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American Transport Unions



The union movement in the United States started as far back as the mid-1800’s when the small organized unions started to emerge. The first large union was the Knights of Labor which was founded in 1869, but after initial large membership numbers the union declined by the end of the century. The successor to the Knights of Labor was the American Federation of Labor (AFL), founded in 1886, and was largest union in the first half of the 20th century. In 1955 the AFL merged with the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO) to form the AFL-CIO, which today still represents 12.2 million members. The AFL-CIO currently a federation of 57 affiliated unions, including some of the largest unions representing transport workers such as Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), Seafarers International Union (SIU) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA)

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) was formed in 1931 in Chicago and within a year was leading a strike at Century Airlines against low pay and poor working conditions. This led to National Labor Board, in 1934, setting a maximum flying time for pilots at 85 hours and a base pay of $1,600 per year. By 1939 ALPA had its first negotiated agreement with American Airlines. The first major strike in the union’s history came in 1946 when ALPA a strike against TWA for their refusal to negotiate an agreement on pay scales for four engine aircraft. In 1978 President Carter signed laws to deregulate the airline industry which in part led to the failure of Braniff in 1982 and the Chapter 11 filing of Continental Airlines in 1983. ALPA found that the bankruptcy laws allowed Continental to scrap its collective agreements and pilots were laid off. Since then failures at Eastern, Pan Am, TWA and other airlines have led to pilot layoffs.

Transport Workers Union of America (TWU)

The Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) was founded in 1934 in New York City after the great depression when the transit companies took advantage of the large number of unemployed to underpay, overwork and mistreat employees. The 1930’s were a time when the TWU organizing strikes and sit-ins against the transit companies. By the early 1940’s transit workers from other cities, such as San Francisco, Houston and Philadelphia joined the TWU, followed by thousands of transport workers from the airlines and railroads. Today, the TWU has separate divisions for railroad workers, airline employees and transport workers.

Air Transport Division - In 1945 workers from Pan Am in Miami asked the TWU for help to organize. This led to the TWI becoming the certified bargaining agent for the ground and flight service personnel at Pan Am. The following year the TWU organized workers at American Airlines and today the TWU has over 50,000 members at the major US airlines.

Railroad Division - This division first started out as part of the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO) but in 1954 they merged with the TWU bringing 40,000 railroad workers into the TWU. Today, the railroad division represents railroad workers at Conrail, Amtrak and some short line carriers.

Seafarers International Union (SIU)

The Seafarers International Union (SIU) was founded in 1938 and represents mariners, fishermen and boatmen working aboard US and Canadian flagged vessels. The union was created after the International Seamen’s Union (ISU) lost it charter in 1937 after forty-five years. The AFL created the new SIU in 1938 to represent the interests of mariners and now has a membership of over 35,000 spread across 13 affiliated unions, such as the Fishermen's Union of America Pacific and Caribbean, American Maritime officers, and Marine Firemen’s Union.

International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU)

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) was founded in 1937 after the eighty-three day West Coast Waterfront strike in 1934 where two picketers were killed by police in San Francisco. The majority of the current members of the ILWU come from ports along the west coast of the US, Hawaii, Alaska and British Columbia in Canada. The union has over 42,000 members as well as another 3,500 members that belong to the Inlandboatmen's Union of the Pacific. The union represents not only dock workers but workers who are employed in the warehouses. When the union first started the warehouses were tied closely to the ports, but now union warehouse workers are in many locations and industries such as public warehouses, beverage plants, laboratories, chemical plants, food manufacturing, and grocery warehouses.

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