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Railway maintenance-of-way union dues button
Catalog #: 1989.0693.2162, Accession #: 1989.0693
Currently on display
From the Smithsonian Collection
Railroad maintenance of way workers kept the tracks in running order, and were a critical part of the railroad workforce. By the 1920s, they made up about 20 percent of the railroad workers. Track foremen organized in 1891. In 1896, the foremen let white track workers join their union, and changed names, becoming the Brotherhood of Railway Trackmen of America. The union joined the American Federation of Labor in 1900. By 1920, the union had changed its name to the United Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees and Railroad Shop Laborers.
Physical Description
artifact. round, 7/8" diameter; Metal: green/ red/ gold rim/ white, April-May-June 1920, initials U.B.M.W.E. R. S. L.
Date Made:
American railroads were one of the nation's first big businesses, and, as such, workers joined the new industrial order in its infancy. Many rail workers responded their working conditions by trying to organize themselves into unions. Most railway workers organized along craft lines. That is, people doing the same jobs like conductors banded together, rather than all the workers on the trains. Other skilled workers joined unions based on their trades: they joined the machinists or boilermakers unions. Workers who performed railroad-specific tasks, notably those done on the trains themselves, were often more successful in getting their unions recognized by employers than those workers who did jobs that were transferrable to other settings. By the 1920s, railroad workers were organized into both independent unions and into those that were affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. Craft unions in the early 20th century often excluded women and people of color from their membership rolls and most railroad unions followed the conventions of the day, restricting membership to white males.

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