On July 24th, 1920, the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters of the United States and Canada granted a charter Local Union to a group of petitioners in Owensboro, KY. That charter was for Local 821. Yes, 821. A few things have changed since then.
At that time The United Association was referred to as the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters, composed of Journeyman Plumbers, Gas Fitters, Steam Fitters, Sprinkler Fitters, Steam and Sprinkler Fitter Helpers, General Pipe Fitters and Helpers, of the United States and Canada. Note that at that time there was no mention of “Apprentices”, and that “Gas Fitters” was mentioned as more prevalent than “Steam Fitters”.
Local 821 thrived for a period after World War I, as the United States was seeing a large increase in manufacturing and better sanitary conditions for all citizens with the development of modern plumbing technologies. Instead of people having to go outside and draw water from a well, either by a rope and bucket or a hand pump, they now had running water in their homes. As the development of the light bulb replaced gas lighting and the electric motor equipment driven by steam engines in factories grew to be commonplace, additional services for skilled plumbers and steamfitters grew as the demand for steam-produced electricity grew. However, in the early 30’s that all changed.
With the onset of the Great Depression, Local 821 in Owensboro, KY, just like many, many others around the US, was hit by hard times. In 1932 Local 821 relinquished their charter and was no more – just as many, many other Local Unions around the country. Local 633 also relinquished their charter; yes, Local 633. Local 633 was originally established in the Territory of Wyoming, not Owensboro, KY. This trend of failing Locals continued for about five or six years. However, in later 30’s all of that started to change.
With the introduction of different programs to put people back to work, instituted by President Franklin Roosevelt, like the WPA, people started working again. Those programs built roads, schools, dams, and powerhouses. Almost as importantly though, unions were utilized to represent the workforce. Those same programs recognized the need for training those with little or no skills in a certain trade, which was grasped by the united Association. In the late 30’s its name was changed to the United Association of Journeyman and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry, composed of Journeymen and Apprentices who have Jurisdiction over every branch of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry.
With the change of the official name of the United Association, you can usually tell by how a Local refers to itself, as in “Plumbers and Steamfitters” or “Plumbers and Pipefitters”, as to whether it survived intact during those dreadful years of the Great Depression. When “Steamfitters” is used instead of “Pipefitters”, that Local remained intact during that time, as per its original charter.
As the economy grew and people started getting back to work, a group of men in the Owensboro area, who had known of the existence of Local 821, decided it was time to once again be recognized by the United Association. A petition was filed to the United Association, and on January 20th, 1940, a charter was granted. The charter was granted to the Building and Construction and Metal Trades Division, located in Owensboro, County of Daviess, Kentucky. To more easily be recognized, Local 633 adopted the terminology from the United Association and became Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 633 of Owensboro, Kentucky. This name stands firmly to this day.
Local 633 members had just begun to establish themselves once again when the unthinkable occurred with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Several members of Local 633 enlisted in the military to defend their country. However, the older members were able to sustain the Local during those trying times. When the World War II ended, the members returned to once again ply their skills. Local 633 also established a formal training program for apprentices during that period. With the post-war growth in the US economy, including Owensboro and its surrounding counties, skilled plumbers and pipefitters were in need more than ever. With this growth, more electricity was needed. With Local 633 being situated in the vast Western Kentucky coal fields, the members were to soon begin a very important, and very strong relationship that still lasts today with coal-fired power plants.
While the membership of Local 633 grew from about forty, right after WWII, to about eighty in the early 50’s, the growth leveled off and remained there for about ten years. In the late 50’s the Tennessee Valley Authority began construction on what was one of the largest electrical generation facilities in the world at Paradise, KY, located on the Green River in Muhlenberg County. During the construction of this massive facility the membership of Local 633 grew to about 180. Upon completion of the facility, TVA utilized members of Local 633 as permanent employees for their daily maintenance needs.
About the time the TVA Paradise Plant was completed, along with a couple of other much smaller power plants, electricity in the Owensboro area became inexpensive as compared to most other areas of the country. Because of this inexpensive power supply, and the proximity to the Ohio River, the area became very attractive to industries dependent upon low cost electricity – primarily the aluminum industry. Several aluminum mills were built by various companies. As the aluminum mills grew, so did the demand for more electricity. With the supply of inexpensive coal for the power plants, more were built. The membership of Local 633 continued to grow, but at a slow pace. However, the Apprenticeship Training program continued to grow to become even stronger and more important to the overall health of Local 633. Training for the classes was held in the Community College facilities.
In the early 80’s, during the construction of another power house, the membership decided to start contributing to a fund that would be solely dedicated to the construction of a new Union Hall. Those funds grew at a steady pace until a steep economic recession overtook the country in 1985. However, the funds accumulated during those good times were more than enough to cover the cost of purchasing land and constructing a new facility. A Building Committee was charged with the duty of developing a plan for the property and building that would fall within the constraints of the accumulated funds. They chose the property of the current location of Local 633, which at that time seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. But it was a wise decision and those on that Building Committee should be commended for their decision and due diligence. In 1987 Local 633 moved into its new facility, where it remains today.
Since that time, Local 633 has built two additional building at their site, which they have leased to the Local 633 Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee for their needs. One building is a state-of-the art welding training facility, and the other is a general classroom building.
Those original charter members of the original Local 821 and the newly chartered Local 633 in Owensboro, KY would have been quite proud of their legacy and of what it has become.