The Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons International Association also known as the OPCMIA, represents the member of one of the world’s oldest and most noble crafts. The Union’s 56,000 members are the proud carriers of a tradition that predates the pyramids. As early as man was building shelter for himself, there was plastering. First with mud, clay and reeds or sticks and later with a lime mixture much like what is used today.
As early as 1501 several European nations allowed the plaster craftsmen to set up a standards and a “union type of guild” or charter with the general purpose to maintain quality standards of craftsmanship and materials. The officials could impose fines and assessments for shoddy work or use of inferior materials.
The standards of the European artisans were brought overseas by immigrant plasterers of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. These first tradesmen built their reputations in the design of their dwellings to this new land, later to be named the United States of America.
As changes took place, projects that improved man’s lifestyle and surroundings, the cement masons became a productive part of the community. They built bridges, canals, dams, reservoirs and many other feats that would have been impossible without the skills of the cement masons. Together with the plasterers and fellow building craftsmen they placed a key role in shaping the world as we know it today.
As numbers increased in the New World, the plasterers began to organize locals by area and nationally, because each craftsman brought their own way of doing things from the “Old Country” Evidence indicates that the main function of the early organized groups was to ensure quality of craftsmanship.
At the convention of 1883, two resolutions would be become imports part of the union’s legacy, the eight-hour work day was established and the seconded resolution encouraged local unions to do everything in their power to “honorably avoid” un-necessary strikes. During the seconded annual convention the total membership was 1,647 with a per capita tax of one (1) cent per member or $164.70.
At the 1887 convention, the constitution was amended to include Canadian affiliation and the name of the union was officially changed to Operative Plasterers’ International Union (OPIU) of the United States and Canada.
By the decade known as the “Gay Nineties,” the OPIU made dramatic progress. Throughout the early 1900’s there were many innovations in union activities. The OPIU began a tradition of publishing “The Plasterers”, a workers publication promoting excellence that continues to this day. In 1908 OPIU was one of the building trades unions affiliating with the American Federation of Labor (AF of L) as part of the newly formed Building Trades Department.
Over a hundred and fifty years after that first gathering of concerned craftsmen, this union continues to live by the principles upon which it was founded and which will continue to be its strength in the coming decades.
Information in this History is a highlight from the OPCMIA, International Website. For a more detailed and comprehensive History of the OPCMIA, please visit the International website @ www.opcmia.org