Honoring Labor



Happy Labor Day 2016! Here’s a shout out to San Francisco past and present, who built, maintained, and operated our transit system. Its history was punctuated by struggles on behalf of unions, including strikes that cost workers’ lives early in the century, that led to a solid union environment today.

In celebration of the hundreds of thousands of good jobs transit provided through the decades, two photos from the wonderful SFMTA Archives (with a hat tip to Archivist Jeremy Menzies and the staff and volunteers that have unlocked this priceless resource to the public). Above, on Kentucky Street (now Third Street between China Basin and Islais Creek) is one of San Francisco’s first electric streetcars, built by San Francisco workers at the Hammond car shop (which also built cable cars), operating on the Third and Kearny line, somewhere between 1894 and 1899. Being a streetcar motorman or conductor was a prestigious job in that era. On Saturday and Sunday, September 24-25 , you can ride its sister car 578, free, between our San Francisco Railway Museum and Pier 39. Car 578 is scheduled to operate both days from about 11 a.m. to about 4 p.m.

Below, track workers install new switches and track at Market and McAllister in 1911. Maintenance crews don’t always get the credit they’re due, because they generally work behind the scenes, but transit wouldn’t work without them. This scene will actually be replicated in a few years when, as part of the Better Market Street Project, Muni will install a track loop at this site, a single track turning off Market onto McAllister and then south onto Charles Brenham Place (Seventh Street North) to allow additional F-line service between Civic Center and Fisherman’s Wharf when needed.


Thanks to all the workers of San Francisco transit companies over the past 156 years. You’ve built more than transit. You’ve built a city!



Comments: 4

  1. At the risk of raining on the Labor Day parade, wasn’t it union pressure that supported the two-man streetcar ordinance in San Francisco, which encouraged the City to replace streetcars with buses wherever practical.

    • Not sure “pressure” is the right word here. Absolutely, strong unions opposed reducing streetcar crew size in San Francisco. They were protecting their members, which is exactly why unions came into existence. The decisions on this were made directly by voters, and in San Francisco since the turn of the 20th century, voters have been pro-labor.

    • According to San Francisco’s Century of Streetcars (p. 29), the two-man car ordinance arose from a bad accident on the United Railroads Visitacion Valley line in 1918. The line, which ran from a connection with the 16 Third-Kearney at the County Line to Geneva and Mission (connection with the 14 Mission), served commuters to the shipyards on that fateful day, July 12. There were nearly 100 riders on Car 1022 (changed to 1-man in 1914), which missed a curve at the bottom of a hill and killed eight people and injured 70. The ordinance was not challenged until 1933 by the Market St. Ry., which then bought used one-man cars to operate on lightly-used lines. These cars were retired after the Ry. lost the case to the City in 1939. The two-man ordinance was not repealed until 1958 with the retirement of the old non-PCC streetcars.

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