Before 1889 it was a struggle for pipe trades to organize themselves nationally. Until that time, organized plumbers, steamfitters, and gas fitters around the United States were mostly members of independent local unions that had either no affiliation to a national group or had a relationship with a multi- trade’s association.
During the 1870 and 1880, the National Association of Journeyman Plumbers, Steamfitters and Gas Fitters was apart of the Knight of Labor- this was the largest organization in the country. By 1885 the National Association separated itself to form the International Association of Journeyman Plumbers, Steamfitters and Gas fitters (I.A.). After this spilt, Patrick J. Quinlan sent a letter proposing to form another national pipe-trades union.
In October 11, 1889 the United Associations of Journeyman Plumbers, Gas Fitters, Steam and Steam Fitters’ Helpers of the United States and Canada was started, known as the U.A. This then began an intense rivalry between U.A. and International Association. (I.A.) for some time, but do to I.A. Financial Assistance to the Plumbing Cooperatives in Milwaukee, this led to its decline beginning in early 1892 and set for the rise of the U.A.
In 1912, the American Federation of Labor the American Federation of Labor (A.F.L), recognizing that jurisdiction of work was the foundation of its existence, ruled that a single union should represent all the pipe trades, and I.A. agreed to merge into the U.A.
On May 1, 1892 the Plumbers, Steamfitters, and Gasfitters of Saginaw, Michigan were grated a charter to form U.A. Local No. 85. The first meeting of the organization was held on May 10, 1892 to elect it’s first slate of officer with 8 people on the board. It took some time for Local 85 to really establish itself, but by the end of the 19th century they had the most members, which was 18.
In the early 1920s unions through Michigan were fighting the non-union open shops. As a result, by 1921 the wages of many building trades unions around the state including plumbers, were being cut by their employers. Luckily for Saginaw Association of Heating and Plumbing Engineers they did not reduce the wages of Local 85 during that time. Work was steady for a while for Local 85, then the Great depression hit and things changed for everyone. In 1932 Local 85 had to accepted wage cuts because there was no work.
After Present Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the New Deal’s Relief Appropriation Act in April 1935, everything started to look up again. In 1940s when work really started to pick up for Local 85. This is when they started the piping work at Dow Chemical, this would continue over the years and the Saginaw Chevrolet Steering Gear plant, operated by General Motors, also started construction. As time went on there continued to be more work for the Local 85 members. Then in 1964 employers for the first time started paying in a new Pension Fund for Local 85 members as apart of a new agreement. This also raised the hourly wage for the members.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, employment was dominated by the largest project ever for Local 85 which was the Midland Nuclear Power Plant- for 14 years the plant provided a large amount of the jobs. With work on the rise for Local 85, they wanted to bring in more members in the jurisdiction. They decided to purchase property and built a training facility there. The local held a dedication ceremony for the new center on October 30, 1982.
Sadly, in 1983 work started to decline for Local 85 member do to a national economic recession. Then in 1984 there was a turn for the worst, when the decision was made to abandon construction of the Midland Nuclear power plant before it was complete. This was due to numerous construction problems of the plant. This resulted in unemployment for nearly half of the local 85 membership immediately following the shutdown.
As the economy started to improve there was more work again for the Local 85. Throughout the late 1980s, there were also some mergers of U.A locals- First was U.A. Local No. 639 of Traverse City in 1986 then U.A. Local No. 774 of Alpena in 1988, both merged with Local 85. This expanded the jurisdiction and membership so by the end of the decade there was over 900 members.
In 1992, Local 85 celebrated 100th Anniversary- there was a lot of work for members by then, more came in the 1900s and the membership continued to grow. By 2000 the package for pay included an hourly rate, per hour in pension and a per hour insurances-benefits compensation this really helped to continue the growth of membership. As this continued, in 2002 Local 85 had 1,292 memberships and 825 active employees.
Through the time the Local 85 has been established they have worked on a number of big projects in the community including Banner Brewing Company (1934), Clare Michigan Post Office (1935), St. Luke’s Hospital (1949), Dow Chemical headquarters (1960s), new Douglas MacArthur High School (1965), St. Mary’s of Michigan Hospital (1974), Saginaw Correctional Facility (1993), Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways (2004), Hemlock Semiconductor Corporation (2009), and Saginaw Valley State University to name a few.
Local 85 celebrated 125 in 2017. They continue to work in various facilities, high rise apartment buildings, high- tech facilities, hotels and motels, office buildings, pharmaceutical plants, power plants, processing facilities, private and public schools, single- family homes and supermarkets.
Currently, the counties in the jurisdiction of Local 85 are broken up into two zones-
Zone 1 includes half of Huron County Lying west of M-53 and all of Arenac, Bay, Clare, Gladwin, Isabella, Midland, Saginaw, and Tuscola counties.
Zone 2 includes Alcona, Alpena, Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Crawford, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Iosco, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Missaukee, Montmorency, Ogemaw, Oscoda, Otsego, Presque Isle, Roscommon and Wexford counties.
Local 85 journeymen and apprentices remain among the best-trained in the world. As such, their skill are enhanced by continuing education for journeymen that keeps them up to date with changes and trend in the plumbing, pipefitting, and HVAC service industries.
With that legacy of ensuring quality craftmanship, Local 85 is proud of its past and looks forward to its future.