Jim Hawley worked as an asbestos pipe coverer and insulator for almost forty years. He was a member of the Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers Local Union No. 4 in Buffalo, New York. A few months ago, Jim was interviewed by Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford about his work as a pipe coverer at various job sites throughout Western New York and his duties as a business agent with the union.
When did you become a member of Local No. 4?
I entered the union as an apprentice in 1947 and right out of high school. At that time, the union hall was in the laborers building on Franklin St., behind Allen in the City of Buffalo.
How many members did Local No. 4 have in 1949?
There were about one hundred members in 1949. While I was in the union, there were about one hundred fifty members at maximum. I still keep in touch with some of the older members.
Do you know when the Union was established?
It was established in 1903 or 1905. Four cities formed the international union, including Buffalo, Cleveland, St. Louis and Pittsburgh.
How did you get involved with Local No. 4?
Well, my father was in the Local; he started in 1919. After high school, I decided I wanted to follow that same path, so I joined the union and was active in it up until I retired in 1986.
When did you become a business agent?
I became a business agent in 1962. It was a yearly election process, but that quickly switched to two years. I was a business agent until 1972.
How far away did you do contract work?
Generally, you worked in your own jurisdiction. For me, that included all of Western New York and Warren, Potter, and McKean counties in Pennsylvania. You could travel outside of this area, but it did not happen too often. Your union card was all that you needed to show up at these job sites and complete your duties.
What job sites did you work at locally?
Let’s see, mostly all of the big sites in Tonawanda and Niagara Falls. Ashland, Durez, Spaulding Fibre, Semet-Solvay, Hooker Chemical, Niagara Mohawk, all those places and more. I applied the pipe covering on steam and chemical lines. I did more than the average person with the cutting and band saw. Sometimes I felt like a snowman being surrounded by all that falling asbestos. When I see people who got sick from very little exposure to that stuff, I think of how lucky I am and wonder how it could be.
Now that you are retired, what are some things you like to do in your free time?
I try to get to the Shaw Festival at least two or three times a year. That is in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I really like it up there. My friend and I enjoy all those little shops there. I also enjoy going to Niawanda Park every Wednesday to see those free concerts.