O. Roy Chalk buys transit company in the District: 1956
J. A. B. Broadwater, president of the Capital Transit Company (left) receives a check from O. Roy Chalk (right), president and chairman of the board of directors of the D.C. Transit Company August 15, 1956 completing the sale of the Washington transit system.
A seven-week strike July-August 1955 pitted the Amalgamated Association of Street Electric Railway and Motor Coach Employees of America Division 689 (today known as Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689) against the corporate raider Louis Wolfson and his partners.
Wolfson bought the company in 1949 and quickly paid out millions to himself and fellow investors in dividends. He then applied for fare increases, citing the unprofitability of the transit company that was suffering declines in ridership as auto use increased.
Division 689 president Walter Bierwagen skillfully employed the press and Congressional pressure on Wolfson.
Congress passed a law revoking Wolfson’s franchise, authorizing the district commissioners to negotiate a settlement with Bierwagen and requiring Wolfson to sell the company within a year. The bill also required that buses replace streetcars.
The union settled the strike gaining pay increases and improvements in pension, vacation and holidays.
Wolfson would later be convicted and sent to prison for illegal stock sales and for obstructing a Security and Exchange Commission investigation unrelated to his Capital Transit tenure.
The strike was important for its government takeover of labor negotiations, the forced sale of Capital Transit Company and the mandated end of the streetcar era.
The lengthy strike also set the tone for a requirement for final and binding arbitration of transit contracts and for the government takeover of private lines by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in 1973.
For more information and additional images, see www.flickr.com/gp/washington_area_spark/w10D33
Photo by F. Routt. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.