The Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific turned 100 years old last week and members celebrated the centenarian organization at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. The organization, founded on November 20, 1918 in San Francisco, California, has quite a different look today, but the underlying directives set forth then are still with us today; to give workers a strong voice in numbers which in turn creates better working conditions.
When a meeting between deckhands and local fireman was called by Clyde W. Deal (1888-1978), deck workers and engine room workers were brought together under the same union umbrella for the first time in U.S. maritime labor history. Founded in 1918 in San Francisco, they were known simply as the Ferryboatmen’s Union of California. At the time, ferries in San Francisco Bay were owned by thriving railroad companies. Among those who organized were deckhands, watchmen, bargemen, oilers, cooks, waitresses, and firemen.
Prior to 1930, it was not uncommon for deckhands to be forced to work 12 to 18 hours per day. This was not only inhumane but created a dangerous work environment for everyone. Early bargaining successes included an 8-hour work day and a guarantee of a “dismissal wage,” or severance package for ferry workers who were displaced after the building of the San Francisco Bridge.
The union also successfully organized workers on river freighters and tugs. In 1930, it was a natural progression for the organization to expand their membership to the Pacific Northwest along the Columbia River and into Puget Sound. The name was changed to the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific in 1936 to reflect the evolution of the organization, and in 1940 the national IBU office was moved from San Francisco to Seattle.
IBU has been affiliated with many organizations over the years including the International Seamen’s Union from 1919 to 1937, the Maritime Federation of the Pacific, and the Seafarers’ International Union of North America. Since October of 1980, the Inlandboatmen’s Union has served as the Marine Division of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union.
There are currently 3160 active IBU members, and the union continues to protect workers by acting as an intermediary between members and employers. This gives workers a strong voice, advocacy, and the power to negotiate for better working conditions and benefits through collective bargaining. When workers have the freedom to come together in strong unions, workers have the power in numbers to negotiate a better return for their work. Happy 100th Birthday IBU!