October 25, 2014

History of the UTU

We are the United Transportation Union (UTU), headquartered in the Cleveland suburb of North Olmsted, Ohio. We are a broad-based, transportation labor union representing about 125,000 active and retired railroad, bus and mass transit workers in the United States and Canada.

With offices in Cleveland and Washington, D.C., the UTU is the largest railroad operating union in North America, with more than 500 locals. The UTU represents employees on every Class I railroad, as well as employees on many regional and shortline railroads. It also represents bus and mass transit employees on approximately 45 bus and transit systems and has recently grown to include airline pilots, dispatchers and other airport personnel.

Membership is drawn primarily from the operating crafts in the railroad industry and includes conductors, brakemen, switchmen, ground service personnel, locomotive engineers, hostlers and workers in associated crafts. More than 1,800 railroad yardmasters also are represented by the the UTU. The UTU’s 8,000 bus and transit members include drivers, mechanics and employees in related occupations.

Widely recognized as the leader among transportation labor unions, the UTU sets the pace in national and state legislative activity, collective bargaining, and in efforts to improve safety and working conditions on the railroads and in the bus, transit and airline industries. Through experienced representation and its legislative strength, the UTU has been instrumental in the preservation of Amtrak (the national rail passenger network), the enactment of numerous safety laws and the promotion of employee assistance programs.

The UTU has been successful in the past and continues to strive for progressive and innovative contracts that ensure excellent wages and benefits and a healthy pension system for the railroad, bus, mass transit and airline employees who have devoted their lives to service those industries.

The UTU also continues to lead in efforts to combat drug and alcohol abuse among its members, in the promotion of mass transit and an efficient rail passenger service, and in protecting its members and the public from the unsafe shipment of hazardous materials.

History of the United Transportation Union

In 1968 exploratory talks among the four brotherhoods’ interested in forming one transportation union proved fruitful and plans were formulated for merging of the four operation unions into a single organization to represent all four operating crafts.

In August of 1968, the union presidents announced that after nine months of planning, a tentative agreement had been reached on all phases of unity. It was further announced that the name of the new organization would be the United Transportation Union and the target date for establishing the UTU was Jan. 1, 1969.

In Chicago on Dec. 10, 1968, the tabulation of the voting revealed an overwhelming desire by the members of the four crafts to merge into a single union, and the United Transportation Union came into existence on Jan. 1, 1969.

Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen

The Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, largest of the UTU’s predecessor unions, was founded in June of 1883 at Oneonta, N.Y., when eight brakemen crowded into D&H caboose No. 10 to change rail labor history.

At the time, rail workers earned a little more than $1.00 a day working one of the most dangerous jobs. An estimated 70 percent of all train crews could expect injury within five years. Realizing that passing the hat whenever a co-worker died was ineffective, rail workers formed a brotherhood to provide a benefit in case of death, at the time $300.00.

Begun as the Brotherhood of Railroad Brakemen, the BRT in 1889 changed its name to reflect its expansion into other crafts, with membership reaching out to include rail workers in 14 different trade classifications. Later, in 1933, the BRT organized interstate bus operators.

Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen

Lodge No. 1 of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen was organized by Joshua Leach and 10 Erie Railroad firemen at Port Jervis, N.Y., in 1873. The following year, delegates from 12 lodges met and formed the “BLF Insurance Association” to provide sickness and funeral benefits for locomotive firemen.

In 1906, BLF changed its name to Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen and joined in bargaining with the three other major railway unions.

In 1919, with 116,990 members, the BLF&E led the fight for an eight-hour day for rail workers, and in 1926 pressed successfully for passage of the Railway Labor Act.

Switchmen’s Union of North America

In 1870, switchmen employed on railroads in the Chicago area worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for $50.00. Helpless in bargaining with their employers individually, they banded together in August of that year to form the Switchmen’s Association.

In 1886, switchmen met in Chicago and formed the Switchmen’s Mutual Aid Association, but a lockout on the Chicago Northwestern Railroad and a disastrous strike in 1888 on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad ended the Association in July 1894. Later that year, however, a meeting in Kansas City, Mo., led to the establishment of the Switchmen’s Union of North America.

Order of Railway Conductors and Brakemen

In the spring of 1868, T. J. “Tommie” Wright and a small band of Illinois Central Gulf conductors formed the first conductors’ union, known as “Division Number 1 Conductors’ Brotherhood” at Amboy, Illinois. Word spread quickly, and by November 1868, the union’s first convention was held in Columbus, Ohio, where conductors from the U.S. and Canada adopted the name “Order of Railway Conductors of America.”

In 1885, the ORC directed its leaders to aid in negotiating agreements with carriers, a revolutionary idea for the time. In 1890, the ORC adopted a strike clause and began a militant policy of fighting for the welfare of conductors.

In 1942, the Order of Sleeping Car Conductors amalgamated with the ORC, and in 1954 the organization was renamed the Order of Railroad Conductors and Brakemen to reflect its diverse membership.

International Association of Railroad Employees

Historically, exclusion and segregation characterized nearly every aspect of the lives of African-Americans, including their participation as members of organized rail labor. The International Association of Railroad Employees arose in response to this set of circumstances.

Among those represented by the IARE were conductors, trainmen, engineers, shop mechanics, porters and maintenance-of-way employees who, effective Sept. 1, 1970, found themselves welcomed into the fold of the nascent United Transportation Union.

Railroad Yardmasters of America

The Railroad Yardmasters of America (RYA), organized Dec. 2, 1918, in response to managerial abuses. The RYA voted in 1985 to affiliate with the UTU.

UTU-represented yardmasters today enjoy autonomy and craft preservation, as well as the protective advantages and strength associated with UTU membership.