1891 : Detroit’s Streetcar Employees Unionize

May 12, 2022 all-day

In April of 1891, local transit workers struck the Detroit Street Railway and the smaller independent Grand River Railway companies, resulting in a bloody and violent 3-day riot. A move by the transit workers to fight for a 10-hour work day, as opposed to a 12-hour day, sparked the move to unionize among a number of the workers between the two companies. Shortly afterward, a number of veteran employees were discharged—it was assumed—for affiliating themselves with a new street railway employee’s union that was being organized in the city. This in turn touched off a strike on April 21, which erupted into a riot after sympathizers joined in support of the striking streetcar workers. Non-striking employees, who pulled-out their cars, were attacked by mobs and a number of streetcars were overturned and burned. Finally, after Mayor Hazen Pingree had intervened, an arbitration committee was formed to resolve the issue. On May 12, 1891, an agreement was reached and the new union would be recognized by the city’s street railway companies. After an agreement to recognize the union; a wage increase, a 10-hour work day, and the granting of one guaranteed day off duty each fortnight (every fourteen days) soon followed. The following year the new union would send delegates to the founding convention of the Amalgamated Association of Street Railway Employees of America—founded on September 15, 1892. The new local would return to Detroit as AASREA Local #3, today known as Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local #26.

Source : The Streetcar Companies vs. Mayor Pingree (1890—1900), Detroit Transit History, Part Two.

Also see Barbara and Keith Hines, “The Great Trolley Riot of 1891 : The First Detroit Uprising Against Privatization”, Voice of Detroit : The City’s Independent Newspaper, Unbossed and Unbought, October 27, 2011.

Also see pages 14 and 15 of Working Detroit, the Making of a Union Town / Steve Babson. New York : Adama Books, c1984.

Leave a Reply