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100 Years

The following locals will celebrate their 100th anniversaries in 2016. What follows is a brief account of their organization:

Local 689-Washington, DC

Division 689 was chartered on January 19, 1916, but the Division’s* location was kept secret. The charter city was revealed as Washington, DC, sometime before March, when International Vice President Rezin Orr and Division representatives attempted to start negotiations with the Washington Railway and Electric Company.

On March 5, a Washington Times headline screamed, “STREET CAR MEN STRIKE.” The Motorman & Conductor (M&C), predecessor to In Transit, reported Orr “was unable to obtain conferences with the companies… The members of the newly organized local suspended work in recognition of a lockout….”
The company settled with Division 689 two days later, granting increases “from 2 to 4 ½ cents per hour.”

In July, the new DC members reported, “Division 689 is making rapid strides, and to date has a 90%
organization. By January 1, 1917, it is to be hoped that we will be 100% organized. The union gave an excursion to Chesapeake Beach, Md., June 26th and 27th, and 3,000 took part each day… July 4th the street car men were excellently represented in the parade that preceded the dedication of the new A. F. of L. office building. All along the line of march they received much applause… Our boys are solid and determined to make the union a permanent success.”

Local 690-Fitchburg, MA

Local 690-Fitchburg, MA, was organized by GEB Chair John H. Reardon and chartered on January 20, 1916. Unlike other divisions, the organization of Local 690 seems to have gone smoothly. In July 1917, the members told the Union, “Div. No. 690, now organized six months, wishes to say that we are proceeding successfully. We obtain new applications every meeting and every member is, working faithfully to swell the membership roll.

“At our recent election of officers we elected and installed officers for one year as follows: President, W. C. White; vice-president, L. F. Harris; financial secretary, J. E. Fitzpatrick: treasurer, H. T. Brown; recording secretary, W. L. Newell; warden, J. F. Sanderson; conductor, J. A. Allen; correspondent, J. W. Gainey; executive board, W. C. White, H. F. Dugan, L. O. Geoffrion, Charles Revar, W. L. Newell and W. E. Goddard.

“Our executive board recently, for consultation, visited President Rooney of Div. No. 22, Worcester.
“Brother Morgan, in his talks at our meetings, shows the making of a good lawyer. Brother Dickie St. Cyr thinks he is a pretty good man on the flyer. Brother Piadek is mentalizing on matrimony.
“Our meetings are held the first Thursday of each month at 9 A. M. and 8 P. M.”

Local 691-Springfield, MO

The July 1916 M&C reported that “G. E. B. Member J. C. Colgan in February assisted in organizing Div. No. 691, Springfield, Mo.” which was chartered on January 27, 1916.  He “was returned to Springfield, where the newly instituted local had entered strike in protest of refusal of the company to recognize the Association. The strike occurred Feb. 20 and was amicably settled Feb. 23. Board Member Colgan was assisted in the work in Springfield by President R. T. Wood of the Missouri State F. of L. and the Springfield Central Labor Union…”

The Division went back on strike on October 5, however, after “the secretary of the local was dismissed from the service… upon petty charges” in violation of the contract’s arbitration provision.

The December 2016 M&C reported, “that all efforts to effect an honorable adjustment have proved futile. The Commissioner of Public Utilities of Missouri prepared an agreement for arbitration of the dispute, which was accepted by the local, but rejected by the company. This was the last effort reported in the interest of a settlement, and it appears that the strike will become an endurance contest.”

That contest came to an end on June 15, 1917, when a new agreement was signed with a new arbitration clause.

Local 694-San Antonio, TX

Division 694-San Antonio, TX, was organized by International Vice President Ben Commons, and chartered on February 28, 1916, with little to no turmoil.

The members reported in the September 1916 M&C: “Div. No. 694 is pleased to report that she made a good showing on Labor Day. About 140 of our members were in line of parade… In the center of our line we had an old-time mule car, nicely decorated and loaded with children… We got the first prize, which was $50 cash. There were forty unions in the parade and we were among the latest organized. We were not awarded the first prize so much from our numbers or showy display as for our neat and business like appearance and our presentation was much to the credit of our arrangements committee…

“We are now wearing a union button and are pleased with the results…

“Div. No. 694 is getting along fine. There is but one man among us not yet in. Newcomers lose no time in joining us. Our meetings are well attended. Unionism has taken hold of us, not only in name but in spirit, and we are sure to have a local second to none.”

Local 697-Toledo, OH

Division 697-Toledo, OH, was organized by International President W. D. Mahon, GEB Member Edward McMorrow, and Toledo Central Labor Union Business Agent John J. Quinlivan, and chartered by the Amalgamated on March 14, 1916.

The April 1916 M&C reported, “Div. No. 697, Toledo, Ohio, was locked out March 28, the management refusing to permit employes to work who should identify themselves as members of the Association by wearing the union emblem button.”

“As you are well aware,” the Division told the Union in the September 1916 M&C, “this company for a number of years was very hostile to our organization. Following the organization of the men, the company refused to recognize or treat with the organization.

“The men, however, were determined to fully establish their organization and decided to put on the monthly button. As soon as the men put on the button the company retaliated by locking them all out.

“The result was that the lines of this system were tied up completely from March 28 to April 9, 1916, when a settlement was secured and a contract made fully recognizing the organization and establishing improved working conditions in the way of wages, hours of labor and general working conditions.”

Local 704-Toledo, OH

Division 704-Little Rock, AR, was organized by International Vice President Ben Commons, and chartered on May 20, 1916. In July 2016, the Division reported in the M&C, “The company learned of the new organization and immediately discharged 7 of our men… Bro. Commons, accompanied by a committee from the Central Trades and Labor Council, called on our general manager and requested reinstatement of the discharged men and recognition of the organization.

“This was refused. A strike was called for the following Saturday. In the meantime the boys joined the organization rapidly. Forty joined in a body.

“On the evening that the strike was to take place the mayor of Little Rock asked for a postponement of the strike until the following Monday. This request was granted and in the meantime the union was recognized and the discharged men reinstated.

“We are now full-fledged union men, working under a signed agreement in which the company agrees to recognize and treat with the duly authorized and accredited representatives or committees of the Association in the adjustment of all questions and differences that may arise in the future. This agreement is for two years dating from May 22. 1916.”

Local 713-Memphis, TN

The September 1916 M&C, reported, that “Div. No. 713, Memphis, Tenn., was organized by Vice-President Ben Commons after a vicious campaign on the part of the company to prevent the men from organizing… no sooner had [Commons] arrived than the company set upon him with their thugs and gunmen. Brother Commons was assaulted twice, but he continued in the work among the men... [and] succeeded in establishing Div. No. 713. The company’s thugs continued their work of intimidation, but the results did not stop the men from organizing - if anything, it encouraged them.” Division 713 was chartered July 10, 1916.

“The company discharged the men as soon as they became members of the union and then began to assault the members, which resulted in one of the members being killed; following which the men suspended work July 22 completely tying up the lines. The strike lasted 24 hours, a settlement being reached the following day, July 23. Under the settlement all discharged men were reinstated with pay and later an agreement was entered into with the company, fully recognizing the union and providing for increased wages and improved conditions for the period of three years.”

Local 714-Portland, ME

International President Mahon reported in the August 1916 M&C that, “Div. No. 714 of Portland, Maine, was organized by Charles Roux, business agent of the Carpenters’ Association in that city. As soon as the company learned that the men were organizing they discharged some eighteen members… The result was that a strike was called July 12, 1916…” The Division was chartered on July 13, 1916.

“I went to Portland in person, accompanied by Vice-President O’Brien and Brother Reardon… Upon reaching Portland we were called upon by a committee representing the Chamber of Commerce. Through this committee negotiations were continued during Saturday night, Sunday and Sunday night… A settlement was reached Monday morning, July 17, 1916. This settlement provided for the reinstatement of all the men who had been on strike and who had been suspended for joining the union, with full pay for all the time that they were out. It also provided that a contract should be made, fully recognizing Div. No. 714 of our Association…

“The contract was drafted and agreed to between our organization and the company on the afternoon of the 17th—the men all returning to work on the morning of the 17th.”

Local 717-Manchester, NH

Division 717-Manchester, NH, was organized by GEB Member John H. Reardon, and chartered on July 31, 1916. Manchester seems to be another one of those lucky locals that were organized without significant trouble.

Its members reported in the October 1916 M&C: “As a newly-organized local, we of Div. No. 717, are
most agreeably satisfied. We are pleased with the change from non-unionism to unionism. We find a new spirit pervading our ranks. The organization of our local has inspired an interest in the employment beyond any conception that we had. It seems to afford a sort of relax— a breathing spell in a man’s life to be one of those effecting such a change in employment and passing from the one state—non-unionism—to the other, that of unionism.

“Through the good offices of Brother P. F. Sheehan, of the Brockton local, we have been successful in negotiating an agreement with our company, which is highly appreciated…

“Right here our boys wish, through the columns of the M. and C., to extend thanks to Brother P. F. Sheehan and all others who took part in assisting us in effecting our organization and assisting in bringing about our agreement.”

Local 725-Birmingham, AL

Division 725-Birmingham, AL, was organized by International Vice President Ben Commons, and chartered on August 10, 1916.  The members reported in the October 1916 M&C, that “Brother Commons came here about August 10th and things immediately began to move. In less than ten days of diligent work on his part, a fine organization of nearly 700 members, motormen, conductors, shop and repair men were banded together as strong as steel and firm as adamant… Our boys went through two previous unsuccessful attempts, one in 1907, another in 1913. However… [w]e are now with you, sister locals of the Amalgamated, and we intend to remain and assist in the work of up-building our social, political and financial standing in our respective communities.

“We of Div. No. 725 now wish to extend the right hand of fellowship to our brother workers in other Divisions and assure them that we feel proud of the fact that we can stand up and look the world in the face as having proclaimed and established our independence as a working organization. We trust the day will never dawn when you may regret our advent into your midst.”

Local 726-Staten Island, NY

Division 726-Staten Island, NY, was organized by C. Howard Severs, a conductor and president of Division 540-Trenton, NJ, and chartered on August 11, 1916. Later, International Vice President George Keenan reported, “this Division was getting along nicely and indications were that the men and the Company would work in harmony in the future.”

That situation stood in high contrast to that of transit workers in the other boroughs of New York City who thought they had just concluded a highly contentious strike.

The nonunion Staten Island street car men went on strike with Amalgamated’s organized New York transit workers in 1916, but, unlike them, their goal was organization, and they achieved their goal with the Richmond Light and Rail Company.

The Staten Island Division was chartered just after the New York Divisions appeared to have an agreement with the New York Railways Company.  The New York City locals soon discovered that they had been had, as the company was forcing its workers to sign a “master and servant” agreement.
But the members of the newly organized Local 726 worked for Richmond Light and Rail, not the New York Railways Company, and kept working. They are still at it 100 years later.

Local 732-Atlanta, GA

Division 732-Atlanta, GA, was organized by Business Agent William Pollard of the Electrical Workers and President H. O. Teat of the Brotherhood of Firemen and Enginemen, and chartered on September 23, 1916. 

The November 1916 M&C reported, “…As soon as the company became aware of the movement they discharged such of the employes as they suspicioned to be responsible for encouragement of the organization and declared a policy not to tolerate in employment members of the Amalgamated Association.”

It was not until 1918, that Local 732 would be recognized by the company, as reported by the July 1918 M&C:

“A settlement was affected July 19th by which an agreement was signed recognizing the organization and all matters in dispute referred to the Federal War Labor Board for decision… All discharged members were reinstated.” The following month the M&C reported:

“At last Div. No. 732 has got on the map. We of the 1916 brothers have been working, waiting and hoping to see the men get together. Our history of two years ago is quite well known and it is unnecessary here to repeat from that. The time came and our efforts of two years have been rewarded. We are now twelve hundred strong and extending…”


* ATU local unions were originally called local “divisions."