Amalgamated Transit Union

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Amalgamated Transit Union
Amalgamated Transit Union
ATU logo.svg
Founded15 September 1892 (1892-09-15)
HeadquartersSilver Spring, Maryland, U.S.
200,000+ (2020)[1]
Key people
  • John A. Costa (International President)
  • Javier M. Perez, Jr. (International Executive Vice President)
  • Kenneth R. Kirk (International Secretary-Treasurer)
AffiliationsAFL–CIO, CLC

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) is a labor organization in the United States and Canada that represents employees in the public transit industry. Established in 1892 as the Amalgamated Association of Street Railway Employees of America, the union was centered primarily in the Eastern United States; today, ATU has over 200,000 members throughout the United States and Canada.


The union was founded in 1892 as the Amalgamated Association of Street Railway Employees of America. The union has its origins in a meeting of the American Federation of Labor in 1891 at which president Samuel Gompers was asked to invite the local street railway associations to form an international union. Gompers sent a letter to the local street railway unions in April 1892, and based on the positive response arranged for a convention of street railway workers.[2] The convention began on 12 September 1892 in Indianapolis, Indiana, attended by fifty delegates from twenty-two locals. Many of the smaller unions were affiliated with the AFL, while four larger locals were affiliated with the Knights of Labor and two were independent.[3]

The first president was William J. Law from the AFL-affiliated local in Detroit.[3] Detroit was chosen as the headquarters, using the same facilities as the Detroit local.[4] Because the number of members affiliated with the Knights of Labor was greater than the numbers affiliated with the AFL, according to the claims of the delegates, the new international remained unaffiliated despite pleas by Gompers.[4] The objectives included education, settlement of disputes with management, and securing good pay and working conditions. The international was given considerable authority over the locals.[5]

The second convention was held in Cleveland in October 1893, with just fifteen divisions represented by about twenty delegates.[6] At this meeting William D. Mahon was named president, and he still held this position in 1937. By then the union had been renamed the Amalgamated Association of Street, Electric Railway and Motor Coach Employees of America.[2] The union struggled in the early years as the transit companies followed the practice of firing union activists. In the 1897 meeting in Dayton, Ohio, there were twenty delegates. The treasury of the union now had $4,008.[7] An early achievement was to have laws passed in a dozen states by 1899 that mandated enclosed vestibules for the motormen. Wages were close to $2 a day where the union was established, and in Detroit and Worcester the nine-hour day had been achieved, although in most cities ten- or eleven-hour days were common.[8]

At the start of the 20th century the Amalgamated Association launched a militant organizing program. Although the union was always willing to arbitrate in disputes, there were many strikes against the streetcar companies. Often these turned violent, as in St. Louis in 1900 or Denver in 1920. The public and small businesses sympathized with the strikers, and passengers and other unions often became involved in the street actions.[9] When buses began to replace streetcars, the association began to be challenged by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Stablemen and Helpers. It was agreed that the Amalgamated Association would have jurisdiction over buses operated by street railway companies, while the Teamsters would have jurisdiction over independent bus lines and over road transportation of goods.[10]


The ATU is the largest labor organization representing transit workers in the United States and Canada, with more than 200,000 members in over 240 local unions spread across 46 states and nine provinces. The main membership consists primarily of transit operators, though the union also includes more than 800 members working in over 80 craft occupations. ATU–represented job classifications include bus, van, subway, and light rail operators, clerks, baggage handlers and maintenance employees in urban transit, over-the-road and school bus industries, as well as emergency medical service personnel, ambulance operators, clerical personnel, and municipal workers. The ATU can be found in most major cities of the United States and Canada.[11]


ATU International Headquarters located at the Tommy Douglas Conference Center in Silver Spring, MD

The Union is guided by a triennial convention at which delegates chosen by locals meet to debate and direct the future of the Union. The International officers consist of the International President, the International Executive Vice President, the International Secretary-Treasurer, and 18 International Vice Presidents. The International Vice Presidents serve on the Union's General Executive Board.[11]

International officers and General Executive Board[edit]

The office of International President is currently held by John A. Costa, who elected as International President by the ATU General Executive Board in May 2019 after the untimely and tragic death of former ATU International President Larry Hanley. The International Secretary-Treasurer is Kenneth Kirk, who was appointed by International President Costa in December 2019 to serve out the term of the late International Secretary-Treasurer Oscar Owens. In August 2013, Javier M. Perez, Jr., was unanimously elected to the position of International Executive Vice President.[12]

The Union's General Executive Board consists of 18 International Vice Presidents, elected positions voted on by the union's delegates at each triennial convention. Additionally, the union utilizes four International Representatives, appointed by the International President.

Local unions[edit]

As currently structured, the Amalgamated Transit Union consists of over 240 local unions throughout North America.

ATU Local 587 is the largest ATU local on the West Coast of the United States. Local 587 represents employees of King County Metro and numerous other properties. ATU Locals 192 and 1555 are located in the California Bay Area, representing tens of thousands of employees of AC Transit and Bay Area Rapid Transit.

ATU Local 689, based in Forestville, Maryland, represents over 10,000 members of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. ATU Local 589, chartered in Boston, Massachusetts, is responsible for representing the employees of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. The largest ATU local in the Southern United States is Local 732, from Atlanta, Georgia, representing employees of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, among other properties.

ATU Canada[edit]

Established in 1982, the Amalgamated Transit Union Canada, formerly the ATU Canadian Council, represents workers in various Canadian transit systems and other industries. It is the highest authority and voice in Canada for the ATU on all issues of Canadian interest, including legislation, political, educational, health and safety, cultural and social welfare matters.[citation needed]

Canada is home to over 35 ATU locals, located in nine different provinces and territories. The largest ATU Canada local is Local 113, located in Toronto, Ontario, representing over 10,000 members of the Toronto Transit Commission. Other large Canadian locals can be found in Ottawa, Ontario (Local 279); Mississauga, Ontario (Local 1572); Halifax, Nova Scotia (Local 508); Winnipeg, Manitoba (Local 1505); Edmonton, Alberta (Local 569); and Calgary, Alberta (Local 583).

Political and legislative activities[edit]

In addition to membership servicing, the ATU is actively engaged in several progressive political causes. Beyond promoting increased transit funding energy independence and the maintenance of a strong, publicly funded transit system, the ATU advocates for a number of social justice topics.

In 2008, the ATU endorsed Hillary Clinton in her unsuccessful bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination; after she conceded defeat, the ATU endorsed Barack Obama in his bid to become president.[13]

In November 2010, the ATU, the Transportation Equity Network (TEN), the Transport Workers Union (TWU), other labor unions, and transit advocates convened a "boot camp" in Chicago, Illinois. Activists from varying backgrounds discussed the issues facing both union members and transit riders, and identified opportunities to work together in the future to address the nation's transit crisis. The ATU and Good Jobs First convened a second boot camp for transit advocates in Silver Spring, Maryland, in March 2011.[citation needed]

In 2011, the ATU became one of a handful of North American labor unions to publicly oppose construction of the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline.[14]

The ATU was named the "Most Valuable National Union" in The Nation magazine's Progressive Honor Roll of 2012 for its support of the Occupy movement, the National Day of Action for Public Transportation, and other social justice issues.[15]

Beginning in 2013, the ATU became a vocal supporter of the Robin Hood Tax campaign.[16]

In March 2016, ATU endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Presidential nomination, after he conceded defeat, the ATU endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.[citation needed]

In February 2020, ATU was among the first unions to endorse Joe Biden for the Democratic Presidential nomination.[citation needed]


Year Location
1892 Indianapolis Amalgamated Association of Street Railway Employees of America is founded in September 1892
1900 St. Louis St. Louis Streetcar Strike of 1900
1903 As electrically powered streetcars became more common, the name was changed to the Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Railway Employees of America.[10]
1908 Chicago Chicago Tunnel Company refuses to recognize the Amalgamated Association. On 9 May all workers go on strike. Company uses strikebreakers to break the strike.[17]
1909 Omaha An attempt to organize Omaha streetcar workers fails when armed strikebreakers are brought in.[18]
1910 Philadelphia The streetcar union launches a strike in February 1910. Violence erupts, and the strike escalates into a general strike of unions in all industries on 4 March, involving about 100,000 workers. After three weeks the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company agrees to negotiate.[19]
1912 Boston Boston streetcar workers go on strike. After two months they gain the right to form a trade union, and a system of arbitration for future disputes is agreed upon.[20] President Mahon cedes jurisdiction over carpenters, painters, electricians, and other skilled trades to the AFL. The union's membership is divided into 34 distinct labor units, each with a separate agreement negotiated with the company's representative Cyrus S. Ching.[21]
1913 Indianapolis Indianapolis Streetcar Strike of 1913 starts on 31 October. After rioting, the Indiana National Guard is brought in and the city placed under martial law on 5 November. As a result, Indiana enacts laws that set minimum wages, regular hours and workplace improvements.[22]
1916 Washington, D.C. Workers on streetcars in Washington, D.C. are organized when local 689 of the Amalgamated Association wins recognition after a three-day strike.[23]
1935 Omaha On 20 April 1935 a long and violent strike begins in Omaha, but is not successful.[24]
1936 New York City Negotiations for the Transport Workers Union to join the Amalgamated Association break down.
1944 Philadelphia Despite opposition from the union, white workers walk out from 1–8 August in the Philadelphia transit strike of 1944 in an attempt to block giving non-menial jobs to black workers. Troops are brought in and the workers return to work having failed to achieve their goal.[25]
1947 Cornwall, Ontario Workers at the Cornwall Street Railway strike repeatedly for wage increases throughout August and September in a dispute which is only ended through mediation from Ontario Minister of Labour Charles Daley.
1964 Name is changed to Amalgamated Transit Union
1966 New York City In the 1966 New York City transit strike, the TWU and the ATU both strike against the New York City Transit Authority. The ATU represents 1,750 bus employees in Queens and Staten Island, while the TWU represents 33,000 transit employees.[26] The 12-day strike leads to passage of the Taylor Law, redefining the rights and limitations of unions for public employees in New York.[27]
1983 Greyhound faces growing competition and is forced to drop its fares. To survive, it requests a 9.5% wage cut, which the union rejects. In November 1983 the ATU calls a strike of Greyhound employees, with 12,700 members walking off the job. The union accepts a 7.8% wage cut on 19 December 1983, just before Christmas.[28]
1990 A second Greyhound strike begins in March 1990. Over 9,000 union members lost their jobs when Greyhound hired an army of replacements. One striker was killed when struck by a bus driven by a strikebreaker. The strike drags on and many drivers return to work. The ATU let its members return in 1993.[28]
2006 Toronto 2006 Toronto Transit Commission wildcat strike
2008 Toronto The 2008 Toronto Transit Commission strike is called at 90 minutes notice at midnight on Friday, 2 August. Emergency legislation is passed over the weekend to force the strikers back to work.[29]

In popular culture[edit]

The ATU and President Emeritus Warren George are mentioned in the song "Workin' for the MTA" on Justin Townes Earle's 2010 album, Harlem River Blues. The lyrics read:

Yeah, them hard times are going around, hard times are goin' around, hard times are goin' around, bringin' hard luck on New York town. But I'm bankin' on the ATU, bankin' on the ATU, I'm bankin' on the ATU, Brother George is gonna see me through.



  1. ^ US Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards. File number 000-160. Report submitted 30 September 2014.
  2. ^ a b Schmidt 1937, p. 121.
  3. ^ a b Schmidt 1937, p. 122.
  4. ^ a b Schmidt 1937, p. 123.
  5. ^ Schmidt 1937, p. 124.
  6. ^ Schmidt 1937, p. 129.
  7. ^ Schmidt 1937, p. 141.
  8. ^ Schmidt 1937, p. 142.
  9. ^ Molloy 2007, p. 3.
  10. ^ a b Stewart 1936, p. 242.
  11. ^ a b Our Union: ATU.
  12. ^ Leadership: ATU.
  13. ^ Amalgamated Transit Union Endorses Barack Obama.
  14. ^ Two Labor Unions Oppose Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline.
  15. ^ Nichols 2013.
  16. ^ "ATU Supports Robin Hood Tax". ATU. Archived from the original on 2013-10-23. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
  17. ^ Illinois State Board of Arbitration 1908, p. 95.
  18. ^ Larsen 1997, p. 136.
  19. ^ Stromquist 2006, pp. 168–169.
  20. ^ Boston's Car Strike Settled 1912.
  21. ^ Raskin 1989, pp. 22–35.
  22. ^ Stoner 2011, pp. 110–111.
  23. ^ Schrag 2006, p. 29.
  24. ^ Larsen 1997, pp. 202ff.
  25. ^ Zieger 2007, p. 133.
  26. ^ Marmo 1990, pp. 28–29.
  27. ^ The history of the Taylor Law 2005.
  28. ^ a b Oestreich & Whaley 2001.
  29. ^ Kalinowski & Javed 2008.