Pullman Porters didn’t earn a living wage from the company.
The Pullman Porters
When George Pullman’s company began providing sleeping car service to passenger railroads in the US, he hired Black men, formerly enslaved, to staff the cars. Those men staffed sleeping cars, dining cars, and lounge/club cars. Pullman provided these services from the 1860s until the company ceased operations at the end of 1968. Pullman insisted that all his porters be dark-skinned black men. He knew that these men struggled to find employment as free men. So, He paid them incredibly low wages. The porters relied upon tips from passengers. Wikipedia lays out the economics of life as a Pullman Porter:
The company required porters to travel 11,000 miles, nearly 400 hours, per month to earn a basic wage. In 1934, porters on regular assignments worked an average of over 73 hours per week and earned 27.8 cents an hour while workers in manufacturing jobs averaged under 37 hours per week and earned an average of 54.8 cents per hour.
What’s interesting is that, in spite of the deck being stacked against them, the porters’ hard work formed the backbone of the Black middle class in cities with lots of passenger rail activity, particularly West Oakland, Chicago, and New Orleans.
Since railroad workers’ unions were segregated, Black porters received no representation. A. Phillip Randolph formed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP). The union organized the porters. It enabled collective bargaining and negotiation.
The national passenger railroad company took over in 1971. Amtrak dropped use of the term “porter,” referring to their employees in that role as “sleeping car attendants. The BSCP merged into the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks in 1978.
After the original Canal Station streetcar/bus facility was demolished. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority replaced it with a new bus terminal. The Authority named that facility for A. Phillip Randolph, founder of the BSCP.
Tipped Minimum Wage
The Pullman Porters normalized the concept of “working for tips.” While the concept originally enabled white passengers to control how much Black men got paid, the system continues to this day. Diners at restaurants control how much money servers and bartenders earn beyond the $2.13/hour mandated by the federal government.