THE LEGACY OF THE 1992 DRYWALL MOVEMENT
In June of 1992, the Southern California residential drywall market was in a downward spiral – the price of drywall labor was 3.5 to 5 cents a foot. Drywallers worked grueling 12 hour days, 7 days a week and were lucky if they took home $500.
Miguel Reynoso was working on a house in Rancho Bernardo when some workers showed up, told him about the strike, and called him off the job. “They asked if I would join and I said yes. I picked up my tools and we left. My boss was calling me every day to ask when I would come back.”
But while the strike was on, going back to work was not an option. Miguel was surrounded by other members from his crew who were committed to the strike. Some of those workers were from his small hometown in Mexico.
This is what solidarity looks like
Efren Hernandez is quick to point out that the decision to go out on strike was not an easy one. “One of the things people don’t understand is that before the guys made the decision to go on strike, it was months of meetings on Saturdays and after work.”
Workers held each other accountable. More than 4,000 drywallers stood shoulder-to-shoulder and brought the industry to its knees. Residential construction from Ventura County to the Mexican border came to a halt.
During the 9 months of the strike, workers took traveling pickets to jobsites across Southern California. The strikers were harassed. They were jailed. They were subject to heavy police surveillance.
But they would not be deterred from fighting for a better life for themselves and their families.
There were good times too – weekly dances were held in Fullerton. Entire families would attend and, for a few hours, people would forget about how hard things really were.
The community rallied behind the movement
Lorenzo Orozco, who was 27 years old at the time, remembers how the community rallied behind the striking workers with donations of food and money. Those donations helped the workers pay their bills and support their families during the darkest times.
The great labor leader Cesar Chavez even showed up to a picket line in support of the carpenters.
An agreement is reached
More than 60 contractors signed at the end of the strike. Negotiations were led by General President Doug McCarron, who was the Executive Secretary Treasurer of the Southwest Regional Council back then.
The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America was founded in 1881. Over one hundred years later, the drywall movement of 1992 changed an entire industry in Southern California.
An enduring victory
The workers who went on strike in 1992 feel a great sense of pride around the fact that although the strike was over 20 years ago, it still helps people. It remains a significant event in the labor movement, as well as Southern California history.
Ubaldo’s son Peter was a 1 year old in 1992. Today, he is a union carpenter.
Efren’s son is a union carpenter too.
In fact, many union carpenters are connected to the 1992 strike. Some because they were participants themselves, and some because they had family members who made the bold and brave decision to stand up against exploitation.
What happened in 1992 is not the story of a strike, it’s the story of a legacy.