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Who’s Who » Biographical Sketches (1939) »

Matthew Van Dame

Matthew Van Dame, cheerful, portly business agent for the Coal and Coke Truckmen’s Union, Local 291, doesn’t look like a boot-leg chaser. But spotting boot-leggers of coal who are a great annoyance to legitimate drivers and dealers, is one of the many jobs he has to perform in connection with his work.

He receives help, of course, from coal dealers and union truckers who watch for coal boot-leggers and notify Mat or one of the two city inspectors. “As a result of this police work, ” he said, “someday we will have no more of this sort of abuse.”

Mat Van Dame has been business agent for the Coal Truck Drivers Union for two years, and a member of the union since it was organized in 1933. Before that he was a coal trucker himself and became interested in the labor movement when he saw “boys” with whom he was working abused, or when their pay was cut without previous notice.

He recalls that there was a coal union many years ago, and that he once helped organize the cab drivers, about 24 years ago.

This man seems to make a practice of becoming an officer in almost every organization to which he belongs. He has been vice-president of the Central Trades and Labor Council since January and is chairman of the grievance committee. His friends must trust him implicitly, for he is treasurer of the 24th Ward Republican Club and Treasurer of the Ward and County Committee. He is president of Lomies Lyre Club (a social club), and only a member of the Eagles.

To the question, “What must the labor movement do to improve and strengthen itself,” Mr. Van Dame replied: “We must stop quarreling among ourselves and become friendlier. I feel that the quicker we cease this senseless bickering, the sooner we will progress.”

He claims that the coal drivers were instrumental in helping put the licensing of coal drivers and dealers into effect, a move which was beneficial to both sides, he said. A city ordinance passed last year made it compulsory for drivers and coal dealers to have a license.

“The people of this community are entitled to protection,” Van Dame said, “And we felt that this would be one way of getting it.”

Local 291, with an office in the Labor Lyceum in 580 St. Paul Street, has approximately 390 members in the winter, peak season. During the summer the men transfer from coal to ice or building material supply unions, according to Van Dame.

The union is officered by Frank Falzone, President; Frank DiBendetto, recording secretary; Emil Cornelius, vice-president; Richard Duemmel, secretary-treasurer; Killian Eckert, inside guard and Arthur Vicinius, conductor.

Mr. Van Dame revealed that the history of his union is quite brief, since the members have called only one strike since they organized the union. About three years ago the coal and coke drivers, half of whom own their own trucks, struck for higher wages and got them. Today the helpers get sixty cents an hour, drivers sixty-five, and yard foremen get seventy-five.

Born in Rochester about 50 years ago, Mat Van Dame attended No. 4 and No. 29 schools, but says, “What little knowledge I have, I’ve gained through the school of hard knocks.” He enjoys hunting and admits he platys an occasional game of poker. But his big hobby, he declared, is his family, including three daughters, a son and his wife, with whom he spends all his available time.