Railroad employees belonged to separate unions along craft lines. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) originally represented engineers only. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen & Enginemen (BLF&E) represented firemen and enginemen; The Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen (BRT) represented trainmen; Order of Railway Conductors and Brakemen (ORC&B) represented conductors and brakemen; The Switchmen's Union of North America (SUNA) represented switchmen.
At the time these organizations were formed conditions for employees were horrible. Wages averaged $1.00 per day and 70 % of all train crews could expect injury within five years of service. In 1893, 18,343 railroad workers were injured and 1,657 were killed. Insurance was not available to Railroad workers because of the hazards of the job. In addition, railroad workers did not have the following:
- Seniority rights for employees
In fact employees who attempted to form or belong to a union were fired with no recourse. Many employees were required to sign so-called "Yellow Dog" contracts at the time of hire. These so-called agreements meant immediate discharge to an employee who joined a union.
Progress was slow and hard fought. However, in 1893 one of the first victories for unions was won with the passage of the Safety Appliance Act. Among other things the Act outlawed the "Old man-killer link and pin coupler." There were other victories for the union such as, but not limited to:
1898: The Erdman Act provided for mediation and voluntary arbitration on the railroads. It made it a criminal offense for railroads to dismiss employees or to discriminate against prospective employees because of their union membership or activity.
Legal protection of employees' rights to membership in a labor union, a limit on the use of injunctions in labor disputes, lawful status of picketing and other union activities, and requirement of employers to bargain collectively.1908: Federal Employers' Liability Act passed on Apr. 22nd.
1910: Accident Reports Act passed on May 6th. A 10-hour workday and standardization of rates of pay and working conditions were won by the Railway Brotherhoods.
1911: Locomotive Inspection Act passed on Feb. 17th.
1916: Hours of Service Act passed on Sept 3rd. The Railroad Brotherhoods won an eight (8) hour day.
1918: Eight (8) hour day becomes law in Canada on Sept. 1st.
1920: Rail employment reached a high of two million workers. Control of the railroads by the government, a wartime measure, ceased in 1920.
1926: Railway Labor Act passed May 20th. It required employers, for the first time and under penalty of law, to bargain collectively and not to discriminate against their employees for joining a union. It provided also for mediation, voluntary arbitration, fact-finding boards, cooling off periods and adjustment boards.
1935: Wagner Act passed July 5th. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 followed the example of the Railway Labor Act, and clearly established the right of all workers to organize and to elect their representative for collective bargaining.
1936: Washington Job Protection Agreement, May 21st.
Early on, it was obvious to many that a single union representing all operating employees, or even all railroad employees, would be much stronger and more effective, -lowever, there was much resistance along craft lines.
Around 1890, Labor Leader Eugene V. Debs, founded the American Railway Union ARU) as an all craft organization. The ARU, however, was destroyed by management, ;overnment collusion and use of federal troops during the pullman strike in 1894.
Other unity attempts included attempts between the BLF&E and BLE in 1942 and 1953. ioth attempts failed due to BLE's refusal to merge.
In January of 1968 the Presidents of the BLE, BLF&E, BRT, ORC&B and SUNA were nvited to meet in Cleveland, Ohio to discuss merger. Of the five invited, all participated except he BLE. Presidents Charles Luna (BRT), H. E. Gilbert (BLF&E), C. F. Lane (ORC&B) and N. '. Speirs (SUNA) built a solid foundation of mutual trust and understanding in their initial iscussions aimed at forming a single organization.
In May of 1968 each of the four unions selected a ten man committee to draft a nification agreement and constitution suitable to all. The group labored five months before the agreement and constitution were believed to be acceptable.
One of the most important parts of the unification agreement was "craft autonomy". The agreement provided that each craft would be autonomous and that none of the crafts could interfere with another craft's working conditions.
A merger plan was submitted to every eligible member for a vote. The members voted overwhelmingly for the largest union merger ever in the Railroad Industry.
The merger created a powerful new Union, which enjoys greater respect in the industry and increased strength at the bargaining table. UTU's voice is stronger among labor organizations and in government in both National and State Legislative activities.
Unity has bound our members into a wiser, more stable organization. Old craft jealousies and barriers are disappearing. Closer association developed more communication, discussion and constructive criticism to the benefit of all members.
The purpose of the UTU is to represent transportation service employees and to promote their general welfare, social, moral, intellectual, economical and political interests.
The UTU is governed by a Constitution which details the laws of the Union and how they shall be applied. Regular conventions have been held commencing in 1971 and every four years thereafter. Delegates from each local are elected to attend the convention. Delegates elect International Officers and revise the Constitution as deemed necessary.