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Bus drivers strike back

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Bus drivers strike back

Two Schenectady bus drivers talk about the events of the day on April 23, 1947 — those events included a possible strike against the Schenectady Railway Co. (Daily Gazette file photo)
Two Schenectady bus drivers talk about the events of the day on April 23, 1947 — those events included a possible strike against the Schenectady Railway Co. (Daily Gazette file photo)

The words "bus stop" received new meaning in Schenectady on Wednesday, April 23, 1947.

Schenectady bus drivers left their jobs — and their steel coaches — during the early evening hours.

Drivers and maintenance men, members of Local 159, Transport Workers Union, had been called to a union meeting for a strike vote. The membership was sore at A. Frank Geiler, then vice president and general manager of the Schenectady Railway Co.

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A team of Schenectady bus drivers help passengers off Bus 181 — parked in the 900 block of State Street — on April 23, 1947. Drivers called to a union meeting left their vehicles on their routes.

The dispute had started during the early morning, when Geiler visited the McClellan Street bus garage. It wasn't a social call — Geiler suspended and dismissed three operators for alleged fare shortages. One of the men had been caught sleeping on the job.

Union members reportedly were "boiling mad" over the actions. Bus workers wanted their brethren returned to their jobs, and a measure of revenge: They demanded Geiler's removal from the company. The alternative was a citywide walkout.

The bus boss wasn't going anywhere. "I am not getting out," Geiler told Schenectady Gazette reporter Earl Dunckel. "Management is still running this company and will continue to do so as long as I am general manager."

The company was willing to make some concessions. In an effort to prevent a 320-man work stoppage, Schenectady Railway officials — during the afternoon of April 23 — decided to temporarily reinstate the operators. But by the time they made the move, it was too late to recall afternoon workers who had parked their buses and were on their way to the CIO Hall at 310 Liberty St.

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Transport union secretary Raymond E. Chance, standing the tallest in center, watches as bus drivers cast ballots on a strike vote against the Schenectady Railway Co. on April 23, 1947. A strike was eventually averted.

Buses were idle from 6 until 9 p.m., and phones in the railway offices kept ringing. While drivers stayed in their seats and turned big steering wheels for city-to-city runs — like Schenectady to Albany, Troy and Saratoga — many routes were not staffed. On State Street, a team of drivers helped passengers off Bus 181. Then they left the area.

Phones also were ringing at city taxi companies, many of which earned extra money through additional fares.

City residents who depended on buses for transportation to work didn't have to worry about long walks twice a day. The transportation union's international leadership advised the local unit to wait two or three days before striking. So buses were back on the streets the next day.

There was more discussion through the week. On Saturday, April 26, union members almost unanimously approved a series of company peace proposals.

Geiler was right — he wasn't getting out, and remained in his position.

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Raymond E. Chance, secretary of Local 159, Transport Workers Union, checks balloting on a strike against the Schenectady Railway Co. on Wednesday. April 23, 1947. Workers were upset with management.

The company did modify its grievance procedure, and said division supervisors would no longer be authorized to discharge employees. Assurances regarding pensions and vacations also were included in the peace talks.

The cases of the three employees who sparked the dispute would be reviewed by an arbitration board.

These photos were taken by Daily Gazette photographer Charles B. Sellers Jr. Digital Scrapbook uses photos from archives assembled by longtime Gazette photographers Sid Brown, Ed Schultz, Jim Cassin, Garry Brown, Jim Rogers, Bruce Squiers and Ray Summers.