Monday, December 8, 2014

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.

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