Charles Boswell, one-term ATU Local 689 president: 1980
Amalgamated Transit Union president Charles Boswell is an undated photograph circa 1980.
Boswell, elected straight out of the rank-and-file with no previous union experience, served one term January 1980 – December 1982.
Boswell was the beneficiary of a tidal wave of resentment against his predecessor George Davis whom the members viewed as weak in the fact of a determined Metro management.
A new militance swept the transit union during the 1970s when members on three different occasions refused Davis’s entreaties to return to work after illegal strikes.
The pro-strike candidates split their votes in the 1980 election, leaving Boswell, a moderate, and Davis, incumbent as the two candidates in a run-off since neither received 50 percent plus one of the vote.
The more militant workers swung behind Boswell and he won by a better than 2-1 margin.
He had never been late to work in his career nor received a disciplinary violation and as a result was insensitive to disciplinary issues. Boswell, who was a senior white operator at Arlington Division, was unable to relate to the hundreds of new black workers who had defiant attitudes toward management.
Boswell compounded his problems by appointing people with little to no union experience to key positions.
He mimicked his predecessor Davis be eschewing political action and new union organizing. Like his predecessor Davis who had permitted the establishment of the low-wage, non-union Ride On Service in Montgomery County without any ongoing effort to halt it, Boswell saw the inauguration of Alexandria Dash service without waging any real fight.
Again like his predecessor, he too tried to run the union from the offices and met with the same fate as Davis. James M. “Tommy” Thomas Jr., the sole survivor of the Davis era, defeated him handily for president in December 1982.
Unlike both Davis and Boswell, Thomas was a frequent visitor in the garages and shops. While Recording Secretary he fielded phone calls of members and worked the phone to get their problems resolved.
Thomas went on to serve for 15 years as the union’s first black president.
For a blog post on the turmoil in the D.C. transit union from 1974-80, see washingtonareaspark.com/2020/03/16/george-davis-and-the-t...
For more information and related images, see flic.kr/s/aHsjC75vur
The photographer is unknown. The image was donated by Craig Simpson