By Shannon Eblen
It was a bittersweet moment for Ed Loomis.
It was his second-to-last day as business manager of the International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 5. Sitting in his Northeast Philadelphia office, surrounded by portraits and photographs of union members going back nearly a century, Loomis was looking forward to a new chapter and back on three decades of fond memories with colleagues he had known for years.
“It’s a family,” Loomis said of Local 5.
In his 34 years with IUEC, he has held various positions, including vice president. As business manager, Loomis dealt with day-to-day operations, grievances, safety matters, benefit problems and even the personal problems of members.
In his new position as an international organizer, Loomis will be traveling the region from Pennsylvania to Maine, a job that will keep him on the road three to four days a week. A real challenge, he said, but one he is excited to take on.
The choice of Loomis was an obvious one, said IUEC General President Frank Christensen, who has worked with Loomis for 20 years. When he announced the appointment, “The reaction I got from everybody was, ‘Great pick, he’s the right guy for the job.’”
Loomis is too humble to say it, said Joe Williams, the IUEC Local 5 business representative who will take over as business manager, but “all the locals made a big request to put him in that position. His reputation precedes him.”
Williams said the five and a half years he has spent working with Loomis have been his best at the Local 5.
“We became like brothers,” Loomis said.
“We’re a tight-knit group,” Williams agreed.
That the IUEC Local 5 feels like family might partially be due to the many there who were actual family. Williams followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Loomis’s son, Sean, a mechanic, is a fourth-generation IUEC Local 5 member, as Loomis started working there with his in-laws in the 1980s.
“It was a big building boom at the time,” he said. “That was when Liberty 1 started getting built, and Mellon bank.”
Loomis grew up in a union family in Pennsauken. His father was a Teamster, and Loomis said he saw first-hand how well the union provided for his family.
“Unions are often treated as a scapegoat these days,” he said, but “all the unions try to do is benefit their members. [People] forget the unions brought them the five-day workweek and health benefits. Everything workers have comes from unions.”
But it wasn’t just the work he loved, and the security the union offered, that made Loomis proud to be part of Local 5. The philanthropic aspect also made the job meaningful.
Local 5 union members have built playgrounds in the community. They started a charity that went national called A Lift for a Vet, which installs and covers the cost of vertical transportation systems in homes of disabled military veterans.
“[These veterans] raised their families there, been there for 40 or 50 years,” Loomis said. “We make it possible for them to stay there. There’s no greater satisfaction than seeing the smiles on their faces.”
After headstones were vandalized at the Mount Carmel Jewish cemetery in February, said Loomis, “Every building trade union in Philadelphia was there to help.”
In his years at Local 5, Loomis has seen technology transform the industry, relay logic controllers giving way to computers. He’s also collected little-known elevator trivia.
For example, elevators don’t free-fall like they do on television or in movies. That’s only happened once, he said, when a plane hit the Empire State Building in 1945, sending an elevator plummeting 75 stories. And with the advent of cell phones, it is unlikely someone would be trapped in an elevator, at least not for very long.
All in all, it’s been a fun ride, he said.
The day he announced he would be leaving the IUEC Local 5 was one of the hardest days of his life, Loomis said.
“I’m going to definitely miss the day-to-day relations I’ve had here for 34 years.”