Our History

TWU Fights for Civil Rights | AirTransit | Railroad | Gaming | TWU Defining Moments

Mike Quill makes a speech in 1937 standing on top of a soapbox.

Mike Quill, President and founder of TWU, stood on top of a soapbox as he held a shop gate meeting outside the IRT Powerhouse on 59th St. in New York City in 1937.


TWU was formed in 1934 during the depths of the Great Depression when New York City’s transit companies were abusing the nation’s dire situation. Taking advantage of the country’s 25 percent unemployment rate and subsequent surplus of job applicants, companies hired and fired at will, and underpaid, overworked and mistreated their employees. Transit companies were all powerful, managers were brutal and working conditions were dangerous and abusive. For the first two decades of the 20th century, company-hired goons crushed workers’ attempts at unionization, including four major strikes held between 1905 and 1919.

The largely Republican, Irish-born transit workforce reached its threshold just as an ideal leader emerged, Michael J. Quill. Quill’s audacious approach at unionization led to the formation of the desperately needed Transport Workers Union. TWU’s pioneers coined the motto, “United Invincible,” and strongly believed that an organized, united front was the only way to win fair working conditions for themselves and for their members. They also fought for equality in the workplace, and spoke out against discrimination based on race, job title and ethnicity.

  Mike Quill handing leaflets to members locked inside a building, 1937
  Mike Quill and Douglas McMahon pass leaflets to TWU members who had locked themselves inside the Brooklyn powerhouse during the 1937 sit-down strike.


TWU’s founders spent the mid-1930s organizing strikes and sit-ins to fight the powerful transit companies until the robber barons realized the union had gained its own power and was there to stay. Read about TWU’s defining moments.

In the early 1940s transit workers from New York, Ohio, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania joined TWU. By the end of the decade, San Francisco and Houston’s transit employees were members, and airline and railroad workers began to join the union by the thousands.

Since 1934 we have gained members from states spanning the country and have grown to represent the four divisions we consist of today.

In 1951, 5,000 TWU members filled Hudson St. in NYC, outside of the Board of Transportation building, to demand a 40 hour work-week. Up until this point the men had been forced to work long hours in deplorable conditions.

TWU’s current President, Harry Lombardo, and chief officers continue to fight for Quill’s ideals. Our top priority is to ensure our members are being treated the way hard workers should. We want the best health benefits for our members, the best pay for their positions, the best treatment on the job and the kind of respect that all hard working people should be able to expect from bosses, co-workers and employers.

TWU Fights for Civil Rights | AirTransit | Railroad | Gaming | TWU Defining Moments




mortarboard and tassle. Click image to get to Quill Scholarship page

TWU Organizing Toolkit

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