A Brief History of the Utility Workers Union of America
UWUA’s earliest roots trace back to utility workers in New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, and Ohio who in the 1940s worked for companies such as Consumers Power, Consolidated Edison, West Penn Power, and Southern California Gas. The efforts of a scattered group of recently formed unions to gain leverage against powerful employers lead to the formation of the Utility Workers Organizing Committee.
Left to themselves, these unions may have floundered and fallen. It was the intention of the UWOC leaders to prevent this from happening. On October 31, 1942, over 50 delegates representing approximately 180 local unions gathered to gavel in the “First Constitutional Convention of the Utility Workers Organizing Committee.” This represented the first step toward establishing a national union.
Eventually a new national organization formed, composed of all the local unions affiliated with the Utility Workers Organizing Committee and the Brotherhood of Consolidated Edison Employees, called the “Utility Workers Union of America, CIO,” which chartered on August 1, 1945.
The first Constitutional Convention of the organization named the “Utility Workers Union of America, CIO” gaveled into session in April 1946. At the time, there were organized garment workers, steel workers, rubber workers, and batters and dyers and packers, as well as numerous others. But until now no one spoke for utility workers.
In 1955, the UWUA which was an affiliate of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) became an affiliate of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) when the CIO rejoined the AFL to become the AFL-CIO.
Despite the battles taking place at this time, which through the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act made it more difficult for unions to win NLRB elections and 1959 Landrum-Griffith Act which made it harder for workers to wield their power, UWUA members secured many victories and the union grew in strength.
In 1969, the UWUA started to face some of its toughest battles to date as President Nixon initiated efforts to deregulate the utility industry. These policies continued through President Carter’s administration and President Bush’s administration when the Energy Policy Act became law. As a result of these policies, the UWUA sought to become more politically active.
In 1979 the UWUA established the Committee on Political Education (COPE) fund to allow members to voluntarily make political donations. From there, the UWUA spent the 1980s and 90s fiercely contesting deregulation at the state and federal levels.
In 2002, five Service Employees International Union (SEIU) locals determined they would be better represented by UWUA and as a result, thousands of workers joined the union’s ranks.
In 2003, UWUA set up the Health and Welfare Fund to support members facing increased costs and/or cuts to their health care benefits. Today, some 8,200 members are covered by the fund.
At the turn of this century, UWUA embarked on several initiatives to defend gains members made at the bargaining table, protect jobs, and secure good wages. As part of this effort, in 2008 the National established the Power for America Training Trust (P4A) and later expanded it to offer vigorous training to place veterans in good union jobs.
At the 2015 constitutional convention, the UWUA formed five committees representing various members interests in order to better support these constituent groups: the Veterans Committee, the Women’s Caucus, the Safety Committee, the Human Rights Committee, and the Young Workers Initiative Committee.
The UWUA continues to evolve as our members’ work and family needs change. As U.S. market forces and environmental stresses direct us all toward a low-carbon future, the UWUA is working to advance policies that avoid the mistakes made during the deregulatory process — where the interests of the industry and investors were protected while workers, communities, and ratepayers were left behind. At the same time, UWUA continues to fight to protect its members’ jobs and to organize new members.
As the public’s support for organized labor grows, especially among young workers, the UWUA is poised to bring the benefits of union membership to a new generation of utility workers.