Interviewer: Rachel Bernstein
Date: December 5, 2011
Accession number: L2012-15
One of seven children, Donald Wharton was born in 1938 in Ohio. Donald was the next to youngest child. His father was a pattern maker at the Ohio Brass Company, and a member of the IAM. From solid working-class roots, Donald left high school to help his family financially when his father became ill. He joined the IAMAW on his second job and has been union his entire life. Wharton believes he has held more union positions than any other member of the IAMAW. He was elected Conductor of his lodge at 17 and became a full-time representative in 1962. As director of the training center at Placid Harbor he established the first program and timeline, much of which is still used today. He was appointed General Vice President in 1988. In 1993, he was elected General Secretary-Treasurer and retired in 2004.
Wharton discusses being born and raised in Ohio and his father’s membership in the UE and then the IAMAW. He talks about leaving school early to get a job, having a negative union experience followed by a positive one. As a young union activists he tells how he was appointed an officer while 17. He also tells about union history, organizing experiences, the operation of the IAMAW in the Midwest, women in the union, IAMAW record on race and civil rights, Democratic politics, the NLRB, and union raids. Wharton was very much involved in the training program and tells the story of the creation of Placid Harbor, the land acquisition, the curriculum development, history of the property, and the effect of the training program. He provides insight into the work of an International officer, the sponsorship of the Indy car, the ideological shift of the union, and the failed unification talks with the UAW and the Steelworkers.