Monday, December 15, 2014

Business and Labor Relations News Highlights Growing Unrest

This was an interesting week with regards to the large number of major news items across the U.S. and around the world related to business and labor relations.

The big news in the U.S. this week was that the government appears to have passed a federal budget and it has lots of 'goodies' in the bill favorable to big business and the banks. This should be good for the economy over the short term, though it repeals long term protections for the country that were put in place after the last economic meltdown.

On the other side of the coin, low wage and middle class workers across the U.S. and around the world that bore the brunt of the pain during the Great Recession are now agitating for better pay, job security, and working conditions. A quick look at the news stories just this week cover the growing labor unrest and strikes in Italy, Germany, Nigeria, Belgium, and across the U.S. For example:

Big banks, major corporation, and the super wealthy have been reaping huge profits, paying themselves big bonuses, while working to cut health benefits, pensions, pay, job security, working conditions... for lower and middle class workers. This is not some form of labor propaganda - it's simply the truth backed by the facts. I expect we'll be hearing a lot more about striking workers across the U.S. and around the world in the coming years. Check out the blog on 'Lessons Learned' from Major Railroad Strikes.

Two final closing remarks -

First, people driven to commit minor crimes generally serve some jail time. Bankers and corporate leaders that are routinely caught in major illegal activities involving billions of dollars never seem to serve any jail time. The stock holders of the companies they mis-managed simply pay their fines.

Second, it always amazes me that working people and small business owners keep getting fooled into voting for politicians that work hard to get more tax breaks and loopholes for major corporations that make huge 'contributions' to their campaigns. Somehow, 'blame' is always miraculously shifted to working people and their representatives - and the voters buy it.

So many people still buy into the crazy 'trickle down' theory of economics. You might want to read one of my previous blogs on 'Trickle Up' vs. 'Trickle Down' Economics.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

'Lessons Learned' from Major Railroad Industry Strikes

The following is a brief summary of the 'Lessons Learned' from major Railroad industry strikes in the U.S. over the past 150 years.
  • Strikes usually occur over low wages, worker safety issues, increases in workload, increased working hours, reductions in staffing levels, unfair hiring/firing practices, abusive managers, bad working conditions, etc.
  • Often striking conditions occur during recessions/depressions and when companies, their senior executives and owners, become too driven by greed and focused on maximizing profits at the expense of their workers.
  • Often, local workers take the initiative to go on strike because the union's national  headquarter staff are not responsive or aggressive enough in taking action.
  • Often, highly paid senior executives of unions in their national headquarters are too cozy in their relationship with company owners and are out of touch and not as attentive to the needs of local workers as they ought to be.
  • When a union goes on strike, it should have clear objectives in mind. It should be as wide in scope as possible - regional or national. It should be ready to call upon other craft unions for assistance as needed. 
  • Expect companies to try and use whatever means possible to end the strike. They will escalate the situation depending on how strong a position they are in starting with:
-   making meaningless concessions,
-   firing union leaders & strikers,
-   hiring non-union 'scab' workers,
-   locking people out of the company buildings and grounds,
-   using the court system to get court orders/injunctions against the union,
-   using intimidation against union members and their families,
-   unleashing company police/hired 'enforcers' on strikers,
-   planting company spies within union ranks,
-   using news media, creating situations to put the union in a bad light,
-   creating strike 'incidents' so the union will be seen in a bad light,
-   appealing to state or federal governments for intervention up to and  including the use of national guard and federal troops.

  • If companies have to give in, they will concede as little as possible and as the situation calms down, they can afford to wait and let workers become complacent. They will strive to get back what they have conceded one way or another.
  • Unions must never stop organizing workers and educating their members. They must always be prepared for the next battle in the never ending tug of war with companies for fair wages, benefits, good working conditions, etc.  Unions must and must adapt and use effective, modern communication techniques to do this, e.g. web sites, online training, social networking, etc.
  • Workers should expect to suffer more than any company executives. In almost every major strike there have been strikers killed or wounded.  At times police or troops employed by the government to assist the companies have also been hurt. Company owners are rarely hurt in any way – physically, emotionally, financially, etc.
  • Unions have found that 'sit ins' or 'slow downs' by workers are often an effective alternative to more confrontational strikes.
  • The race, sex, or cultural background of union members should not be an issue. In fact, beware of companies or government officials trying to create divisiveness within the union by playing on these differences and using the media and other means to stoke this fire.
  • Remember, national guard units or local police are often union members or family relations of union members. When police and troops have been used, many times they have put down their weapons and expressed sympathy with the workers.  There have been examples in history where companies have even resorted to paying officers to try and ensure the troops carry out their wishes.
  • To counter company tactics, unions must be prepared on all fronts. They must have a financial war chest to help their union members as needed. They must have sympathetic, effective lawyers in their employ. They must have lobbyists so they can keep politicians in check. They must be well managed, organized, be ready to call on other unions for assistance and support, have union enforcers that can be used to counter company police/thugs. They must have good public relations people and cultivate the press.
  • About every 20 years, the cycle of economic downturn, recessions/depressions, company greed, etc. will reemerge. You can almost bank on it. That's when companies will try to get concessions from unions and workers.
  • Unions members need to be attuned to what globalization means and how outsourcing is a new variation on an old tactic that companies are using to bring pressure on workers to accept lower wages, accept benefit cuts, etc.  New tactics to counter this must be developed. Unions need to also be thinking globally and start to collaborate with their counterparts around the world.
  • Consider the power of financial boycotts. Unions and their members can choose not to spend their money on products or services produced by companies that are anti-union. Use this power. It's legal and it works.
  • Companies have tended to question the patriotism of union members/strikers in the news media. They often label union members as communists, socialists, extremists, enemies of social order,  etc.  to try and frighten the public and turn public opinion against the union. It's just another tactic they regularly employ.
  • Just as companies are mentoring and training the next generation of railroad executives, unions need to set up mentoring programs to prepare the next generation of effective railroad union leaders.
  • Finally, in this 21st century, globalization is taking its toll on union workers in the form of foreign competition, cheaper foreign labor pools, use of part-time or temporary employees, the loss of pensions and health benefits, etc.

'Best Practices' based on 'Lessons Learned' from Major Strikes

Now knowing some of the key tactics corporations will use to end strikes and break unions, there are quite a few ways to successfully counter their efforts. Here are just a few 'best practices'  for unions to consider if they plan on striking.

  • Maintain positive public relations using all media sources available.
  • Sit-ins, coupled with non-violence, are the preferred methods to pursue.
  • Keep your national headquarters and other unions in the loop.
  • Ensure sympathetic politicians stop government intervention, i.e. use of police or militia forces.
  • Have a 'flying squad' ready to counter threatening moves or 'incidents' by corporations against strikers or their families.
  • Make sure you have funds and supplies to support striker's families.
  • Have lawyers on call to counter adverse legal action or court orders.
  • Keep an eye out for embedded corporate 'spies' in your midst.
  • Keep adapting to the changing world in this 21st century - reach out and learn to collaborate and work with international labor unions around the world for better wages, benefits, worker safety, etc. for workers everywhere. 
Share other 'Lessons Learned' and 'Best Practices' with our readers.

* Read "There is Power in a Union", the epic story of labor in America
Also, visit the History of U.S. Railroads and Railroad Workers web site.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Overview of Major Railroad Strikes in U.S. History

Over a period of many decades from the mid-1800's thru the mid 1900's, unions paved the road to the middle class for millions of working families. Millions of workers laid their lives on the line to make it happen. With the passing of time, however, the history of the struggle to obtain a better life for all working Americans has been forgotten by many.

The following are short profiles on some of the major Railroad Strikes in U.S. history that brought about major changes in working conditions for the millions that now make up the American working middle class.

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877
In the year 1877, the country was in the depths of a depression. That year came a series of tumultuous strikes by railroad workers in a dozen cities that shook the nation as no other labor conflict in history had done.  The strikes began with wage cuts by railroad company after railroad company in an environment of profiteering by companies even as injuries and deaths among railroad workers occurred with ever increasing frequency.

 At the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) station in Martinsburg, West Virginia, workers determined to fight the wage cuts went on strike. They uncoupled engines and ran them into the Roundhouse and announced no more trains would leave Martinsburg. B&O company officials asked the Governor to intervene and send troops. A striker was shot and killed. But, the strike continued and over 600 freight trains were idled in the Martinsburg train yard.

The Governor eventually called upon President Rutherford Hayes to send in federal troops. The owners of B&O offered to lend money to the government to pay the army officers.  When the troops finally arrived, the trains were able to move again with the help of strike breakers that had been brought in from Baltimore.

However, in Baltimore, a crowd of thousands sympathetic to the railroad strikers surrounded the armory of the National Guard that had been called out by the Governor in support of the B&O Railroad. A bloody confrontation took place in which 20 strikers were killed. The enraged crowd of protestors went on to the train depot and tore up tracks, destroyed a train engine and several passenger cars. The arrival of 500 federal troops finally brought order to the situation. However, strike by railroad workers now spread to other parts of the country. 

The strike spread to Pittsburg and the Pennsylvania Railroad. Railroad strikers were joined by sympathizers from nearby mills and factories. Local militia would not attack workers that were fellow townsmen, so railroad and government officials brought troops in from Philadelphia to clear the tracks. In the process they killed at least 10 workers. The whole city arose in anger and a large crowd surrounded the troops and trapped them in the Roundhouse.  The crowd set railroad cars and several buildings on fire. More National Guard troops were called up, but many of the companies would not move against their fellow citizens.

The strike continued to spread to Harrisburg, Reading, and elsewhere. Police and state militia were again called upon to battle the crowds, killing several workers. This did nothing but further enrage many others. B&O officials and the press continued to talk about the 'communistic' beliefs of union workers. Federal troops finally arrived to help quell the situation.

The strike spread to Chicago and local police and troops were brought in to battle the strikers and sympathetic crowds. Again, the result was 18 dead workers. St. Louis then erupted. Here, too, railroad companies had cut wages. The railroad was effectively shut down. Eventually, police and troops were used to end the strikes over time. News of the railroad strikes spread to Europe.
When the great railroad strike of 1877 was over, 100 people were dead, over 1,000 people were jailed, and over 100,000 workers had gone out on strike. More than half the freight on the nation's rails had been stopped. The railroad companies made some concessions, withdrew some wage cuts, but they had not really learned any lessons about working with unions and treating workers fairly. Instead, they beefed up their internal company police forces, helped the government strengthen National Guard armories, increased political lobbying efforts, and began further preparations to break the unions.   For more information, see

The Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1886

The Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1886 was a labor union strike against the Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific railroads involving more than 200,000 workers. In March 1886, railroad workers in the Southwest United States conducted an unsuccessful strike against railroads owned by Jay Gould, one of the more flamboyant of the 'robber baron' industrialists of the day. The failure of the strike led directly to the collapse of the Knights of Labor and the formation of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).

The strike began when a member of the Knights of Labor in Marshall, Texas was fired for attending a union meeting on company time. The local chapter of the Knights called a strike. Soon, more than 200,000 workers were on strike in Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Texas. Although the dismissal of the railroad worker in Texas had sparked the initial strike, wages, hours and unsafe working conditions motivated most of the strikers.
From the start there were problems. The Brotherhood of Engineers refused to honor the strike, and its members kept working. Meanwhile, Gould immediately hired strikebreakers to work the railroad. After several incidents of 'union violence' occurred, Jay Gould requested military assistance from the governors of the affected states. The governor of Missouri mobilized the state militia; the governor of Texas mobilized both the state militia and the Texas Rangers.
The exercise of police power by the states on behalf of the railroad companies led union members to retaliate. Switching houses were burned, mechanic shops wrecked and trains uncoupled. Shots were fired at a moving train in Missouri. As the violence spread, public opinion turned against the workers. Physical attacks by the Pinkerton agents scared thousands of workers into returning to work.

The strike eventually petered out in late summer of 1886. As a result of their success in breaking the strike, employers adopted a model for stamping out strikes that called for holding firm and calling for government troops.  See

The  Infamous Pullman Railroad Strike

The Great Northern Railroad had begun cutting wages in August of 1893, with more cuts made in January and in March of 1894. In April, American Railroad Union (ARU) workers voted to strike. The Great Northern was completely shut down for 18 days, and wages were restored as a result of an arbitration award. Workers were joining the ARU at the rate of 2,000 a day.

The Pullman Palace Car workers were among them. The Pullman shop workers went on a strike of their own, also against wage cuts, in May of 1894. After hearing a stirring address by Jennie Curtis, the youthful leader of the women workers in the Pullman Shops, a convention of the ARU voted to support the Pullman workers by refusing to work any trains that included Pullman cars. 

The Pullman Strike escalated into a nation-wide struggle between the railroad companies and the ARU. The union boycott of Pullman cars was extremely effective, particularly on the transcontinental lines extending west from Chicago. All traffic on the 24 railroad lines leading out of Chicago came to a halt.  See

The Railroad Managers however, had an association of their own, and they saw an opportunity to crush the infant ARU. They agreed to pay 2,000 deputies that would be sent in to break up the strike. Their other strategy was to order Pullman cars hooked to U.S. Mail trains. The ARU members would then refuse to work the mail train. This development quickly brought the government into the case on the side of the railroad companies.

Over the objections of Illinois Gov. John Peter Altgeld President Cleveland ordered federal troops into Chicago and other points to insure the passage of the mail trains. Mobs of workers assaulted the strikebreakers and troops. Tracks were blocked and freight cars were derailed or burned by strikers. The court issued an injunction against the ARU and its forbade its leaders to communicate with the members, not even to order a stop to the violence. Eugene Debs was arrested for alleged conspiracy to interfere with the mail and violation of the injunction. He was jailed for six months.

Approximately 14,000 federal troops and state militia moved in and 34 people were killed and over 700 arrested. The boycott collapsed and the American Railway Union was destroyed, just as the railway companies had hoped. The strike at Pullman was one of many defeat for the union. For more detail, read

The  Great Railroad Strike of 1922 

The Great Railroad Strike of 1922, a nationwide railroad shop workers strike in the U.S., began on July 1 and was the largest railroad work stoppage since 1894.  The immediate cause of the strike was the Railroad Labor Board's announcement that hourly wages would be cut by seven cents July 1, which prompted the shop workers vote to strike. The operators' unions, representing the engineers, trainmen, firemen, and conductors, did not join in the strike.
The railroad companies employed strikebreakers to fill three-fourths of the roughly 400,000 vacated positions, increasing hostilities between the railroads and the striking workers. By the end of July, National Guard troops were also called up in seven states and some 2,200 deputy U.S. marshals were actively clamping down on meetings and pickets.
President Warren G. Harding proposed a settlement on July 28 which would have granted little to the unions, but the railroad companies rejected the compromise despite interest from the desperate workers. Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty, who opposed the unions, pushed for national action against the strike. On September 1, a federal judge named James H. Wilkerson issued a sweeping injunction against striking, assembling, picketing, and a variety of other union activities. It was known as the "Daugherty Injunction."
There was widespread opposition to the injunction and a number of sympathy strikes shut down some railroads completely, but the strike eventually died out as many shop workers made deals with the railroads on the local level. The often unpalatable concessions — coupled with memories of the violence and tension during the strike — soured relations between the railroads and the railroad shop workers for quite some time. 

* Make sure you visit the History of the U.S.Railroad & Rail Worker web site.

U.S. Railroad & Rail Worker History during the 1900's

"America was made by the railroads. They united the country and then stimulated the economic development that enabled the country to become the world's richest nation. Yet the epic tale of the growth of the railroads and their influence on the development of the nation is now largely forgotten and ignored."   -  Christian Wolmar, "The Great Railroad Revolution", 2012

The following is a brief timeline of historical events related to Railroads and Railroad Workers in the U.S. during the 1900's. 
  • In 1908, the Federal Employers’ Liability Act was passed. Two years later, the 1910 Accident Reports Act was passed. A 10-hour work day and standardization of rates of pay and working conditions were won by the Railway Brotherhoods.
  • Unionization continued to grow in the U.S.  Shortly after the turn of the century, there were 2 million members of labor unions.  By 1910, there were over 8 million members.
  • In 1911, the Locomotive Inspection Act passed. Four years later, the Hours of Service Act passed. The Railroad Brotherhoods had won an 8-hour day.
  • In 1914, according to a report by the Commission on Industrial Relations, 35,000 workers were killed in industrial accidents and 700,000 workers were injured in the U.S.  Many of these were railroad workers.
  • In 1916, the United States Congress passed the Adamson Act which stipulated the work day as eight hours for interstate railroad employees. This was a labor reform rushed through Congress by the Wilson administration when four railway brotherhoods threatened a nationwide strike to get the eight-hour day and railroad companies refused to consider this demand.
  • Also, in 1916 the U.S. railway system reached its peak length. As we moved into the 1920s and subsequent decades, the rise in use of automobiles and airplanes contributed to a decline in ridership and mileage of track in use.
  • In 1918, the Railroad Yardmasters of America was established.
During World War I, the federal government took complete control of the nation’s railroads. Labor-management relations were placed under the supervision of the Federal Railroad Administration and its director general. National Boards of Adjustment were created to settle, by arbitration, all disputes which arose due to interpretation of existing agreements.
  • In 1920, rail employment reached a high of two million workers. Control of the railroads by the government, a measure that had been passed during World War I, also ceased that year. 
  • The Transportation Act of 1920 created the United States Railroad Labor Board of nine members (representing management, labor, and the public) with authority to hear and decide disputes not disposed of in conferences between representatives of the carrier and the employees. Compliance with decisions of the board was not made obligatory, making the board largely ineffective.
  • In 1926, the Railway Labor Act passed. It required employers, for the first time and under penalty of law, to bargain collectively and not to discriminate against their employees for joining a union. It provided also for mediation, voluntary arbitration, fact-finding boards, cooling off periods and adjustment boards.
  • In May 1926, A. Phillip Randolph and others organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
  • In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, also known as the Wagner Act, clearly established the right of all workers to organize and to elect their representative for collective bargaining purposes. The following year the Washington Job Protection Agreement was passed. 
  • Successful efforts to unify industrial unions continued and  in 1936  the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was formed. Other unity attempts within the railroad industry included proposed mergers between the Brotherhood of Firemen & Enginemen (BLFE) and the Brotherhood of Local Engineers (BLE) in 1942 and 1953. Both attempts failed due to BLE refusal to merge. 
  • In the 1930s and 1940s, most U.S. railroads began to use diesel locomotives. By the 1950s, most U.S. railroads finally discontinued use of steam locomotives. Diesel engines were easier to maintain than a steam locomotive, and required only one person to operate. This meant reduced operating costs and greater reliability for the railroads.
  • In 1943-44, 1946, 1948, and 1950-52, the railroad industry was seized and operated by the federal government in order to end strikes or to prevent threatened strikes. Under this intervention, the railroad labor organizations retained a uniformity of work rules that has been the subject of conflict between labor and management since the post World War II period. See Trade Unions in the United States.
  • In 1956, the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen (BRT) reached its all-time membership peak of 217,176 members.
  • In 1957, the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen (BRT) affiliated with the AFL-CIO after 74 years of operating as an independent union.
  • In January of 1968 the presidents of the BLE, BLFE, BRT, ORCB and SUNA were invited to meet in Cleveland, Ohio, to discuss a merger. In May of 1968, each of the four unions selected a 10-man committee to draft a unification agreement and constitution suitable to all. The group labored five months before the agreement and constitution were believed to be acceptable.
  • A merger plan was submitted to every eligible member for a vote. The members voted overwhelmingly for the largest union merger ever in the railroad industry. The merger took effect in 1969 and created a powerful new union, the United Transportation Union (UTU), which enjoyed greater respect in the industry and increased strength at the bargaining table. 
  •  Also in 1969, the U.S. Railroad Division of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers was formed at their 23rd Consolidated Convention in Kansas City, Missouri. The Railroad Division now falls under the Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of the AFL-CIO.
  • In 1970, the Ladies Auxilliary of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen was renamed the Ladies Auxiliary of the United Transportation Union.  In 1999, the word "Ladies" was dropped from the name to allow spouses of female railroad workers to join the Auxilliary.
  • In 1970, Congress passed the Rail Passenger Service Act creating a government corporation to take over operation of  selected inter-city passenger services from other private railroads. The government corporation, Amtrak, began operations in 1971.
  • Congress passed the Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1973 to salvage viable freight operations from bankrupt companies in the northeast, mid-Atlantic and midwestern regions of the country, creating the government owned Consolidated Rail Corporation (ConRail). Conrail began operations in 1976. The Act also formed the U.S. Railway Association, which took over the certain powers of the ICC with respect to bankrupt railroads and abandoned lines.
  • Under the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976, Amtrak acquired most of the right-of-way and facilities of the Penn Central Northeast Corridor from Washington, D.C. to Boston.  In addition to freight railroads, Conrail inherited unprofitable commuter rail operations from several railroads in the northeast.
  • The Staggers Rail Act of 1980, proposed by Harley Staggers of West Virginia, partially deregulated the railroad industry allowing them to more freely set their own freight rates and abandon unprofitable rail lines. 
  • The Northeast Rail Service Act of 1981 authorized additional deregulation of northeast railroads. Among other things, these laws reduced the role of the ICC in regulating the railroads and allowed the carriers to discontinue unprofitable routes. Railroads began to merge with other rail systems.  The 40 large Class I railroads systems in 1980 eventually combined to form the eight Class I railroads in existence today.  
  • Railroads took the opportunity to also combine with trucking and shipping companies to create what are called intermodal carriers (e.g., freight which uses more than one mode of transportation from point of origin to point of destination). Greater efficiencies in container movements by railroads attracted shippers dependent on time sensitive deliveries. Innovations resulted in the containerization of such bulk commodities as petroleum, grains, and ores. The development of advanced computerized data systems also began to have a major impact on the industry and rail operations.
  • The deregulation of the railroad industry in the 1980s contributed to the problems of railroad unions. With declining employment, the railroad unions—particularly the operating unions—have sought by negotiations with the railroads to raid each other's membership. This has resulted in severe inter-union rivalry, which contributes further to complications and instability in railroad labor negotiations.
  • Operating workers, or those engaged in engine, yard, and train service, are represented primarily by two unions. The United Transportation Union (UTU), was affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) for some 15 years, until its withdrawal in 1985.
  • Many non-operating railworkers (e.g. clerks, reservation agents, skycaps, redcaps, yardmasters, porters, patrolmen, transit workers, etc.) are also represented by unions, some of which have members in the non-railroad transportation sector of the economy.  Many of them are members of the Transportation Communications Union (TCU).
  • Today the various brotherhoods and trade unions in the U.S. represent about 340,000 workers on the railroads. This figure reflects a decline of some 40 percent since 1970 and more than 80 percent since the end of World War II. At its height, the railroad industry employed well over 1.5 million workers. 
  • In 1995, Congress abolished the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), transferring its powers to the Surface Transportation Board. 
  • In 1997, ConRail freight operations were acquired by the CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads.
What other major historical events ought to be added to this timeline? Let us know.

* Also, remember to visit the Railroad & Rail Workers web site.

U.S. Railroad & Rail Worker History during the 1800's

"America was made by the railroads. They united the country and then stimulated the economic development that enabled the country to become the world's richest nation. Yet the epic tale of the growth of the railroads and their influence on the development of the nation is now largely forgotten and ignored."   -  Christian Wolmar, "The Great Railroad Revolution", 2012 

The following is a brief timeline of historical events related to Railroads and Railroad Workers in the U.S. during the 1800's. 
  • The first railroad charter was issued in 1815 by the state of New Jersey.  In 1827, the B&O railroad was chartered to run the first westward bound railroad in America, from Baltimore to the Ohio River in Virginia. It was the first westward bound railroad in America.
  • Colonel John Stevens is considered to be the father of American railroads. In 1826 Stevens demonstrated the feasibility of steam locomotion on a circular experimental track constructed on his estate in Hoboken, New Jersey, three years before George Stephenson perfected a practical steam locomotive in England. The first railroad charter in North America was granted to John Stevens in 1815. 
  • By 1830, there were only 23 miles of railroad in the United States. By 1850 it had grown to 9,021 miles, a fraction of the 200,000 miles it was to eventually grow to at its peak.
  • The postal and rail services became closely intertwined early on in U.S. history. The first trains to carry letters were on the Camden & Amboy line in New Jersey as early as 1832.
  • Many of the earliest locomotives for American railroads were imported from England, but a domestic locomotive manufacturing industry was quickly established. Between the 1830s and the 1860s, there were enormous railway building booms in the U.S.  The railroad replaced canals as the primary mode of transportation in this country. As the railroad industry expanded and more and more workers were employed, worker's unions came into existence. 
Railroad unions representing specific railroad crafts first emerged around the 1860s.  
  • In 1863 the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, the first union organization of railroad workers, was organized in Detroit. It was originally called the Brotherhood of the Footboard. 
  • In 1868, the Brotherhood of Conductors was organized in Mendota, Illinois. Its name eventually was changed to the Order of Railway Conductors & Brakemen.  
  • In 1873 the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen was established and in 1906 it became the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen & Enginemen. 
  • In 1876, the Switchmen's Union of North America was initially organized.  
  • In 1883, the Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen received a charter. 
  • In 1890, the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen was organized in Topeka, Kansas.
At the time these organizations were formed, conditions for employees were horrible. Wages averaged $1.00 per day and 70 percent of all train crews could expect injury within five years of service. ad workers were injured and 1,657 were killed. Insurance was not available to railroad workers because of the hazards of the job. There were no such thing as  seniority rights, safety laws, insurance, job security or disciplinary rules and safeguards.

In these early days, employees who attempted to form or belong to a union were fired with no recourse. Many employees were required to sign so called “yellow dog” contracts at the time of hire. These so-called agreements meant immediate discharge to an employee who joined a union.

  • The National Labor Union (NLU), the country's first national labor federation, was founded in the summer of 1866.
  • In 1851, the Erie Railroad in New York used the telegraph during its inaugural run to alert the next stations about a locomotive problem. Telegraphs provided railroads with a new, high speed communication system to help manage their operations. Train stations became the natural site for telegraph offices across the country. 
  • In 1869, the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed across the U.S. from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California. It was built by the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroad companies. They used workers from China, Ireland, and other parts of Europe to lay the tracks at great loss of life.
  • After the Civil War, during the 1870's and 1880's, many of the railroads in the South were rebuilt and expanded using cheap convict labor largely composed of young black men. These laborers often worked in chains, were underfed, poorly housed and medically neglected. Many convict laborers only survived an average of 3 years, and almost 1 in 10 perished within the first four months.
  • In 1877, unorganized railroad workers struck because of a 10 percent wage cut, the second cut since the Panic of 1873. They brought to a screeching halt four Eastern rail trunk lines, which caused turmoil in every industrial center. In Pittsburgh, PA, Martinsburg, WV; and Chicago, IL, the Great Strike of 1877 sparked battles between militia and the crowds.
  • In 1887, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) was created to regulate railroads, to ensure fair prices.
  • In 1888, a charter was granted to form a Grand Lodge for the Ladies Auxilliary, Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen.
  • By 1890, it had became obvious to many that a single union representing all operating employees or even all railroad employees would be much stronger and more effective. However, there was much resistance along craft lines.
  • In the early 1890's, Labor Leader Eugene V. Debs founded the American Railway Union (ARU) as an all craft organization. The ARU, however, was destroyed a few years later by management, government collusion and the use of federal troops during the Pullman Strike in 1894.
  • In 1893, unions won with the passage of the Safety Appliance Act. Among other things, the Act outlawed the “old man-killer link and pin coupler.”  It required all American railroads to adopt air brakes and automatic couplers on their trains.
  • In 1894, Labor Day became a federal holiday. Following the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland reconciled with the labor movement. Fearing further conflict, legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress unanimously and signed into law a mere six days after the end of the strike.
  • In 1898, the Erdman Act was passed providing for mediation and voluntary arbitration on the railroads. It made it a criminal offense for railroads to dismiss employees or to discriminate against prospective employees because of their union membership or activity. It provided legal protection of employees’ rights to membership in a labor union, a limit on the use of injunctions in labor disputes, lawful status of picketing and other union activities, and requirement of employers to bargain collectively.
What other historical events ought to be added to this history timeline? Let us know.
* Also, remember to visit the History of Railroads & Rail Workers web site.