Catasauqua Press

Friday, May 24, 2019

Union contract tells the story of cement plants in 1953

Thursday, July 2, 2015 by ED PANY Curator, Atlas Cement CompanyMemorial Museum in Columns

A few months ago, I wrote a column on the workday of cement packers at the old Coplay Cement Manufacturing Company. Since then I received a 1953 Local 14 contract from the Coplay plant. It takes us back over 60 years to a time when wages pale compared to the present day.

First, let's take a brief look at Coplay Cement's history.

The company was founded by David Saylor, a pioneer in the cement industry. Saylor as a young man worked in his father's store in Schoenersville, but he was looking to improve his life.

He was told that there was a bright future in the cement business, as the nation was on the brink of an industrial revolution.

A number of early cement works developed along the Lehigh River. Saylor and two partners purchased land in the Coplay area, which contained the stone required for the industry. Soon, the small mill grew when Saylor realized he could produce cement superior to the cement being imported from Europe.

Coplay Cement was founded in 1866 and, through countless testing, Saylor was able to obtain the first patent for Portland Cement in 1871.

Working hours at Coplay and other area cement plants were long and the wages were low by today's levels. Even in 1953, you may be surprised by the wages, and you will say, "I thought they were higher."

The 1953 contract between the Coplay Cement Manufacturing Company and the United Cement, Lime and Gypsum Workers International Union Local No. 14 effective April 1, 1953, lists wages at that time:

Labor: $1.45

Truck driver: $1.53

Tapper: $1.55

Silo attendant: $1.60

Miller: $1.69

Bulldozer operator: $1.72

Crane operator: $1.69

Electrician 1st: $1.85

Repairman 1st: $1.84

Kiln burner: $1.84

Welder: $1.91

And in the quarry:

Blaster: $1.69

Crusherman: $1.69

Shovel operator: $1.91

Loader operator: $1.91

Many jobs listed in the contract no longer exist. An interesting job was roof cleaner at $1.55/hour. Because dust collectors were only being introduced, teams of men actually spent their working days cleaning roofs at the plants.

Today, many companies use outside companies to conduct their blasting and trucking. In the past, each plant had its own machine shop. Presently, the work is contracted to other firms. Plants are now very efficient and operate with small workforces.

The 1953 contract granted wage increases of 5 percent, which seems fair, but a laborer was granted a $7 increase. The average laborer's gross pay was $58 a week.

The contract was signed by Local 14 President John Kosits and Vice President John Perl.

This writer was employed as a college student many years ago at the Universal Atlas Cement Company in Northampton. I appreciated my employment as a cement worker at $2.02 an hour. The income of $80.80 a week was enough to cover my tuition at Kutztown State Teachers College.

Here is the proof, looking at the college's 1958 catalogue: "The housing rate for students shall be $126 per half semester and $84 for a six-week summer session. This includes room, meals and limited laundry services." Guess you got more for a dollar in those days, but you did not have many of them!

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See you in two weeks.

We'll be looking for a bargain somewhere.