Business and Commerce

Labor Unions

Why was the Dining Car Employees Union organized?

A group of young black cooks and waiters, including George Ellington Brown Jr. (1906–1951), organized the Dining Car Employees Local 370 in New York City in 1934 and the next year elected Brown president. As head of the union, Brown, then thirty-five years old, became the first black to head a labor union for dining car employees nationwide. Among other issues, the waiters and cooks protested the requirement that they sleep on small cots in the dining car when on overnight runs. They also protested the low wages that they were paid. After unsuccessful attempts to address the workers’ demands, Brown took the matter to Pennsylvania’s state representatives. In 1937, the Pure Food Law was amended and railroads in that state were forced to abolish the practive of sleeping in the dining car. Large railroads elsewhere followed suit. Top leaders of the Hotel, Restaurant and Bartenders International Union, with which Local 370 was affiliated, recognized Brown’s potential as a leader. In August of 1938 Brown became the first black and the youngest person elected as a vice president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), representing the Dining Car Workers and Hotel and Restaurant Employees. At the same time he became president-at-large of the railroad division and held that office until he died. Brown was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, the son of a steamship porter and former horse trainer. His mother was of Senegalese and German origin. He became a dining car cook for the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1925 and later served as a waiter.


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