IBEW Local Union 520 was originally chartered on October 1, 1906. After a few difficult years it went defunct in August 1909, however, it was re-chartered on October 1, 1909. The charter which hangs in the Local Union Meeting hall today is dated 1917 because of a chain of events involving the misplacement of the original charter. As a result, when the Local Union made application to the International for a replacement charter, no one could remember the names of the original charter members, so the names of the current members in 1917 were sent in as charter members.
We have no written records of the early years of Local 520. We do know from the IBEW history that the members were classified only as electricians. They ran the electrical and telephone lines to the buildings and wired in the outlets inside the buildings. They had to be carpenters as well as electricians, since they built the cabinets for the panels for the building distribution system. Later, as the work became more technical, the International Office designated jurisdiction lines for the various branches of the electrical industry.
The conditions under which the Local Union operated during its early years can best be described by the excerpts from the IO publication “History and Structure of the IBEW”
The Local Union was beginning to recover from the problems of the 1920’s, after a bitter internal struggle in the IBEW organization, when the depression of the 1930’s hit. Construction work in Local 520 jurisdiction almost completely stopped with the exception of the University of Texas campus. Some of the members were fortunate enough to be employed by the electrical contractors who were able to get some of the work on campus. The others would report to the shops where they had been working, in hopes of being sent out on a service call. The members’ income was so low that many of the members were unable to keep their dues paid up and were dropped from membership in the IBEW. In fact, so many were dropped from membership that the Local was in danger of losing its charter. Former Assistant Business Manager from the late 1960’s to 1975, Murray Wykes, often recalled that during the depression one member sold a piece of his household furniture each month to pay his Union dues. At the end of the depression this member’s family’s furniture consisted of wooden boxes and crates. Theo Price was working for the city as an electrical inspector, and he borrowed enough money to keep the dues paid for enough members to hold the charter during the worst times.
In 1935, after the Lower Colorado River Authority had been formed, they started construction of dams, power houses and transmission lines on the Colorado River. This work provided employment for many members for a period of about ten years. In 1938 the Local Union income was sufficient so the Local 520 was able to employ a full time Business Manager. Harry Bernhard had been serving as part time Business Manager for several years, and he was elected to the full time job. He guided the Local Union through the turbulent years of WW II. Harry served for eight years, and retired in 1946. Pictures of Harry and succeeding Business Managers are hanging in the Local Union Meeting Hall today.
Local Union 520, along with several other local labor unions had been meeting in an old church building that had been converted into a Labor Temple, located on 10th and Brazos Streets, across from the Catholic Church. In 1948 a building committee was formed which recommended the purchase of land at the south end of the Congress Avenue bridge. The Local Union purchased the land and built their first Local Union building. That building was completed in 1952 and was occupied until it was sold in 1996.
Harry Bernhard served as Local 520’s first full-time Business Manager. He served this Local Union for ten years as Business Manager. Buck Baker served one term as Business Manager before moving to a position with NJATC. Much of Local 520’s Unionism was learned by working with, watching and listening to Brother Joe Kanetzky. Joe inspired many in Local 520 not only by his workmanship, but also by his speaking abilities. He joined Local 520 in 1923 and passed away in 1973. Joe served Local 520 as President, Vice President, Executive Board Chairman, Assistant Business Manager and as a member of countless committees. Billy Joe Kanetzky, son of Joe Kanetzky, served IBEW Local 520 as President for two terms before becoming an electrical contractor. When “Papa Joe” would get out of order at the union meetings, Billy would hit the gavel and say “sit down Joe”. Brother Marcus Loftis followed Buck Baker as Business Manager. He served Local 520 for six terms as Business Manager/Financial Secretary before being appointed to a position in the International Office. Vernon L. “Pete” Loftis, Marcus’ Brother became the next Business Manager serving from 1959 to 1965 when he resigned to take a job with NECA. Wesley Collier was appointed Business Manager in 1965 to fulfill the unexpired term of Pete Loftis, and was elected in 1966, re-elected 1968 and 1970. After a tragic accident in July 1970, just after being sworn in to a new term of office, Brother Wesley Collier was killed in an accident on Lake Travis. Brother Max Ladusch was appointed Business Manager/Financial Secretary for Local 520. Max had just been elected President of Local 520 in the 1970 election. Johnnie Kotrola was appointed to fulfill his term as President. Johnnie served in that capacity until 1975 when he was forced to resign due to a terminal illness. Max served as Business Manager/Financial Secretary until early 1979 when he was appointed to a position on the International Staff. Bob Hodges, Assistant Business Manager was appointed to fill the unexpired term for Max. Walter Timberlake was elected Business Manager/Financial Secretary in 1979. He served in that capacity until 1990 when a sudden change in leadership resulted in Jimmy Sunvision being appointed to the office of Business Manager/Financial Secretary in 1990. Jimmy served in that capacity until he was appointed to the International Staff in 2001. Gordon Byram was appointed Business Manager/Financial Secretary to fill Jimmy’s unexpired term. He served in that capacity until 2003 when David Adamson was elected Business Manager/Financial Secretary. David was re-elected in 2006 and 2009 and served until 2010 when Eddie Kincaid was appointed to the position. Eddie served one year and was replaced by Chris Wagner, who was appointed by the Executive Board in 2011 and served out the remainder of the 3 year term. Chris was elected Business Manager/Financial Secretary in 2012 and is currently serving IBEW Local 520.
Local 520 experienced difficult economic times prior to 1990, however, by 1990 they began the steady struggle to regain work in the jurisdiction, and the rebuilding of a staggering local. High Tech plants moved into the area, and the organizing efforts paid off during those next few years, and by 1996 the Local Union membership had grown rapidly. Organizing was the key to success and survival for Local Union 520. Through the organizing efforts the Local Union membership had grown to over 1,000 members by 1997. A full time Business Manager, Assistant Business Manager, and Organizer, and three office secretaries were on staff. Work at this time was at an all time high even though they continued to fight the non-union contractors.
By 1994 Local Union 520 was struggling with the decision to sale of the original building located on South Congress. The Local Union struggled with the City of Austin, trying to obtain proper permitting and tried to negotiate a feasible renovation plan to expand the old building, however, this could not be accomplished. Local 520 was forced to look for a larger building to accommodate its growing membership. After several years of searching and planning, the current three story office building at 4818 E. Ben White Boulevard was located and purchased by the Local Union 520 Building Corporation in January 1996. The building at 208-210 South Congress was sold to Hixo, Inc. in September 1996.
The new building, originally known as the Briarton Building, was built in 1972, and was owned by the Nash Family. At the time of our purchase, it was occupied by fourteen tenants located throughout the building. A renovation process followed the purchase. Local Union 520 would occupy the entire 8000 square foot area located on the third floor, which would include a new meeting hall, after extensive renovations. The Local Union offices were temporarily moved to vacant lease space in the building, after the sale of the old building. The renovation of the 3rd floor was finally completed in October 1997. 7th District International Vice President Orville Tate dedicated the new Meeting Hall, at the first meeting in the new hall, held on October 14, 1997.
Serving as longtime members of the Executive Board were Bob Carleton and Dan Schieffer. The first Apprenticeship teacher was Mack Sutton and the first full time Training Director was Bill Crouch, Jr. In 1937 Local Union 520 had a total membership of approximately 50. Through the years that number has increased many, many times. In 1997 the Local Union membership was slightly over 1400 members. Over the years each member has contributed something to the Local Union and to the IBEW as a whole. Some have given much more than others, but each one has added something to the organization.