Ironworkers and union leaders from across the country, as well as Massachusetts political leaders, will gather recently to celebrate the career of Joe Quilty, an ironworker for nearly half a century whose strong union leadership helped shape the Boston skyline.
Quilty, who rose from apprenticeship to become a nationally known labor leader during his 46-year career, is credited with working on or overseeing the addition of virtually every high-rise to Boston’s skyline and providing leadership that helped make the Big Dig a reality. Additionally, he is recognized for putting into place the mechanism that resulted in support for hundreds of charities throughout New England.
Quilty, 65, grew up in Boston’s South End and became an ironworker in 1956, working on the construction of such landmarks as the Prudential and Federal Reserve buildings. He worked his way through the ranks, and was elected to the executive board of Ironworkers Local 7 in South Boston in 1975. Three years later, he became the local’s business agent, a position he held until 1985, when he rose to the position of general organizer for the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers.
At the same time, he was elected president of the Ironworkers District Council of New England, an umbrella organization for 11 locals across five states. During his tenure, the union’s membership grew by more than 50 percent, from 4,000 workers to 6,500. Colleagues say his quiet, calm yet strong leadership style made possible major gains at the bargaining table and major projects in the field.
During his tenure, Quilty led efforts to improve the lot of ironworkers and the communities in which they worked. He created the Fraternal Labor Fund to assist injured workers and families that fell on hard times, and helped establish scholarships for the children of ironworkers. He also led the founding of the Labor Management Cooperation Trust, which supports the Ironworkers’ charitable endeavors across New England. He quietly ensured that the union took care of its own and others, in one typical case arranging for the installation of an elevator in the home of a handicapped child.
He organized an annual blood drive, and forged close ties between the union and the Liver Foundation. Among the charities that have benefited from Ironworker generosity during Quilty’s tenure are: the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, The Jimmy Fund, Pop Warner Football, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, The Sons of Italy, and the Laboure Center, to name a few.