November 26 1907: Duluth Builders’ Exchange threatens to lock out Union workers

On this day in Duluth in 1907, the Duluth Builders’ Exchange told newspapers that if the union men did not return to work constructing the Sellwood Building the next day, they would be replaced by non-union labor. The labor strife began when Captain Joseph Sellwood, the building’s namesake and financier, hired the American Bridge Company to erect the building’s steel frame, and this did not please union laborers working for local general contractors McLeod & Smith: American Bridge was a non-union shop and union men working for McLeod & Smith refused to work with non-union men. None of the crew American Bridge sent from Chicago belonged to a union. On November 20 union men hired by McLeod & Smith had declared they would strike unless American Bridge was removed from the project, and later that day 100 men employed on the building went to the picket lines; bricklayers and stone masons stayed on the job. The strike began to spread, also affecting construction of the new Clyde Iron Works facility in the West End, where American Bridge was also erecting the steel frame. On December 3, those union men working in the building trades who did not abandon their stance—a group estimated to be 1,500 strong—found themselves locked out. The labor strife continued for the first few weeks in December. Labor leaders arrived from Chicago to attempt to end the dispute. There was some trouble. William M. Burgess, owner of the Burgess Electric Company, was arrested after he allegedly pulled a gun on union representative M. J. Harvey when Harvey refused to leave a job site. (Burgess was later acquitted). On the 21st, contractors told local newspapers they had won; Duluth building trade businesses would henceforth all be open shops—if union men wanted to work, they could, but they would have to work side-by-side with non-union labor. Read a complete history of the Sellwood Building here.

Architect William Hunt’s Sketch of the Sellwood Building. (Image: Duluth Public Library)