Transport Workers Union of America: Locals Records
Language of Materials
The Transport Workers Union of America, founded in 1934 and led until 1966 by charismatic Irish-American radical Mike Quill, initially organized subway workers and bus drivers in the New York City area. Eventually the union chartered locals in cities and towns across the country, and it branched out to include taxi drivers, railway employees, airline workers and utility workers among its members. This collection documents the individual local unions making up the TWUA; includes minutes, correspondence, publicity material, contracts and financial records. NOTE: This collection is housed offsite and advance notice is required for use.
Transit workers employed on New York's Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) began organizing a union in 1934; the effort soon spread to the other two private transit companies in the New York system, the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Co. (BMT) and the Independent Subway System (ISS, later IND), and the TWU was chartered in the same year. The union's early activists were mostly Irish immigrants who came to the United States after the Irish Rebellion of 1916. The men who led the TWU organizing campaign brought the radical legacy of Irish labor leaders James Connolly and James Larkin to the New York transit system.
The Irish leadership of the TWU first approached fraternal associations in the Irish community and the Catholic Church for support, with little success. They finally accepted the assistance of the Communist Party, which had targeted New York City's transit workers as one of several large industrial workforces it wanted to bring under its political influence. The Party provided funds and an office, printed leaflets and brought in volunteers who could distribute them without facing loss of their jobs. Most important, it provided talented organizers who brought the infant union to maturity. Maurice Forge, Austin Hogan, and Harry Sacher became full time TWU organizers on the Party payroll. Forge, a commercial artist, handled the TWU's publicity and developed the Transport Workers Bulletin, the union's newsletter. Harry Sacher, an attorney, handled the TWU's legal affairs. Hogan took charge of day to day organizing efforts. Douglas McMahon, a BMT worker, was also hired as a full time organizer. In 1935 Mike Quill, a Kerry native and former ticket agent who had led early organizing efforts among Irish transit workers, became the first president of the TWU. Quill's charisma and leadership abilities quickly made him a key player in both the labor and political arenas in New York. He led the union until his death in 1966.
Eventually affiliating with the fledgling Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), the TWU soon became the bargaining agent for all New York City transit systems, and branched out to form locals across the country. By the 1950s the union boasted a membership of more than 100,000. Quill broke sharply with the Communist Party in the late 1940s, drove the most prominent Communist sympathizers from positions in the union, and took the TWU into new fields of organizing. TWU locals were established among railroad and airlines workers, utility workers and taxi drivers, among other ventures. These initiatives were continued under the presidency of Matthew Guinan and his successors in the office, although the decline in railroad employment and economic setbacks in other sectors resulted in some losses of membership. With a strong anti-discrimination tradition, the TWU pioneered in the formation of integrated locals in the south, and participated actively in the Civil Rights movement.
The international union remained based, and its membership concentrated, in the New York area. New York Local 100 has remained the largest and most influential in the TWU. The history of Local 100 is bound up in the labor and municipal history of New York City, with the Local facing bitter opposition from several mayors, from private employers, and, in recent decades, from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. In the years following World War II the Local worked to reinstate returning veterans to the jobs and seniority they held prior to their war service. It won the battle for the five day, forty hour week. By 1950 Local 100 had organized the transit workers on the municipal subway and bus systems as well as the employees of most of the private bus companies in the New York metropolitan region. TWU contracts provided for a closed shop, wage increases, paid vacations, and significant improvements in working conditions. After an intense struggle Local 100 also defeated the unsound IRT Pension Plan and negotiated the return to union control of all funds contributed to the plan by the transit workers.
The Local 100 Education Department offered films, lectures, and classes where members could learn the skills of union participation including negotiation and grievance procedures and parliamentary procedure. They could also pursue personal interests such as improving English language skills, American history, photography and other hobbies. The Sports Department organized activities such as bowling leagues, baseball, softball, and football teams. Union-sponsored leisure activities also included choral singing, classes for the wives and children of members and annual outings.
Joshua Freeman, In Transit(New York, Oxford University Press, 1989).
Series I, Records of TWU Local 100, is arranged in three sections, Minutes, Correspondence and General Files; the first two sections are arranged chronologically, and the third is arranged alphabetically by topic. Series II, Records of Other TWU Locals, is arranged by Local number, and chronologically within each Local, with agreements following general files.
Organized into 3 series:
- I, Records of TWU Local 100 (New York City), 1931-1978
- II, Records of Other TWU Locals, 1937-1977
- III, Records of TWU Local 100 (New York City), Addendum (Unprocessed Material)
Scope and Content Note
This collection includes incoming and (copies of) outgoing material, as well as agreements, publicity materials and other records relating to every local of the Transport Workers Union of America. The files were compiled from records originating in several departments of the TWU's national headquarters, with most documents coming from either the President's Office or the Secretary-Treasurer's Office. Only the records of Local 100 (New York City) consist, for the most part, of original records from the files of the Local itself. For many years Local 100 shared a building with the TWU International and their records were stored together. The early records of Local 100 were donated to NYU along with the records of the International in 1985. At present records generated by each TWU local, including Local 100, are retained or disposed of by the locals themselves.
Series I, Records of TWU Local 100 (New York City), 1931-1978. The records include Executive Board minutes (1938-1974), general and officers correspondence (including substantial files of letters from members), general files which reflect significant events (such as strikes, conventions, and union elections) and all aspects of relations with employers, government bodies, other unions, divisions of the Local, and political candidates and organizations. A number of files reflect the Local's intense interest in Irish affairs and its commitment to civil rights.
Series II, Records of Other TWU Locals, 1937-1977. These files cover all locals of the TWU and include correspondence to and from the International, flyers, financial records, publicity material and reports. In many instances, files of agreements, arranged chronologically, follow the general files for a local. Notable are records from Omaha, NB, Miami, FL and several other locals documenting the bitter struggle between Communists and anti-Communists in the TWU beginning in 1948. Records of Philadelphia Local 234 cover the racially-charged transit strike of 1944 in that city. Records of Brooklyn Local 101 illustrate the efforts of the TWU to organize and represent utility workers. Records of New Orleans Local 206, Miami Local 500, and Houston Local 260 document race relations in those cities from the late 1940s through the post-Civil Rights Movement era. Records of San Francisco Local 250 reveal tension between Black Power advocates and union officials in the 1970s. The records of airlines locals (500-numbers) are a rich source for the history of flight-attendant organizing and gender relations in labor, in general.
NOTE: This collection is housed offsite and advance notice is required for use.
Conditions Governing Access
Materials are open without restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for most materials in this collection, created by the Transport Workers Union of America was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.
Any rights for motion picture films, motion picture film elements, and videotape (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by the Transport Workers Union of America were transferred to New York University in 1991 by George Leitz on behalf of the Transport Workers Union of America. Permission to publish or reproduce film and videotape materials in this collection must be secured from Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives. Please contact email@example.com, (212) 998-2630.
Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date; Collection name; Collection number; box number; folder number;
Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated by the Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, 1985. The accession numbers associated with this gift are 1985.007 and NPA.2005.211.
An additional donation was made by Dan Katzman on behalf of the Transport Workers Union of America, Local 100, in 2010. The accession number associated with this gift is 2010.097.
The accession number NPA.2005.068 is also associated with this collection.
This collection came to the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at NYU as part of the larger donation of Transport Workers Union of America material given by the Union in 1985.
A small amount of more recent material (Series III) was donated by Dan Katzman on behalf of Local 100 in 2010.
Audiovisual Access Policies and Procedures
Audiovisual materials have not been preserved and may not be available to researchers. Materials not yet digitized will need to have access copies made before they can be used. To request an access copy, or if you are unsure if an item has been digitized, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, (212) 998-2630 with the collection name, collection number, and a description of the item(s) requested. A staff member will respond to you with further information.
Photographs from this collection were added to the Transport Workers Union of America Photograph Collection, in the Non-Print Department of the Tamiment Library (Photographs 32).