Public transit in Hamilton aims at helping Hamilton residence get from point A to B in the most safe, secure, low-cost, reliable and courteous manner. It allows residence to travel easily around the city including everywhere from work, shopping malls and visits. In the beginning, private cars were used as the most common form of transportation. However, it was not long after the Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) came into effect which still remains as the method of transportation in the larger community, today. Thousands of Hamiltonians use the Hamilton Street Railway, especially single-mothers, unemployed individuals, the elderly and young civilians. With the rising price of fuel and the high cost economy, more and more Hamiltonians are resorting to public transit as their main method of transportation. The problematic issue stems from the fact that transit demands are increasing, but the service levels are not.
The roots of the Hamilton Street Railway union go back to 1892 with the founding of the Canadian Streetcar Employees’ Association. At the time, HSR employees worked 14-hour days. There was much public support for the union but it did not survive the deep recession of the 1890s, when unemployment was high and many unions foundered.
The union came back to life in 1899, this time as the Hamilton branch of the Amalgamated Street Railway Employees of North America, later to become the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU).
Labour relations were difficult in those early days. The private company that owned HSR back then also supplied electricity to Hamilton at prices beyond the reach of most residents. A strike in 1906 began when the HSR refused to honour the terms of an arbitration report. The public sided with the strikers and elected an entire slate of labour candidates to city council the following month. Soon afterward, in an act of further political revenge, city residents voted for a public power system that later became Hamilton Hydro. In this way, the transit union was a stimulus for cheap public power and the resultant rapid growth of industry in Hamilton.
In the years since, there have been ups and downs in HSR-ATU relations. But the men and women of Local 107 are as dedicated as ever to reliably serving the transit needs of the Greater Hamilton area. In fact, since our founding, we have been on the job 99.6% of the time, a reliability record that few others could match. We look forward to serving Hamilton for the next 100 years.
In 1999, ATU published a history of our first 100 years. View it here