Larry Martin was truly a leader of the people. He used his position in the Transportation Workers Union (TWU) and his work in San Francisco City Hall to connect the workers to the community and advocated to improve working conditions and the overall operations of Muni. He worked tirelessly for over four decades with seven different San Francisco mayors. Muni superintendents would often say that general managers come and go, mayors come and go, but Larry Martin is always there. Bold and uncompromising, Martin’s strong sense of duty has earned him a deserving place in San Francisco labor history.
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Larry Martin grew up working with his family. At five years old, he would help his mother at her grocery store and by thirteen he was driving for his stepfather’s storage company. It was here he learned about hard work and found a strong penchant for driving. After graduating high school, Martin and his family moved to Oakland, California. Martin’s love for driving became even more apparent when he became a Muni Transit Operator and a member of the TWU’s San Francisco branch, Local 250A, in 1966. His passion for what he did served him well as he had to deal with ten-hour work days while also handling the near impossible task of collecting fares while resolving scheduling issues.
Martin’s career in labor union activism started in 1966 when he was elected the Presidio Division Union Chairman. After serving two terms, he was elected president of TWU Local 250A. He served again for two terms and then continued his support as a TWU international representative. Always striving for success, he enrolled in classes at the University of San Francisco, University of California, Berkeley, and Merritt College. He chose to study labor history and management, building upon his skills and knowledge to become an effective labor leader. His hard work and desire to uplift and support workers was apparent and he quickly moved up the ranks to become the International Vice President of the union while simultaneously working for organizations like the NAACP, Coalition of Black Unionists, Coalition of Labor Union Women, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, and Pride at Work.
During his time within the TWU, Larry Martin was essential in many important developments in the union. He helped start a program for local children to take school field trips to their neighborhood operating division to learn more about the Municipal Railway and possible future careers. He also championed the creation of the Joint Labor Management Program, which is still a necessity today. This created stronger collaboration between labor and management which improved working conditions and overall Muni operations.
In the 1990s, Martin worked as a liaison to settle disputes between the city and union. He fought against the push for privatization of the Municipal Railway and collided with mayoral candidate Frank Jordan over his accusations of the TWU being an inefficient drain on the city. He opposed attempts to make Muni liable to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles and was in favor of having more local legal processes for such activities. Martin also criticized mayors and city leaders who had tried to cut funding from Muni.
Larry Martin retired from his position in the TWU in 2004, but continued to be a leader and pillar for the San Francisco community. He served on the Human Rights Commission for over twelve years and on the Planning Commission for over eight. He was appointed to the Recreation and Park Commission in 2000 and started serving as President to the Commission in 2007.
Larry Martin passed away October 16, 2017—leaving a strong legacy and decades of impactful work. His legacy will be remembered through the commemoration of his work with the release of Car No. 2006, in November of 2017, the first of the new Muni trains to be implemented to replace older versions. As former Board of Supervisors President and current Mayor London Breed said in a statement after his passing, “Whether it was shaping policies for our city agencies, advocating on behalf of his fellow union members or fighting for civil rights in the City’s African American community, he always sought to uphold the values of our city. The impact of his endeavors will be experienced by San Franciscans for generations to come.”
— Daaniyal Mulyadi and Kendra Wharton
“Larry Martin Retirement Celebration.” [Brochure.] Marriott Hotel, San Francisco. 18 Sep 2004.
San Francisco State University, Labor History Archives.
Mayor Lee, Former Mayor Willie Brown, Board President London Breed and Union Leader James Bryant on the Passing of Lawrence B. ‘Larry’ Martin.
“Memorial Services Being Held for Longtime TWU Leader Larry Martin.” InsideSFMTA.
“Lawrence Martin’s Obituary.” SF Chronicle. 27 Oct 2017.
“First New Muni Train Goes Into Service in San Francisco.” NBC Bay Area. 18 Nov 2017.