Local 241 Had Its Start During World War II
The drive to start a union at Columbia University began in 1942. A group of workers, mainly of Irish and German heritage, believed they needed a union to fight the harsh working conditions, long hours and low wages prevalent at the time.
The union was recognized by the government in 1943 and a year later, the Transport Workers Union chartered the unit as Local 241. The charter, presented by TWU International President Michael Quill on February 4, 1944, reads as follows:
TWU of America, Local 241 Charter
By these presents, be it known that:
This Charter with such rights and privileges as may from time to
time be determined is hereby granted to the following persons:
Edward J. Ryan
James Pulver Miller
James A. Mackenzie
Dated this 2nd Day of February 1944.
Michael J. Quill, International President
Past Presidents Local 241
James D. O’Brien
William S. Lyons
Early Columbia Strikes
Despite the government’s directive to recognize the fledgling local, Columbia University refused to do so. It took a two-day strike in 1945 to finally win recognition for Local 241 and the first union contract. A six-day strike the following year established the 40-hour workweek.
Local 241 members were forced to the picket lines again in 1976. After a nine-day strike, members ratified a landmark contract that significantly raised wages, improved health insurance coverage and added a prescription plan for the first time.
Other Institutions Follow
The early successes at Columbia University enabled Local 241 to organize at other respected institutions in New York City. In April 1949, workers at the Juilliard School of Music came under the local’s banner and in September 1951, the Jewish Theological Seminary was added. The Jewish Museum is part of the JTS unit.