The union we call TCU today took root back in 1899 when, on a cold winter’s evening shortly after Christmas, 33 railroad clerks gathered in the back room of Behrens’ cigar shop in Sedalia, Missouri. That night, December 29, they formed Local Lodge Number 1 of a union they named the Order of Railroad Clerks of America.
Since then, men and women from many different crafts have brought their dedication and strength to our union.
Today our range is extensive and complex, on and off the railroads throughout the transportation industry. But the union still runs on those same simple principles of democracy and full membership participation that it always has.
Individually we are people from many different backgrounds, doing many different jobs. We are clerks, carmen programmers, skycaps and redcaps, on-board service workers, secretaries, supervisors, truck drivers, accountants, yardmasters, intermodal workers, police officers, grain handlers, reservations agents, transit workers and more, in both the United States and Canada.
Over ninety years ago our union’s name was the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks. Then in 1919, we became the Brotherhood of Railway and Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Express and Station Employes, otherwise known as BRAC. But in the years since then, our union has welcomed into its ranks the members of half a dozen labor organizations, among them the Transportation Communication Employes Union (once known as the Order of Railroad Telegraphers), the United Transport Service Employees Union, the Railway Patrolmen’s International Union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the American Railway and Airway Supervisors Association, the Western Railway Supervisors Association and the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen.
Naturally, as these other groups merged, strengthening the union and building it in its diversity, the question of adding their names kept coming up. Many thought that rather than making the name even more unwieldy, we ought to find a way to simplify, to express our unit.
Delegates to the 1987 convention found the solution, renaming the union “Transportation Communications International Union,” known as TCU. In 2005 TCU affiliated with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and went through a 7-year transition before merging with the IAM in 2012, but retained their own autonomy.
Here are brief profiles of some of those labor organizations which are now part of our union:
Brotherhood of Railway Carmen
It was on October 27, 1888, during a meeting of seven Carmen in Cedar Rapids, Iowa that the first lodge was formed, and the organization became known as the Brotherhood of Railway Car Repairers of North America.
The Brotherhood of Railway Carmen of America was born on September 9, 1890, in convention at Topeka, Kansas. In 1891, the Brotherhood Railway Carmen of Canada joined the organization, and it later became known as the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen of the United States and Canada.
In 1890, repairers made 10 or 15 cents an hour. There was no compensation for injury, and there were no pensions, and no laws protecting worker rights. The work week was usually seven days, 12 hours a day. There was no overtime. In that year founder William Ronemus wrote, “Every day we see where monopolies have formed trusts, corporations and have consolidated, then why (should) not the laboring men unite to aid and protect each other?”
In June 1934 rail workers won a victory when President Roosevelt signed legislation strengthening the Railway Labor Act. The-amendments established National Adjustment Boards with awards enforceable in court; company unions were outlawed; and a new National Mediation Board was created.
Since then, hard won victories have continued and, in 1986, the Carmen voted to merge with TCU. Members in this craft today are part of TCU’s Carmen Division, which operates under its own Bylaws. The Division President serves on the Executive Council as a Vice President of the full union. In addition, one of the Division’s top officers is selected at their convention to serve as a member of the union’s Board of Trustees.
American Railway & Airway Supervisors Association
On November 14, 1934, twenty-nine men, supervisors at the Chicago & North Western Railway, met at Harmony Hall in Chicago. There they founded what would become the American Railway Supervisors Association, later adding the word “Airway.”
One of the founders, John Nuter, recalled that in 1934, the supervisors “worked not less than 10 to 12 hours a day. We were assigned two rest days a month and most of the time we worked the rest days with no additional compensation.” Ironically, those railroaders working under their supervision already had the benefits of unionization and were paid more for few hours.
The supervisors’ first contract was signed in 1936, and from that beginning ARASA went on to organize supervisors at railroads around the country. In 1980 the supervisors’ union merged with TCU and a separate Supervisors’ Division, operating under its own Bylaws, was established.
Western Railway Supervisors Association
Yardmasters on the Southern Pacific organized in 1938, joining the Railroad Yardmasters of America in 1941. A dozen years later yardmasters on the SP pacific lines joined another union, the Railroad Yardmasters of North America. In 1967, SP Yardmasters withdrew from the RYNA and formed their own independent union, the Western Railway Supervisors Association. WRSA’s ranks grew in 1974 when yardmasters on the St. Louis Southwestern voted to affiliate. WRSA voted to merge with TCU in 1983. Its members now constitute System Board 555 and, like other groups within the union, they also operate under their own Bylaws.
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters
The famed Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters became a part of TCU in 1978. Founded in 1925, the pioneering union was led by A. Philip Randolph, who was also one of America’s great civil rights leaders. In an epic struggle, the porters fought the bitterly anti-union Pullman Company for 12 years before the union was recognized and a contract signed. When the porters merged with our union, they formed the Sleeping Car Porters System Division. Today, these and other on-board Amtrak workers are represented by System Division 250.
Railway Patrolmen’s International Union
The Patrolmen’s International Union was an AFL-CIO union that represented rail police officers on a number of railroads. Realizing the gains to be achieved through merger with a large organization, RPIU became a part of our Allied Services Division in 1969. Today, members are found on railroads and commuter lines ranging from the Burlington Northern to Metra in Chicago.
United Transport Service Employees Union
The United Transport Service Employees Union was founded in 1937 as the International Brotherhood of Red Caps. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters assisted in the formation of this union. In 1940 the union changed its name to the UTSE and in 1942 it joined the CIO. Three decades later, in 1972, the Red Cap and Sky Cap members of UTSE merged with our union as part of the Allied Services Division.
The Order of Railroad Telegraphers
The Order of Railroad Telegraphers was born in June 1886 at Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In 1965 the union changed its name to the Transportation Communications Employes Union and, in 1969, the telegraphers merged with what became TCU.