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Rail News: Labor

BLET turns 150 on May 8

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) soon will reach a major milestone when it marks its 150th anniversary on May 8.

Considered the oldest transportation labor organization in North America, the BLET represents more than 55,000 active and retired locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. Headquartered in Cleveland, the union has more than 500 U.S. divisions.

The first unit was founded on May 8, 1863, in Detroit as Division 1, which later was named the Brotherhood of the Footboard. The name Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) was adopted in August 1864 at the union's first national convention held in Indianapolis. In 2004, the BLE merged with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters as the founding member of the Teamsters Rail Conference and changed its name to Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

The BLET was the first labor organization to obtain contracts with railroads, according to a press release issued by the union. Among the earliest was an agreement reached in 1875 with the former New York Central Railroad.

Along with other rail labor unions, the BLET spearheaded a drive to make the 24-hour workday illegal, which was accomplished in 1907 via the Hours of Service Act that set a maximum 16-hour day. The BLET also played a leading role in persuading Congress to pass the Railway Labor Act in 1926, which established procedures for handling labor-management disputes over wages and working conditions.

In May, the BLET plans to host a celebration in Detroit to mark the 150 milestone.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 3/20/2013