Rail strikes marked early days as workers organized unions

1877: Several railroads cut wages 10 percent, setting off strikes and riots. More than 100 strikers were killed and several hundred were wounded. Federal troops, under order of President Rutherford B. Hayes, quelled the disturbances. The stage was set for stronger organization of railroad labor.

1893: Official counts showed 18,343 railroad workers were injured on the job and another 1657 were killed that year. There was no legal redress for injuries or deaths resulting from negligence on the part of their employers.

1889: The first target of railroad labor’s legislative campaign, begun in 1889, was safety. Its first victory was the enactment of the Safety Appliance Act of 1893. Among other things, the act outlawed the “old man-killer link-and-pin coupler” which alone was responsible for 310 deaths and 8753 injuries to railroad workers that year.

1894: First convention of Debs’ American Railway Union endorsed Pullman strike, declared boycott against Pullman equipment. This paralyzed many carriers across the U.S. Federal, state and local militia patrolled Chicago yards as hundreds of cars were burned. Troops killed about a dozen strikers and wounded scores. About 14,000 law agents guarded Chicago railroads and thousands more stood duty along 41,000 miles of U.S. track before the strike was finally broken that summer.

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 April 22, 1908.

1910: Accident Reports Act passes on May 6. A 10-hour work day and standardization of rates of pay and working conditions were won by the Railway Brotherhoods.

1911: Locomotive Inspection Act passed on February 17, 1911.

1916: Hours of Service Act passed on September 3. The Railroad Brotherhoods won an 8-hour day.

1918: Eight-hour day becomes law in Canada on September 1, 1918.

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 20. 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-find boards, “cooling off” periods and adjustment boards.

1935: Wagner Act passed July 5. 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 21, 1936.

1937: Railroad Retirement Act passed on June 24, 1937.

1938: Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act passed June 25,1938.

1940: Transportation Act passed on September 18, 1940.

1946: Wartime wage and salary controls were ended. The Brotherhoods struck for two days and won their part of the ‘first round” of wage increases.

1950: The Federal Government took over operation of the railroads as an emergency measure during the Korean War.

1951: Union Shop Amendment RLA passed on January 10, 1951.

1952: Federal operation of the railroads was brought to an end. Other operating employees and the carriers reached an agreement on wage increases and working rules.

1964: Mass Transportation Act passed on July 9, 1964.

1967: Department of Transportation inaugurated on April 1, 1967.