While most everyone recognizes the federal bureaucracy moves slowly, the Department of Justice may hold the record as it brings an end to some of its long-open cases regarding monopolistic practices and unfair competition.

In fact, the agency’s antitrust division is currently looking at eliminating hundreds of out-of-date antitrust agreements. Dating as far back as the 1800s, many have outlived their usefulness.

Among the biggest cases the department recently decided to terminate was the decree that led to the breakup of the Standard Oil Co., which faced antitrust concerns as far back as 1911. The Justice Department earlier this spring asked the U.S. District Court in St. Louis to terminate the 1911 ruling that led to the Standard Oil breakup and the eventual organization of 34 smaller companies.

Federal antitrust legislation began in 1890 with passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act, which was intended to prevent unlawful restraints and monopolies. It was based on the principle that a free competitive system should result in the best distribution of economic resources and the greatest possible production of goods.

Unfair Horseshoe Competition

Surprisingly, among a number of  old antitrust cases still on the Justice Department’s books is one that dealt with anti-competition issues in the horseshoe market that involved the Master Horseshoers’ National Protective Association of America (MHNPAA). Becoming law in the early 1900s, that decree barred 13 defendants from blocking potential competitors from the market for “drilled horseshoes, adjustable calks or rubber hoof pads.” Why that group was specifically involved more than 100 years ago in that antitrust decree is not known.

13 defendants were banned from marketing drilled horseshoes, adjustable calks or rubber hoof pads …

Since there’s little argument today in regard to antitrust issues with horseshoes, the Justice Department earlier this spring proposed termination of this out-of-date decree.

The MHNPAA was a New Jersey-based non-profit corporation that filed its legal papers on March 1, 1907. Its membership consisted of big city horseshoe shop owners who schemed to set journeyman farrier wages across cities and states. If hours and wages for shoers were identical, the group’s members felt there would be little incentive for their workers to move to another shop or city. They also used illegal wage-setting measures to stabilize the workforce, which allowed shop owners to shoe the most horses at the lowest possible cost while pocketing the highest possible profit.

Over the years, these owners continued to raise shoeing prices without increasing the wages of their workers. Political favors paid to city government cronies led to special laws being enacted that exempted these shop owners from limiting the number of hours worked per week while avoiding higher overtime wages.

To protect the rights of big city farriers, the International Union of Journeyman Horseshoers had been incorporated in 1893. The group fought for better wages and a limit on the number of hours worked per week for good reason. Journeyman horseshoers in New York City in 1908 only earned $2.37-$2.97 a day for 9 hours of daily work that required 6 days of shoeing per week. By 1901, the international union had 132 local affiliates across the country that represented 6,800 horseshoers.

Horseshoers’ Union Numbers Skyrocket with Union Mergers

In a 2004 article, the American Farriers Journal editors reported on the union’s merger with other trades that boosted membership numbers from fewer than 100 to almost 40,000

Farriers may pride themselves on being their own boss and owning their own company, but with the expansion of the International Union of Journeymen Horseshoers of the United States and Canada, now may be the time for shoers to think about joining a union. Formed in 1893, the horseshoer’s group is the oldest organized union in North America.

During 2004, membership in the horseshoers union grew from 81 members to almost 40,000, thanks to a merger with thousands of workers in non-horseshoeing trades. This dramatic increase in membership numbers meant shoers could take advantage of much better life insurance and medical insurance coverage at a fraction of the previous cost, according to union member Paul Brooker of East Boston, Mass.

Larger Union Benefits

More than a year earlier, members of several worker and allied trades groups wanted to become affiliated with the national AFL-CIO organization. Since it was too expensive to join on their own, they needed to find a group with which to establish a partnership. With the horseshoer’s union numbers being on the low end (most members were track shoers), the much larger trade groups found them to be a perfect union partner.

By adding thousands of members from other trades, the horseshoers saw the average age of its membership drop drastically. This led to insurance companies placing them in a more favorable group where they are much more inclined to offer less expensive rates for life insurance and medical plans.

“The other thing was that when we approached the insurance companies as horseshoers, they put us in a high-risk plan,” Brooker explains. “Now, we have a choice of several family plans.”

The $30 monthly union dues horseshoers were paying in 2004 bought them a $30,000 life insurance policy and made them eligible for improved and much cheaper health-care plans.

 “Union dues are tax deductible, so it’s almost like you’re getting this for free,” Brooker says. “There is an exorbitant cost for hospitalization these days, so this is a way to insure yourself.”

Unionized Shoers

Brooker says this larger union only requires 10 shoers to form a local chapter. He wanted shoers to keep in mind that by being part of this union, it doesn’t take away from any other hoof-care group they might wish to remain a member of or join.

“Associations are not their own union, so you can be a part of both,” he says. “They are not conflicting. We’re just trying to give guys an opportunity to take advantage of what we have to offer.”

While most shoers will only need the benefits of a union, some may want to be part of a large, collective voice fighting for fair wages. Brooker lists Thoroughbred track shoers and harness-horse shoers as a prime example.

“Being part of a union lets those shoers keep management from running roughshod over them,” he says. “Today, most horseshoers are progressive thinkers. They see a need to get together and to get benefits.”