The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers is the senior railway labor union in the western hemisphere. It was founded in 1863 and has provided the highest quality of representation for locomotive engineers and now for other crafts of rail employees, for 140 years. In addition to providing representation for its members, the BLE aggressively participates in the labor movement with other unions and organizations in promoting the interests of working men and women and their families. The goal of improving the wages, benefits and working conditions of railroad employees has not changed during the 140 years of the BLE’s existence.
Safety in the railroad industry has always been an issue of concern to the BLE. Our officers and members continue to work with government agencies, public officials and railroad management in a continuous effort to increase safety for our members and for the general public. While one tragic railroad accident is too many, the numbers of such accidents have decreased immeasurably during the years of the existence of our organization. These efforts will never cease.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, as the name implies, is at once a fraternal and a labor organization. It was fraternal in character because early meetings were held in secret for fear of reprisals from management. But its main purpose was – and is – to maintain the prestige of a highly skilled craft and to insure that its members are compensated accordingly.
“To stimulate the political education of the members, to understand their political rights and use the ballot intelligently to the end that the government may be a government of, for and by the people and not to be used as a tool to further the ends of combinations of capital for its own aggrandizement.”
INTOLERABLE CONDITIONS BROUGHT ON A STRIKE
But the engineer’s job was always subject to the whim of management. An engineer could work for years to obtain a good run, and then find it wiped out overnight by the discrimination of an official or through the consolidation of one road with another.
It was against this background that engineers on the Baltimore & Ohio went out on strike in 1854. As a result, 16 engineers lost their jobs and were replaced by inexperienced men. It was claimed that accidents resulted directly from the employment of these poorly-trained replacements.
Later, after two fruitless attempts to hold organizational meeting, 68 engineers representing the B&O and 44 other railroads in 13 states met in Baltimore in 1855 and declared themselves the “National Protective Association of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers of the United States.” By-laws were drawn up and officers elected. Thus the firing of 16 B&O engineers provided the momentum toward organized labor on the rails.