AWCI's Centennial: The 1930s
“For the first time, there is a spirit of cooperation between manufacturer, labor and contractor for industry good.”
With the Great Depression, between 13 million and 15 million workers lost their jobs, but crews somehow completed the Empire State Building.
In the 1930s, plastered walls and ceilings were common.
The number of full and part-time employees in the plastering and lathing industry decreased from approximately 127,000 in 1929 to 23,000 in 1933.
The number of working lathers and plasterers had dropped by 82 percent. This was unacceptable—and unbearable.
After only a few months in office, President Roosevelt signed the National Industrial Recovery Act. The NIRA took the reins of the economy. It did so through the NRA, the federal agency established by a presidential executive order. The NRA set minimum prices for products, minimum wages for workers and maximum work weeks by industry.
In 1933, CPIA surveyed its members and supplied the government with wage and work week data. In 1934, CPIA agreed to an industry wide code, and the NRA adopted it. Roosevelt approved the Supplementary Code of Fair Competition for the Plastering and Lathing Contracting Industry (A Division of the Construction Industry) on June 27, 1934.
But the NRA was short-lived. In 1935, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the NRA, saying it infringed upon the separation of powers, giving the president too much power.
Its legacy continued in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (the Wagner Act), where many of its provisions appeared.
CPIA worked with several associations and trade unions. They included the Operative Plasterers, the Brick Masons’ and Plasterers’ International Union, the Wood Wire and Material Lathers’ International Union, and the Hod Carriers’, Building, and Common Laborers’ International Union.
CPIA helped with collective bargaining over pay, work days and other labor-related issues. The result of a conference in July 1933 “was an agreement in substance upon wages and hours,” CPIA wrote to the NRA. CPIA supplied NRA with wage data—average U.S. plasterer wages of $1.06 per hour in the Southern zone, $1.18 per hour in the Central zone, and $1.19 per hour in the Northern zone. It identified the 8-hour work day in 321 cities. It noted a 5-day work week in 237 cities, a 5 1/2-day work week in 131 cities and a 6-day work week in nine cities.
“For the first time,” Reum said, “there is a spirit of cooperation between manufacturer, labor and contractor for industry good.”
As we know, the industry survived. But not every company and journeyman did. CPIA continued to fight to establish high standards for work, but new building materials and applications—“substitutes”—were on their way. And so was another world war.