unite_here_local_43_chicago_amtrak_train_2UNITE HERE, Local No. 43 is the successor to the Joint Council of Dining Car Employees founded in 1937. Prior to officially changing it names in 2014 the union was known as the Dining Car Employees, Local 43 and was formed in 1975 by the merger of two other dining car locals, those being Local 385 and Local 351.

In order to fully appreciate the rich history of the dining car workers, it is important to know that dining car waiters and cooks began organizing in the late 1800’s when train travel was the predominant means of travel in North America. By 1937, the various locals of dining car workers had formed the Joint Council of Dining Car Employees, an organization which at its peak represented 19 locals throughout the United States and boasted a membership of over 20,000 workers.

By this time, the Hotel and Restaurant Employees and Bartenders Alliance International union (HRE) asserted jurisdiction over both the railroad dining and sleeping cars and thus the Joint Council fell under the jurisdiction of that International Union.

From their earliest beginnings the dining car workers, which consisted primarily of men of color (African American, Chinese Americans, Philippine Americans, Japanese Americans and Mexican Americans) created a sense of taste, refinement, style and culture on the great American dining cars that became world renowned. However, over time the plight of the railroad industry with it’s abandonment’s, consolidations and mergers slowly whittled away at the numbers of dining cars in operation and hence the members of the union.

All of this culminated with the creation of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) in 1971. By this time there were only a handful of dining car locals still in operation, and it was this group under the leadership of HERE International Vice President that negotiated the very first agreement with Amtrak for on board employees.

As Amtrak expanded and took over more rail lines, some of their workers were already
represented by other organizations. Thus, in 1973 the Hotel Employees Restaurant Employees (HERE), the Transportation Communications Union (TCU) and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) formed what is known as the Amtrak Service Workers Council (ASWC) and jointly became recognized as the collective bargaining agent for on board service employees.

This represents but a very abbreviated version of what is really a very long and richly interesting history of a group of workers that to this day struggle for fair and equitable recognition from their employer.