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The birth of the United Association (UA) dates back to the year 1889, when a Boston plumber named P. J. Quinlan addressed a brief letter to Richard A. O’Brien, a plumber in Washington, D.C. “Dear Sir and Brother,” the letter began, “I take the liberty of addressing a few lines to you to obtain your views as regards the formation of a United Brotherhood …”

At the turn of the century, early UA leaders faced new challenges and were forced to make numerous controversial and revolutionary decisions. Among these was establishment of a mechanism that would allow UA members to travel to jobs throughout the United States and Canada. The clearance card system was created to enable unemployed journeymen in one locality to travel to work in another.

During the first two decades of the 20th century, the UA moved boldly into the forefront of the American labour movement. Landmark accomplishments included the creation of a formal five-year apprenticeship program, the expansion of UA influence to include construction of industrial plants and public utilities, and a growth in membership to 60,000 by the year 1929.

By 1941, UA membership had reached 81,000. That number soared to 210,000 during World War II. Thousands of UA members enlisted in the armed forces and served bravely in conflicts all over the world. Back home, UA members were put to work in shipyards, weapons plants, aircraft factories and other facilities. Some members also served in military construction units overseas.

UA Sprinkler Fitters in the Ontario region date their origin back to Local 379, a Sprinkler Road Local started way back in 1919. When Quebec labour laws decreed any construction contracts negotiated outside of Quebec, Local 379 was disbanded and in 1917 the UA. Sprinkler Fitters in Ontario were temporarily merged with sister Local 787—Refrigeration Workers of Ontario. During this period, Brother Al McBride served as the Sprinkler Business Agent. By 1975 Brother Lynn Morton was working under Brother McBride as our second Agent, and Don Crichton as our President with Matt Hawrychuk as our Vice President. Finally, in 1976 the UA granted a new Charter and UA Local 853 Sprinkler Fitters of Ontario was formed.

In 1989, the UA proudly celebrated its 100th anniversary. As we move into the new century, the UA remains a strong, vital organization comprised of thousands of highly skilled men and women who have joined together for a common purpose. Today’s UA members use their skills in commercial, industrial and residential arenas. Among the many projects on which UA members can be found are single-family homes, garden and high-rise apartment buildings, large and small office complexes, power plants, refineries and factories.

In 1996 UA Local 853 acquired its own building and in 1997 took over the Apprenticeship Training from George Brown with then Training Coordinator Greg Mitchell and Instructors Ken Tracey and Dan Holder. Today, the building is home to both Apprenticeship Training and Journeymen upgrading. To ensure that there remains a steady supply of tradesmen skilled enough to meet the challenges of today’s diverse and expanding construction industry, the UA has shaped a superb training program. In fact, the UA’s commitment to training is unsurpassed among trade unions worldwide. The journeymen produced by this training program over the years are the backbone of the United Association.

The UA has been at the forefront of the fight for worker’s rights for over 100 years. Most recently, in 2010, Local 853 crossed the borders of Ontario when the U.A. Director of Canadian Affairs, John Telford, granted jurisdiction for the five counties on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River to Local 853, providing better mobility for both the members and the contractors.

As we move into a new millennium we are faced with many new and imposing obstacles. To prepare our membership for the rapid advancements in technology and the way business is conducted, the UA has developed one of the most extensive training programs of any union in the world, spending more than $1 million dollars a week ensuring that our members are prepared for the future.