Sale of Labor Temple A Sign of the Changing Times
Starting September 1, 2013, the Alameda County Labor Temple is no longer. The existing Labor Temple Association members have sold the building to the City of Refuge Church.
The Labor Temple has been a home to the Building Trades and many of its affiliates since the Great Depression (1933), being first located at 11th and Clay and eventually moving to its current location in the 1960’s. The Labor Temple has a rich history that is intertwined with the history of the labor movement of the East Bay. For example, when the Labor Temple was attacked on June 9, 1937 by CIO members with pick axes and bailing hooks they were driven back by AFL loyalists throwing beer and soda bottles.
Labor Temples were created all over the Bay Area and the country at time when it was necessary and made sense. Unions were truly local and small—often representing workers of the same industry in cities and even neighborhoods. They did not have the resources to establish their own offices which included the meeting halls necessary to conduct the membership meetings. By pooling together resources, these unions were able to not only establish the physical infrastructure they needed to be effective, but also being in proximity under a shared roof allowed them to coordinate actions and strategies against employers and anti-union forces.
Over the many decades of its existence, at its various locations, the unions that made up the Association members of the Labor Temple began to change. As a result of good times, when their membership grew significantly, and of bad times, when many unions merged, the unions grew in not only size, but also in geographic boundaries. The “Alameda County” local was becoming a thing of the past, and with the further consolidation of many unions into District Councils, theses Labor Organizations reached the economy-of-scale to establish their own office buildings, often coupled together with the union’s Apprenticeship Training programs. This meant that it no longer made sense to maintain a presence in the various Labor Temples scattered about in the Bay Area, and they consolidated into separate union buildings and offices.
The decision to sell the Alameda County Labor Temple had already been made over three years ago, but with the economic recession of 2009, it was almost impossible to sell for a good price. However, when the economy improved, reasonable offers came in and the deal was done. It must be noted however, that the decision to sell the building was anything but unanimous and many of the “smaller locals” opposed the sale. The sale will result in many of the owners and tenants (such as ourselves) that do not have new places to go having to eventually find their own spaces to rent or come together and establish a new partnership.
It is my hope that the remaining unions are able to reestablish the Labor Temple and that while it will never again have the historical prominence it once had in the East Bay Labor Movement, it could serve as a reminder of the need for all of us to work together to promote the interests of our members!