Transit union president George R. Davis: 1979
Amalgamated Transit Union president George R. Davis is shown in a photograph in April 1979 at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA, or Metro) headquarters at 600 Fifth Street NW.
During his six-year tenure (1974-80), he kept the cost-of-living clause in the contract during a period of high inflation, despite relentless attacks from area political leaders.
He also negotiated an agreement with Metro that provided that Local 689 would be the sole bargaining representative for blue collar Metrorail employees and obtained an agreement that disabled workers could fill some of the newly created station attendant (later called manager) jobs.
In his campaign for president in 1973, he added three black men to his ticket for the top five offices of the union. Davis’s entire slate won with Rodney Richmond become the first black elected full-time officer of the local union.
While he was a dedicated trade unionist, his accomplishments were tarnished by his distance from the membership. He failed to lead direct action against WMATA despite his early success using the strike and a safety check to obtain results.
Two wildcat strikes organized by the rank-and-file took place during his tenure when members felt that Davis couldn’t effectively lead the fight for their interests. He rarely ventured outside the union offices at a time when hundreds of new members were being hired. Many simply didn’t know him.
He didn’t understand or engage in sustained political activity, which cost the local dearly in the coming years and he did not undertake an opportunity to organize the Ride On system that would grow to 500 buses and 1,500 workers and set an example for other suburban jurisdictions and the District of Columbia to set up their own bus systems.
He retired bitter and feeling betrayed by those who served with him, but it was his own poor decision-making that was his undoing.
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/aHsmLRWRyd
The photographer is unknown. The image was printed in an edition of the Local 689 News in 1979.