Established in 1953 and located in Minneapolis, MN

In 2012 Celebrating Seventy Five Years As a Union

In March of 1937 our union was first organized under federal charter as Local 20490 of the AFL-CIO.  We were organized to cover all craft workers and have jurisdiction over work performed by the Minneapolis Gas Company.   In 1953 we became associated with the United Association as Gas Workers Local 340.

Our union has represented craft workers faithfully for 75 years and will strive to continue to serve the best interests of its members for the next 75!

Did You Know? – A Little Gas Company History

1.  In our company’s early years,  45 men were employed to light gas lamps in Minneapolis at night fall and  to extinguish them in the morning.   They were housed overnight on call, in dorms,  because if the moon became visible to illuminate the city they were required to put out the gas lights to save on fuel.  Conversely if clouds appeared and cover the moon they had to re-light these gas lamps.

2.  A Minneapolis ordinance was approved in 1871 to prohibit people from  hitching their horses to the gas company’s gas light posts.  Too many horses, when frightened, were damaging the gas lamps atop the posts showering glass fragments down the street.  The ordinance was generally ignored.

3.  Busiest day of the year for gas company employees in the 1920’s?  It was Thanksgiving Day.  Gas lighting had gone by the wayside replaced by electic lights and home heating by gas had not yet taken hold.  The company’s Gas Works would be manufacturing gas at maximum capacity to supply all the homes preparing Thanksgiving dinner.   Additionally company servicemen were on call to repair gas ranges that broke down while preparing the meal.

4.  On November 12,1931, ground was broken for the Linden Service Center at Linden and Lyndale Avenue, next to the garage built a year earlier, and the storage gas holder that had been there for many years.

5.   A very common method of suicide in  the first half of the 20th century was by putting one’s head in a gas oven.  This concerned the gas company greatly with records kept of suicides by gas in Minneapolis and proposals made to resolve this horrible problem.  How was this suicide method possible?  Manufactured gas (our main source of gas supply through the mid 1950s) contained amounts of carbon monoxide that could kill a person if inhaled in large amounts.  Pipeline natural gas, which replaced manufactured gas, does not contain carbon monoxide,  and thus eliminated this source of suicide.

A Glance at 340’s Unique Political Past

At the general membership meeting of our union on April 21, 1943, a motion was made and carried to allow the relatively unknown labor candidate, Humphries,  running for Minneapolis Mayor,  to speak before our union.  Apparently Mr. Humphries was well received as the union meeting minutes note that “Humphries was highly applauded by the members after the conclusion of his inspiring speech.”   He lost the election in 1943 for mayor, but returned to speak before our union in 1945 and this time he was successful becoming the mayor of Minneapolis.  Humphries was actually Minnesotan Hubert H. Humphrey – he later moved on to be U.S. Representative, then a well respected U.S. Senator representing Minnesota, and finally Vice-President of the United States under President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

A Little Service Dept. History

  1.   By the late 1890s the first gas range sale by the company occurred.  Agree to pay for 20,000 cubic feet of gas in advance and receive a free gas range – 1,400 new ranges were sold and installed by the company.
  2. In 1916 the company installed the first gas furnace in the home of Dr. Alfred Owre, the Dean of the School of Dentristry.  It cost Dr. Owre $400 a year to heat his home.  By the 1930s the annual cost to heat the average home in Minneapolis was down to $100 a year.
  3. Natural gas first came to Minneapolis via pipeline in 1934 and was mixed with manufactured gas from the company’s Works facility.  Roughly 500 company employees worked to adapt 118,000 customer appliances to this mixed gas.
  4. During the 1930s the company developed a group of specially trained service technicians to provide 24 hour service for Electrolux gas refrigerators.  The company viewed the gas refrigerator as a load builder.  These Electrolux gas refrigerators carried a lifetime service guarantee.
  5. Company installation of gas appliances grew rapidly between 1935 and 1940 because of the many home conversions from coal to gas and the increasing number of new homes being built.
  6. Starting salary in the Appliance Service Department was $89 a month for a 44 hour work week in the 1940s.
  7. Two-way radios were first installed in company service vehicles in 1945.
  8. By November of 1947 straight natural gas with NO manufactured gas added became the base fuel for our company.  225 employees worked six 10 hour days a week for six months to convert the 370,000 appliances.
  9. In 1982 the Appliance Service Department was restructured with much anxiety.  The Service Plus Program was then introduced and soon became a huge success.

A Little Street History

  1. Company street crews installed the first gas main at Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis near the Mississippi River in 1870. This main carried manufactured gas for the company’s 192 customers to illuminate their newly installed gas lamps. (Cost of installation = $15). These gas lights replaced the smelly and messy kerosene lamps. The first gas flowed through the Nicolet main on November 22, 1870.
  2. In 1891 the Minneapolis Gas Light Company had 104 miles of main and 3,900 gas light customers. The mains were made of yellow pine logs and were lined with tar. The pine logs were roughly 10 feet long and 13 inches in diameter. All of the gas traveling through the mains was manufactured from coal at our “gas works” plant located near our current River Building. There were periodic drips located on the wooden mains where oil and contaminants were drained. The manufactured gas produced these unwanted contaminants.
  3. In the 1920s a street “trencher” was developed to dig trenches for gas mains. Employees operated the trencher 16 hours a day in temperatures as low as -19 degrees with up to a foot of frost on the ground. It operated until 11:00 p.m. at night with few complaints from residents as they desired that gas be hooked up to their homes and were more than willing to put up with the noise. The “trencher” itself was a weird looking, very long contraption with wheels in front that looked like “army tank wheels” and large wheels with spokes in the back. It took many men to operate the “trencher” and had lights to function at night.
  4. In 1931 the “Berguson Hush House” was developed by the street. A street crew was laying main near the Swedish Hospital and wanted to avoid disturbing the patients. A portable house was placed over the paving to be removed, enclosing the noisy equipment and its operators. One wonders the effect this had on the long term hearing of these employees as this was before hearing protection was employed. A note: Swedish Hospital was quite anxious to be hooked up to gas – they cooked 37,000 meals monthly & cooking the meals with gas would be cheaper and easier.
  5. In 1935 street crews for the company piped gas lines to the Ford Plant in St. Paul, Fort Snelling, and the Minnesota Soldiers Home.
  6. In 1953 demand for natural gas continued to grow. Local 340 street crews laid over 97 miles of main with more than a million feet of trenches dug and filled. (Ten thousand services were installed that year).
  7. Local 340 crews laid the first plastic main in 1962. This dramatic new material was reeled off a giant spool directly into the ground as the ground was plowed.

Two GasWorker Old-Timers, Their Stories

Below are two short biographies of gasworkers from the early years of our company. Although Andrew Saltness was never a union member, this was only because there was never a union in existence at our company during his years of his employment. Severin Swanson did become a member of the forerunner of Local 340 – in 1937 when our union was first recognized by the company.

ANDREW SALTNESS

Mr. Saltness was one of the first Minneapolis Gas Light Company employees. He came to Minneapolis from Norway in 1875 and began working for the company in 1877 (the company was founded in 1870). Andrew drove a one-horse wagon along the Minneapolis streets pumping drips from mains. Drips were the accumulation of water and light oils condensed from the manufactured gas which would cause pipeline stoppages or a drop in pressure (the early gas mains were made of wood).

After a few years Saltness’ horse went blind, but the horse knew the route so well that he continued to do the route without his vision. Andrew Saltness became a fitter in 1882 and later a street foreman, the job from which he retired.

SEVERIN SWANSON

In 1886 Mr. Swanson began his employment with the Minneapolis Gas Light Company as a laborer in the street department. It was all manual labor with a pick and shovel in those days. Later he was promoted to fitter and in 1898 he was promoted to foreman in the street department. During his 50th year with the company, in 1937, he joined our union, as this was the year the company officially recognized our union. Five years later in 1941 he retired after nearly 55 years of continuous service with the company.