On June 5, more than 350 members, retirees and friends of UE
Local 243 came together to celebrate 60 years of hard work and struggle to
improve the conditions of workers at Sargent and Company.
Gathered together were the men and women who have made Sargent
a well-known and respected manufacturer of building hardware. Once locally and
family owned, Sargent is now a division of the Swedish multinational Assa
Sargent has a well-deserved reputation for good wages,
benefits and working conditions. But that wasn’t always the case. There was
a time when Sargent had a reputation in New Haven as a hell hole of a factory,
a time when the average wage was 50 cents an hour for those on piecework, and
less than that for hourly workers. Women workers started at 21 cents an hour.
That was before UE Local 243 was chartered on May 15, 1939.
‘UNITY AND STRUGGLE’
In presenting UE Local 243 with its 60th
anniversary charter, Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark commended Sargent
workers for setting a shining example of a rank-and-file organization
committed to aggressive struggle to improve the conditions of its members.
"There is no doubt in my mind that Sargent workers would
not have the level of wages and benefits and the kind of working conditions
they enjoy today were it not for organization, unity and a willingness to
struggle," the national officer said.
Clark noted how immigrant workers, predominantly Italian, and
African-Americans, had welded unity and together built a tough, reliable tool
for obtaining justice for workers in Local 243.
Although chartered in 1939, it took two more years of
organizing — and a political campaign to win defense contracts for Sargent
— before workers won an election and company recognition of their union.
By 1942, Sargent workers had won their first UE contract,
gaining wage increases, paid vacations for the first time and many other
improvements — the beginning of 60 years of progress achieved as UE members
built a powerful union at Sargent. By uniting a diverse membership, UE
achieved and sustained great gains; today, Sargent workers are among the
highest paid manufacturing workers in Connecticut. Two particularly important
gains made this decade were the addition of Martin Luther King Day and
Columbus Day as paid holidays.
Local 243 President Raymond Pompano and the officers and
executive board of the local honored the nine most senior UE members in the
Franklin "The Hawk" Wells (45 years), Robert Graves
(42 years), Robert Cox (41 years), John Luzzi (41 years), Frank Rubino (41
years), Frank Walters (40 years), Butch Tarquino (40 years), Larry Henderson
(38 years) and Ted Zilinskas (38 years) all received recognition
from the Local for their dedication and commitment to building their union.
Among the attendees were nine retirees who started at Sargent
in the early days of the local union: Tony Buonome (1941), Charles Ruocco
(1942), Tom Guarnieri (1945), Mollie Watts (1946), Lamar Robinson (1947), John
Longobardi (1947), Andrew Ferrigno (1947), Chick Bojacki (1947) and Guy
‘BEST WE CAN BE’
"The retirees built our foundation, and it’s up to our
current members to be the best we can be for our children and our
neighbors," said Pres. Ray Pompano.
Chief Steward Tony Izzo remarked that "UE 243 is
always there!" In the recent telephone company strike, during the Yale
university strike, in any labor struggle in New Haven, Local 243 is always the
first union that is contacted for support, he said.
In a surprise gesture, the executive board of Local 243
honored Pres. Ray Pompano for his tireless service to UE. The award was
presented by Izzo.
Current members and retirees danced until late in the evening
to music provided by UE Local 243 member DJ Mike Nelson.
Back among old friends, retired UE Field Org. Harry Kaplan was
singled out by Sec.-Treas. Clark for his crucial role in assisting Local 243
during his 39 years of service to the union.
Also in attendance to pay tribute to UE Local 243 were District
Two Pres. Judy Atkins, Local 299 Pres. Dorothy Johnson and New Haven
Central Labor Council President Bob Proto, along with Intl. Rep. Dave
Cohen and Field Organizers Mark Meinster and Paul Ryan.
After an evening of celebration, Local 243 members left having
reflected on their local’s storied history and ready for another 60 years of
UE News - 06/99