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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jim Pierce, July 16, 1974. Interview E-0012-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Becoming a leader in the labor movement and joining the CIO staff

Pierce describes how he came to be a leader in the labor movement and an organizer for the CIO during the late 1940s. Shortly after the birth of his first daughter, Pierce's wife fell ill with tuberculosis. While trying to take care of his family responsibilities, Western Electric informed Pierce he was being transferred from Fort Worth to Wichita Falls. In order to keep him close to his family, the union moved to elect him as the Secretary-Treasurer because whoever occupied that position needed to stay in Fort Worth so they could negotiate with the company. From there, Pierce helped to the CIO Industrial Union Council in Fort Worth before joining the staff of the CIO.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jim Pierce, July 16, 1974. Interview E-0012-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

What happened was about a year and a half after the strike … well, nine or ten months after the strike, we had our first child … Linda was born, and about six months after that Pat developed TB, and we were living and working in Fort Worth. So, she had to go into the hospital in Dallas, which was 30 miles in one direction from Fort Worth, and she had a sister in Mineral Wells which was about 50 miles west of Fort Worth. So Anne took Linda, Pat went into the hospital, and I moved in with another sister and brother-in-law there in Fort Worth, we just broke our family up completely. One day after work I would go see Pat at the hospital, the next day I would go over to Mineral Wells and see Linda, … it was tough years … a tough time, but at least I could see her, it wasn't too far, and I could see Linda. Oh, just a few weeks after she went into the hospital, the company decided that even though there was plenty of work for me to do in Fort Worth, they wanted me in Wichita Falls, which was way out west in the state, and I went to them and asked them to change their minds, to let me stay there in Fort Worth, explained my problem, and the guy I talked to said well, that's your problem, not mine, and you're going on to Wichita Falls or else. We had a union meeting that night …
WILLIAM FINGER:
What union was this?
JIM PIERCE:
This is Local 77 Telephone Workers Organizing Committee I mean, and … but it was a local union meeting and one of the guys reported this to the membership, and the contract was very weak at this point and there was no way they could keep me from being transferred. So they came up with the idea that two people in that whole union under the contract could not be transferred. That was the President of the Local Union, and the Secretary-Treasurer of the Local Union had to stay in Fort Worth so they could negotiate with the company. Anybody else could be transferred anywhere, and there was just one way to keep me from having to go to Wichita Falls being away from my wife and child, was to elect me Secretary Treasurer, so the Secretary-Treasurer resigned and they elected me Secretary-Treasurer and then notified … by that time I just took some time, because we had an election to go through, and they notified the company that they had to move me back from Wichita Falls to Fort Worth … for work because I was now the Secretary-Treasurer of the union, and that is when I became active there was never any question in my mind after that where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You are still working in this …
JIM PIERCE:
Oh yeah. I was very much a part-time Secretary-Treasurer, you know, and I didn't know anything about it. I took a correspondence course in bookkeeping so that I could be a good Secretary-Treasurer, and I stayed Secretary-Treasurer of that local until I went on the staff of CIO.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What made you want to go on the staff of CIO?
JIM PIERCE:
I don't know what made me want to. I got an offer. When I got back to Fort Worth, they had not organized a CIO Industrial Union Council in Forth Worth, and we decided that we needed a CIO Industrial Union Council. I went to work getting this group together, and we had a meeting, and I really thought that since I had worked so hard to organize the Industrial Union Council that I would be elected an officer. But it didn't happen. Just before the meeting, the man from the regional CIO office took me off to the side, and he said "Jim, don't run for office because the boss is going to ask you to go on the staff." So he did ask me to go on the staff at the time, and I thought it was a good opportunity to help other people get a good strong union.