A Movement in Motion
The history of the Amalgamated Transit Union starts as early as the first horse-drawn “omnibus” in 1832. The urban areas of 19th century North America were becoming increasingly industrialized, and company owners’ demand for cheap labor in all segments of commerce grew. As the need for workers to get to and from cities grew, so did the need for transportation. While the laboring of the transit workers was essential to businesses, the transit workers reaped none of the benefits of the labor they brought to those businesses. The horses only worked 4-hour days, while the men who drove them oftentimes worked 18-hour days. Transit workers received no better treatment on the job than their counterparts in the factories, and the movement toward forming a labor union for transit workers was similar to union organizing going on in other sections of labor. Many workers lived in poverty, with no job security, no benefits, no holidays, no pension, and no health care. These terrible living conditions were in stark contrast to the rich company owners; such exploitation created a driving force for the creation of a union.
Attempts at union organizing started in 1861, and continued until the 1880’s. Management would ignore unions’ requests for recognition and would continue to cut wages for workers, and the workers would strike to earn rights. The Civil War slowed down the labor movement, and 20 years passed until transit workers started to organize again. This attempt was thwarted by company spies, who infiltrated the union. Three officers and 30 members were fired and workers found attending meetings or gatherings were also fired. This vicious attack on workers shrunk the base of the union from 600 workers to 13.
However, the leaders persevered and rebuilt the organization. In 1885 transit unions around the U.S. started demanding contracts be signed. When management refused to respect the workers’ demands, the workers would strike, which would completely shut down that industry until the workers’ needs were met. At this time, there were many separate unions within one sector of the workforce and in the same city.
Transit union leaders organized a mass convention to bring all the unions together under one common name. The Amalgamated Association of Street Railway Employees of America was founded in 1892 at the First Convention in Indianapolis. In 1893, when a union in Canada joined, the Amalgamated became an international union. After an election, the first president of the international union was William D. Mahon.
It is from these beginnings of exploitation, struggle, and perseverance that our union exists today. We must always remember the sacrifice and struggle of our brothers and sisters.
ROBERT PETTIGREW: 1st African American ATU 689 Streetcar Operator 
JAMES RUSSELL: 1st African American ATU 689 Bus Operator 
SARAH OWENS: 1st African-American ATU 689 Female Bus Operator 
JAMES SHIPMAN: 1st African American ATU 689 elected to Union office (2nd Vice President) 
RODNEY RICHMOND: 1st African-American ATU 689 full-time Secretary-Treasurer 
JAMES M. THOMAS JR.: 1st African American ATU 689 President 
EARL MCBRIDE: 1st African-American ATU 689 Training Operator
LEROY BAILEY: 1st African- American ATU 689 member in Bus Depot Office
SANDRA PERRIN: 1st African-American Female ATU 689 Executive Board member/Shop Steward (CLERICAL) 
LELIA WILLIAMS: 1st African-American Female ATU 689 Executive Board member/Shop Steward (BUS) 
WALTER TUCKER: 1st African-American ATU 689 Shop Steward
JAMES M. THOMAS: 1st African-American ATU 689 Recording Secretary
BERNICE BARNES: 1ST African-American ATU 689 Female Recording Secretary
JACKIE L. JETER: 1st African American ATU 689 Female 1st Vice President ; Secretary-Treasurer ; Union President