BLET marks 145th anniversary on May 8, 2008

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) marked its 145th anniversary in May - the union was founded as the Brotherhood of the Footboard on May 8, 1863 in Marshall, Mich.

In 1864, the union changed its name to Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE), the name it retained until merging with the Teamsters on Jan. 1, 2004, when it became BLET.

The organization was formed when locomotive engineers on the Michigan Central Railroad became discouraged with pay cuts and the dismissal of their firemen. In the early 1860s, locomotive engineers at the Michigan Central were being paid at the rate of $60 a month on the condition that they ran at least 2,500 miles each month, regardless of the time consumed. Because of complaints about this low rate of pay and inequitable way of doing it, the Michigan Central agreed in 1862 to advance the pay of first class engineers to $85 a month. These and other concessions by the road, however, proved to be of short duration. Runs were changed in such a way that the engineers experienced reductions in pay rather than increases.

To address their grievances, engineers from the Michigan Central and other roads gathered together and held a large meeting in Detroit in May, 1863.

This Detroit convention marked a new epoch in the organization of American railroad employees. It brought together engineers from the Michigan Central, Michigan Southern & Northern Indiana, Detroit & Milwaukee, Grand Trunk, and Michigan Southern. Together, the 12 delegates present drafted a constitution, which combined democratic control with efficient central administration, thus solving the fundamental problem that had wrecked many previous labor organizations. After three days of deliberations and plans for the future, the delegates on May 8 joined hands and obligated themselves to abide by the constitution, forming the pioneer division of the Brotherhood of the Footboard with W. D. Robinson as chief engineer. This division, No. 1 in Detroit, still maintains its proud position as first on the roster of over 500 divisions of the BLET.

By August 1, 1863, 10 divisions had been formed. The constitution of the new organization provided that when five divisions were organized a delegate from each should be chosen to come together to create a grand division. So on August 18th, at Detroit, the Grand National Division of the Brotherhood of the Footboard was formed. W. D. Robinson was elected grand chief engineer.

Today, with nearly 39,000 active members, the BLET is one of the largest and most influential railroad unions in the United States.


© 2008 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen