150th anniversary celebration planned for Detroit on May 8, 2013
CLEVELAND, March 19 ˜ The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen
enters its 150th year on May 8, 2013. It is the oldest transportation
labor organization in North America.
Founded May 8, 1863, at Detroit, Mich., the BLET has its headquarters in
Cleveland, Ohio. It has more than 500 Divisions (locals) throughout the
United States. The first unit of the Brotherhood to be formed was Division
1 in Detroit, Mich., on May 8, 1863.
The Brotherhood is returning to Detroit in May of 2013 to host a
celebration of this historic milestone. A series of meetings and events
will culminate with a celebratory banquet the evening of May 8. All active
and retired members are invited to attend. Registration information is
available here: www.ble-t.org/blet150/.
In the three decades before the founding of the BLET, locomotive engineers
suffered abominable working conditions. The 24-hour workday was
commonplace. Railroad magnates rain roughshod over employees. Strikes were
Several attempts to organize locomotive engineers were made between 1855
and 1860. It wasn‚t until April 1863, however, that William D. Robinson, a
Michigan Central locomotive engineer, brought 19 men of the craft together
at his home in Marshall, Mich., and inspired them toward the organization,
which survives today. A monument marking the event still stands in
At a meeting in Detroit the following month, a dozen men agreed to put
their destinies together. They cemented a common bond on May 8, 1863,
elected Robinson as their Grand Chief Engineer (president), and named the
group the Brotherhood of the Footboard. By August 1863, 10 Divisions had
been established ˜ Detroit and Marshall, Mich.; Michigan City, Ind.;
Adrian, Mich.; Norwalk, Ohio; two at Chicago, Ill.; Lafayette, Ind.;
Crestline, Ohio; and La Porte, Ind.
The name Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) was adopted at the
first national convention held in Indianapolis in August 1864. In 2004,
the BLE merged with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters as the
founding member of the Teamsters Rail Conference. After 140 years
(1864-2004), the organization changed its name to Brotherhood of
Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET).
The BLET was the first labor organization to obtain contracts with
railroads. Among the earliest was an agreement with the former New York
Central in 1875. Today, the BLET has dozens of contracts with railroads
large and small, and represents locomotive engineers on 98 percent of rail
trackage in the United States.
The BLET was a pioneer in the field of labor journalism. It began a
monthly journal in 1867. Current official publications include a quarterly
magazine, Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Journal, and a monthly
newsletter, Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen News. The National Division
of the BLET has maintained a website since 1996, www.ble-t.org, posting
daily news stories and periodic News Flash updates that are emailed to
thousands of members.
In cooperation with other railroad brotherhoods, the BLET spearheaded the
drive to make the 24-hour workday illegal. This was accomplished in 1907
through the Hours of Service Act, which set a 16-hour maximum.
The Adamson Act of 1916, providing for the eight-hour day, was also a
result of the BLET‚s leadership. An original copy of the Act is kept at
BLET National Division headquarters in Cleveland, along with the fountain
pen used by President Woodrow Wilson to sign the legislation. It was the
first federal law dealing with overtime pay.
The BLET also had a leading role in persuading Congress to pass the
Railway Labor Act in 1926. The act, amended several times since then,
provides procedures for handling labor-management disputes over wages and
The Railroad Retirement and Unemployment Insurance Acts, which became
effective in 1937, are railroad industry‚s counterparts of the Social
Security system. They represent another instance of social progress in
which the BLET played an important part.
The Brotherhood has always been proud to support America‚s soldiers and
their families. Born in the midst of the Civil War, our union‚s membership
has been comprised of veterans of every major military conflict since, up
to and including the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. With BLET members
at the throttle, U.S. railroads carried 90 percent of all military freight
and 97 percent of all military passenger movements during World War II.
Greater safety on the job and greater safety for the shipping and
traveling public have always been BLET‚s goals. Legislative activities by
the BLET and other rail unions have resulted in the Locomotive Inspection
Act and statutes requiring the use of air brakes, automatic couplers,
electric headlights, power-reverse gears and other technological
The BLET was again at the forefront in persuading Congress to include
implementation of Positive Train Control technology to make the rail
industry safer and more efficient, and important whistleblower provisions
to protect workers who report unsafe conditions while on duty in the
Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2008.
National President Dennis R. Pierce is the 23rd chief in the BLET‚s long
history. He has held the post since July 1, 2010, succeeding Paul T.
Sorrow, who retired. The BLET represents more than 55,000 active and
retired locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States.