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Oldest rail union celebrates 150 years

May 16, 2013News

The oldest railroad trade union in the western world – the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen – has just celebrated its 150th anniversary.

To mark the occasion, leaders of both railroad labour and industry came together an event at Detroit.

BNSF Railway President and CEO Matt Rose have the 300 strong crowd on their feet when he said, “BNSF is focused on Positive Train Control, not just because of the [federal] mandate, but because we believe it will create a safer environment for our employees.”

The union returned to its roots to celebrate 150 years, having begun as the Brotherhood of the Footboard on May 8, 1863, in Detroit.

A year later, the name Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers was adopted at the first national convention in Indianapolis. That name remained for 140 years, until the 2004 merger with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters led to the current name.

From its inception, the union has advocated for better working conditions for its members. Key moments include the 1907 Hours of Service Act, which made the 24-hour workday illegal and established a 16-hour maximum; and the Adamson Act of 1916, which provided for the eight-hour day and was the first federal law to address overtime pay.

The BLET also played key roles in the 1926 Railway Labor Act, which established a framework for resolving labor-management disputes; and the Railroad Retirement and Unemployment Insurance Act of 1937, which established the rail industry’s equivalent of the Social Security System.

Recent incentives have addressed safety and efficiency within the industry, including PTC and 2008’s Railroad Safety Improvement Act.

Today, the union counts 55,000 active and retired members in more than 500 divisions throughout the U.S., and represents locomotive engineers on 98 percent of the nation’s rail trackage.