BLF&E a large part of labor history
1873: Lodge No.11 of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen was organized by Joshua Leach and 10 Erie Railroad firemen at Port Jervis, N.Y.
1874: First Grand Lodge Convention of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen at Cornellsville, N.Y., where delegates from 12 lodges formed the “BLF Insurance Association” to provide sickness and funeral benefits for locomotive firemen.
1875: Second BLF Convention at Indianapolis establishes the organization as a labor union committed to “protection of members in industrial relations, as well as a life insurance organization.” Membership is 900 in 31 lodges.
1876: Third Convention at Saint Louis establishes “Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine” as the official union publication. First issue appears in December 1876.
1887-1880: BLF headquarters moved to Indianapolis. Major railroad strikes, a railroad management drive against the BLF, and widespread unemployment cause a setback in BLF growth.
1881: Eugene V. Debs elected general secretary-treasurer and magazine editor.
1882-1892: Rapid growth period of BLF in these years. By the 16th Convention at Cincinnati in 1892, 480 lodges, representing 26,000 members, are active and the BLF takes its place among national unions conducting labor negotiations for improved wages and working conditions on more than 50 railroads. The BLF fights for laws requiring various safety appliances, including automatic couplers which the railroads claim are “impossible” in these years.
1893: Eugene V. Debs departs BLF to form The American Railway Union.
1894-1900: BLF hurt by depression. The great railroad strike, which Eugene Debs leads after he left the BLF to found the American Railway Union to represent all railroad employees, becomes a milestone in labor history.
1902: President Theodore Roosevelt addresses delegates at the 21st BLF Convention at Chattanooga, Tenn. There are 615 lodges and 43,376 members in the union at this time.
1906: BLF name changed to Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen. First united wage movement, in cooperation with three other train service organizations, brings 81,000 men $14 million annually in wage boosts and better working conditions.
1912: The first federal arbitration board appointed under the “Erdman Act” to settle a dispute over wages and working conditions is considered to have favored management and is a bitter disappointment to the BLF&E and locomotive firemen and enginemen.
1914: The second federal arbitration board appointed under the Erdman Act decides a joint BLF&E-BLE wage movement which is again less than employees think fair and a repeated disappointment.
1916-1919: “United We Stand” is the rallying call of all train service unions in an all-out fight for the eight-hour day. Railroads refuse, causing President Woodrow Wilson to convene a joint session of Congress which passes the Adamson Bill for the eight-hour day and averts a giant railroad strike. U.S. takes over railroads in World War I and BLF&E President W. S. Carter is appointed director of the United States Division of Labor. Membership increases to 116,990.
1920-1924: BLF&E and other operating unions battle rump organizations – The Chicago Yardmen’s Association and The United Enginemen’s Association. U. S. Railroad Labor Board established by 1920 Transportation Act. Labor Board attempts for the second time to cut wages for railroadmen, causing operating unions to abandon it and negotiate directly with, the carriers. D. B. Robertson assumes office of president July 1, 1922. Former President W. S. Carter dies March 15, 1923.
1926: BLF&E presses for the enactment of Watson-Parker Bill, better known as the Railway Labor Act, signed by President Calvin Coolidge on May 20, 1926.
1928-1933: Many BLF&E railwaymen unemployed in depression years. Others receive 10 percent pay cut.
1934-1938: BLF&E fights for mechanical stokers, power reverse gears and Railroad Retirement Act. The latter is signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 27, 1934. BLF&E-carrier agreement of February 28, 1937, provides for a fireman on ALL locomotives over 90,000 pounds. Brotherhood also has power reverse gear and stoker laws effected in 1937.
1941-1951: BLF&E diesel electric movement gains wage boosts and equal rates for firemen helpers on diesel locomotives in the United States. Three BLF&E wage movements in these years bring higher rates of pay to locomotive enginemen. Thirty-fifth convention held at San Francisco in 1947; 968 lodges represent a membership of 113,396. Diesel electric agreement of 1950 provides for a fireman in the cab of ALL diesel locomotives used in passenger service at all times. BLF&E wins five-day week for yardmen. BLF&E signs first agreement providing for paid vacations for enginemen.
1953: Vice President H. E. Gilbert replaces retiring President D. B. Robertson at the close of the 36th Convention in Boston. BLF&E affiliates with Railway Labor Executives’ Association in 1954; joins AFL-CIO in 1956. BLF&E again pushes for unity of engine service organizations through a merger with BLE but Engineers’ organization rebuffs merger plan.
1956-1958: Diesel helper disputes with the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways result in BLF&E strikes and “Royal Kellock Commission’ hearings. Kellock decision to eliminate many locomotive firemen on freight and yard jobs welcomed by railroad management and upheld by Canadian government. BLF&E monthly and annual Safety Award Program inaugurated.
1962: U.S. railroads follow pattern of Canadian firemen-helper fight. Huge carrier propaganda campaign initiated against all railroad employees – particularly firemen and brakemen. BLF&E strikes over fireman issue. President H. E. Gilbert and the Brotherhood hit with contempt-of-court fines and threats of jail sentences. Some BLF&E officers in Southeast jailed. Dispute ends in the two-year Arbitration Award 282 which removes firemen helpers from many freight and yard jobs.
1964: BLF&E asks Congress to investigate abuses and misapplication of 1963 Arbitration Law. Misapplication of Arbitration Law brings Santa Fe and Nickel Plate walkouts. White House pact covering lodging expenses, holiday pay ratified. BLF&E secures congressional review of Arbitration Award. BLF&E launches program for effective locomotive inspection – Senate committee approves. Senate hearings highlight harshness of Arbitration Award application. BLF&E launches program to re-establish jobs, re-employ helpers, establish training program.
1966: U.S. Department of Labor recognizes BLF&E’s Apprenticeship Program. Congress acts to correct grievance machinery of NRAB; passes HR-706, permitting the establishment of special adjustment boards to decide on huge docket of cases. Indiana Supreme Court upholds safe-crew law. Administration asks Congress for Department of Transportation. Eight railroads struck over manning issue. BLF&E officers jailed. ORC&B, SUNA and BLF&E move to formulate new three-way organization. Nation’s carriers mount intensive attack on safe-crew laws. Gilbert cites train accident jump as national disgrace, asks Department of Transportation Secretary Alan Boyd to take action.
1967: BLF&E and ORC&B defeat carriers’ efforts to repeal Ohio’s safe-crew law. Legislation aimed at amending the 1907 Federal Hours of Service Law, the result of BLF&E efforts, introduced in both houses of Congress. Extensive hearings held in both houses.
1968: ORC&B, BRT, SUNA, and BLF&E initiate unity plans. Ten-man committees meet in Hot Springs, Ark. Unity agreement and constitution forged.