As Tim Turnbach, member of the United Association (UA) Local 524, looked at the sun glinting off the stainless steel sculpture he created, he knew that the joy and pride of this moment would be with him for the rest of his life.
More important though, was that the sculpture, a weathervane depicting a scene from the Lattimer Massacre of 1897, was made to last forever—union made with skills learned decades before as a UA apprentice and journeyman.
Collective Bargaining Comes Full Circle
“Losing collective bargaining is like giving up 100 years of labor’s progress,” said Tim of the recent attacks on workers’ rights. “This sculpture creates an awareness of what could happen if we go backwards with labor. We need to work together to stay strong.”
The miners who were involved in the Lattimer Massacre were collectively advocating for fair wages, safer working conditions, and equal rights as citizens for all mine workers. The weathervane depicts the marching miners who carried no weapons—the American flag was their only protection from the hostile mine owners and sheriff’s men.
More than 400 miners were peacefully protesting when they were fired upon by the sheriff’s men. Nineteen miners were killed and almost 50 more were seriously injured, many of them shot in the back while running away.
Death Leads to the Birth of a Strong Union
The miner’s union had difficulty organizing the mostly immigrant workers at the mines in Eastern Pennsylvania because of the language barrier. Mine owners purposefully segregated their workforces so that the workers would be unable to communicate with other mines and organize collectively against the bosses.
Because of the obvious injustice of this act against the unarmed miners, 15,000 men joined the newly formed United Mine Workers’ of America within three months following the trial. Solidarity and human rights transcended race and language.
Journey to Self-Discovery
From student to instructor, union member to leader, tradesman to sculptor, Tim had worked up to this pinnacle through three years of study, research and contemplation.
It began with a chance conversation with a UA rep who said that UA apprenticeships count as college credits at NLC, and it lead him to complete his bachelor’s degree in the Fall of 2011 at NLC.The sculpture honoring the fallen workers was part of his project for his Senior Seminar.
“Integrating teaching moments with my students was inspiring,” said Tim, a welding engineering instructor at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. As he used the project to teach his students about fabricating, welding and safety, he also told them about the meaning behind the project including the Lattimer Massacre, unions, their history and purpose.
To watch Tim cutting the sculpture, click here, and coloring the American flag, click here.
“Workers’ rights and workers’ benefits should never be taken for granted,” said Tim. “Many battles have been fought and many lives have been lost in the name of labor; and it is important to understand the reason for yesterday’s conflicts to appreciate today’s labor movement agenda.”
NLC is Key to a Strong Labor Movement
For Tim, the key to the progression of the labor movement lies in educating the labor force.
National Labor College is a unique institution of higher learning. At the NLC, we learn how to win the battle with our minds—by sticking up for ourselves. I had the most phenomenal instructors at NLC. The instructors and staff had heart –they seemed to be more on a mission than just doing their jobs.
Tim knows that his time at NLC was life changing. He’s glad to be done with his bachelor’s degree in Labor Safety and Health and plans to take a year off before starting his master’s in education.
But Tim will be back on NLC’s campus once more for the dedication of his sculpture near the National Workers Memorial during the Workers Memorial Day Ceremony on April 27, 2012. Tim’s local union, along with the UA is sponsoring the plaque that will stand at the base of the weathervane to educate visitors of the importance of the Lattimer Massacre and its relevance in today’s political environment.