indianapolis area only, but over time the local expanded to its present 33 counties due to the changing nature of the industry, the amalgamation of several locals, and the energy of its officers and members.
- By the end of 1902, there were over one hundred active locals, including the recently chartered Local 103 in Indianapolis, membership stood at 20,000.
- In 1912, engineers took up the serious consideration of a death benefit fund. Research and discussion took place and by 1914, a referendum of the membership was taken. The results of the vote brought union members their first insurance plan. The group insurance provided each member with a $1,000 life insurance policy, with premiums paid based on the ages of the policy holders.
- In 1917, Local 103 delegates traveled to Buffalo to attend the convention of the American Federation of Labor. At the convention, delegates heard the first address ever delivered directly to organized labor by the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson. Wilson reported on the waging of World War I and praised the union members' work in the war effort, both on the battlefield and on the home front.
- In 1922, there were more members on strike than at any other time in the union's history and the International's defense fund was exhausted. By 1923, however, the situation improved with 1,512 former members reinstated and 25 new local union charters issued.
- By 1926, union members were beginning to share in the economic growth of the 1920's. Membership reached 40,000 and union assets reached over $200,000.
- On July 1, 1928, the name of the union changed to reflect the broad range of work being done by members. The new, and still current name, became "The International Union of Operating Engineers."
- In 1939, Local 103, Local 768 (Lafayette), and Local 19 (Fort Wayne) were instructed by the International to amalgamate, with Local 103 designated as the parent local. At this time, Local 103 established offices in Lafayette, Fort Wayne, and Indianapolis, with Indianapolis designated as the home office.
- After the attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1941, there were over 400 Operating Engineers working on defense projects in the Philippines, Wake, Guam, and Midway islands. By the war's end, over 18,000 Operating Engineers had served their country and 275 had been killed.
- In 1955, the merger of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations took place.
- One challenge faced during the 1950's was the "Right to Work" movement (more accurately referred to by the labor movement as the "Right-To-Work-For-Less" movement). The labor movement and the Operating Engineers faced strong anti-union sentiment from Congress as well as well-organized business interests.
- In 1959-60, Local 103 won its longest, and largest, strike. At issue were the union-controlled hiring procedures then under threat from Indiana's status as a "Right-To-Work-For-Less" state. Contractors were ignoring the local's referral service and were hiring operators "off the bank." The strike lasted for seven months in some places and nine months in others. The strike ended when the local brought in an attorney to codify the hiring procedures for the local and the offending contractors agreed to the newly defined, and union controlled, hiring process.