Transport Workers Union of America founding president Michael J. Quill formed the union in New York in 1934. It was the height of the Great Depression, and through his active, militant approach to organizing, Quill brought together thousands of the city’s transit workers to fight back against the greedy companies taking advantage of them and of the nation’s dire economic situation. Workers were being hired and fired at will, they were underpaid, they were overworked, and they were mistreated; several previous attempts to organize a union had failed.
With Mike Quill at the helm, the union lead strikes and sit-ins that brought the city to its knees, demonstrating once and for all that without transit workers, New York City—and the entire American economy—wouldn’t move. The TWU won that battle, and we’ve been winning ever since.
Expanding its reach outside of New York, the TWU then began to organize transit and railroad workers in cities across the country in the 1940s. Later, as the nation’s fledgling aviation industry took off, the TWU was right there, organizing flight attendants, baggage handlers, grounds crews, and dispatchers. Soon after, public utilities providing energy to transit companies came under the TWU’s protection, as did maintenance workers at colleges and universities and civilian employees on military bases.
Looking beyond transit, the TWU also saw a need for union representation among table game dealers in Las Vegas and today boasts some 1,200 members at five different casinos. Health department employees and museum curators are just some of the many dynamic workers around the country that know the benefits of TWU representation. In a new century, new models of transportation began to emerge and the TWU has brought workplace rights to bikeshare workers in Boston, Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C.
At every step of the way, the TWU fights for equality in the workplace, and has spoken out against discrimination based on race, job title, and ethnicity ever since its founding. The TWU’s record on civil rights is unparalleled: one of the union’s proudest moments is when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed the TWU convention in 1961, and when TWU members marched with Dr. King in Selma in 1965.
From Quill’s fight to open up trades and job titles to minorities in the 1930s to the contractual guarantee of maternity leave in the 1980s, the TWU has always recognized that discrimination for any reason has no business in the workplace. The union’s membership is as diverse as the job titles it represents.
The union is committed to preserving and fighting for Quill’s ideals today, remaining “United Invincible” in the effort to ensure all members are treated with dignity and respect.