From its founding in 1934, TWU has fought for the right of minority workers to have access to equal pay for equal work, dignity and respect in the workplace, and to fulfill the nation’s creed that “all men are created equal.” Today, we move beyond that, to recognize the particular struggle of black workers, regardless of gender, creed, religion, or sexual orientation.
Recognizing Black History Month this February, TWU reflects on our past efforts and gears up for the challenges ahead. We are humbled by the courage of the people of color who joined our movement from the beginning, at great risk to themselves and to their families, in an era when discrimination was rampant, and violence against African Americans was common.
Watch the video on TWU and the Civil Rights Movement
From its early days, TWU fought employers large and small in the name of equality. In 1937, our founding President Michael J. Quill negotiated with New York City’s transit agency to win significant pay increases for minority workers relegated to the lowest positions by the company’s discriminatory hiring practices. Working with the NAACP and the Urban League, TWU was able to get six black railway car porters promoted to higher paying job titles—once unthinkable for these hard-working men.
|Dr. King and TWU's Matty Guinen confer before the March on Selma in 1965.
In the early 1940s, TWU led a bus boycott in Harlem that forced the transit agency to start hiring black mechanics and bus drivers. Race relations once became so tense during Philadelphia’s transit negotiations that in opposition to TWU fighting for promotions for minorities, others staged a wildcat strike. President Roosevelt had to call in federal troops to end it, which helped TWU persevere and start the integration of the city’s transit system.
After Local 291 was formed in Miami, TWU opened a school to train black mechanics who were barred from other vocational schools in the city. When Local 514 was established in Tulsa, the union rid the American Airlines base of its separate white and black facilities.
In 1962 in Houston, Local 260 uncovered a pattern of racial discrimination in that city’s transit agency where there were two separate units, one for white drivers and shop workers and the other for blacks, with separate seniority lists and pay scales. That discriminatory hiring pattern died with the first TWU contract.
Thousands of TWU members took to the streets of Washington, D.C., for the March on Washington in 1963 and in 1965, also walked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama. Over 2,500 TWU members took part in the Poor People’s March in 1968, organized by Dr. King and held not long after his assassination.
As we celebrate Black History month, TWU remains committed to the rights of all workers, and is proud to celebrate our long history of leadership in civil rights.