Special marks: Oakland sidewalk unions

The people who left their marks on the sidewalks they made in Oakland were a mix of workers. Some were individuals, and some were small businesses by today’s standards. But unions were there, too, in contention and in cooperation. The American Brotherhood of Cement Workers was the first of these.

The ABCW’s stamp consisted of a pair of cement worker’s tools, crossed, inside a circle made of the words “Union Made” plus the union’s initials and the local number 19. I’ve photographed four examples in Oakland, all of them accompanying marks by the Oakland Paving Company. The one above, in Berkeley, is from 1913, the one below is from 1914, and this one is from 1913. The number 10 inside the symbol refers to the master finisher.


Lincoln Cushing knows more about Bay area labor history than I ever will. His site tells how the ABCW tangled with the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) in 1913. LIUNA prevailed upon the American Federation of Labor (the AFL in the AFL-CIO) to let it poach the ABCW’s members. After that, concrete workers were represented by LIUNA or by the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Finishers’ International Association, which is now named the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association (OPCMIA). I’ve only seen the stamp of OPCFIA Local 594 on Oakland’s sidewalks. (Today OPCMIA’s Local 66 represents the central Bay area and doesn’t do sidewalks.)

Here are seven different Local 594 bugs. The number inside is that of the master finisher. They’re mainly from the 1940s.








I did find one other union stamp. It’s somewhere in the Sheffield Village neighborhood — I no longer have the address.


Anyone know more about this one?

I want to end with an apology for not being a better documenter of these. I usually tried to avoid photographing the union bug as I shot the maker’s stamp, so there are surely more of these out there. But I looked at all of my thousands of photos in preparing this post, and I think nearly all of the different union bugs in this city worked their way into my collection.

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