Our History

The History of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen
Our history as a union is a story of conflict, perseverance, dedication, courage, frustration and optimism in America's future. It is a work in progress for safe working conditions, a decent standard of living and as stakeholders, a voice in the future of our industry.  It has not been an easy road we have traveled but, for quite a while we made progress.  The Railroad of the 19th century was a very dangerous place.  The engineer worked for a low rate of pay, was kept on the road for long periods of time, needing rest and fighting sleep.  He was expected to keep alert and was paid on the basis of the run he made rather than the time spent on duty.  When the engineer was "resting" he was expected to maintain the locomotive by packing pistons, lubricating moving parts, and was generally engaged in repairs on the engine.  Further,  while at the end of the line he was expected to pay his own way.  The steam locomotive of the era provided little protection from the elements and was a dangerous place to be during a derailment or collision.

     In this environment, men came together on the Michigan Central to deal with the company as a unit negotiating collectively.  The time was May 1863.  The concept worked and divisions were formed on other railroads. The first decade was spent turning the Engineers Union into a working unit that could be seen as a responsible and effective labor organization.  The fight for better working conditions and a safer environment brought strikes and the railroads adopted the slogan "Shoot the strike to pieces".  People died but, the organization persevered and worked to change the railroad into the place we have today. Over the next 100 years this organization fought and negotiated for benefits like; FELA, the Railway Labor Act, Hours of Service, Mediation Boards, Railroad Retirement, Locomotive Safety, Operation Red Block, and Employee Assistance Programs.  All the railroad brotherhoods worked together to gain these programs which improved the lives of all operating employees

     Then came the competition for members between the two remaining transportation unions because of the shrinking crew consists.  This battle led to the Halloween Agreement of 1985 signed by the UTU and upheld by Arbitration Board 458.  It allowed Carriers relief from existing work rules which includes; the 100 mile basic day, different pay schedules for new hires, and it undermined the engineer apprentice program.  The battle between the UTU and BLE came to be seen by other rail unions as weakening rail labor as a whole.

      The other trend that has had a great impact on our present condition is the emergence of our labor agreements being settled through Presidential Emergency Boards or binding arbitration.  This method of ending disputes because strikes were no longer possible due to Congress ending them became the norm and usually favored the Carrier. 

     With the  carriers continuous use of government to settle our labor disputes, plus the increasing use of political donations and intense lobbying, the BLE began to fight back by forming the BLE Political Action Committee.  The BLE PAC  is a tool to protect the operating employees hard earned benefits.  In January 2004, because of the pressures from the Carriers and the UTU, the BLE merged with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and became the BLET. This created a more resilient and secure organization.

     The State Legislative Boards emerged in the early 20th century as a means of having a voice in legislation and involvement in the political process. Our Florida Board was founded in the 1970's with Aubry Ziegler of Wildwood as State Chairman.  It ebbed and flowed facing the issues of the day and eventually was disbanded.  In 1996, the BLE membership of the State of Florida, reauthorized the Legislative Board  with the help of; Ray Clark, of Division 275 Pensacola, David Lavery, of Division 216 Tampa, Gary Castles, of Division 309 Jacksonville, Michael Tanner, of Division 769 Sanford, Marty Nossett, of Division 92 Lakeland and R.N. West, of Division 35 (Amtrak) Jacksonville.  In addition, encouragement and support came from individuals like;  Leroy Jones, Vice President/ National Legislative Representative, Tony Smith, General Chairman-Eastern Lines and Cleatus Roy, General Chairman-Western Lines.  David Lavery was elected Chairman and along with Florida Division Legislative Representatives, we began building a stronger organization. The Board under the leadership of Mr. Lavery has worked hard to educate legislators, policy makers and the public on issues of rail safety, rail improvements, and passenger services. Some of the issues the board has dealt with include; lobbying the Florida State Legislature on safety regulations, PTI safety, HAZMAT issues, and Labor's involvement in rail projects.  The list of issues in the last few years includes; High Speed Rail, Amtrak and labor protections thereof.  The ongoing attacks on labor at the state and federal level make a strong union with strong legislative boards a necessity.

 Mike Lacey Vice Chair FSLB




      Railroads first came to Florida in the 1830's with a line running from Tallahassee to St. Mark's. The real development came after the Civil War with lines that became Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railroad and Henry Plant's Plant System.  Eventually the Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Air Line railroads built the tracks through central Florida to the Golf Coast.  In the Panhandle, Seaboard built a line west from Jacksonville to River Junction in Chattahoochee where it connected with the Louisville and Nashville Railroad west through Pensacola into Alabama. Also the Southern Railway system, pushed south from Valdosta, Georgia into Jacksonville.

      Henry Plant took over the Jacksonville, Tampa, and Key West Railroad and expanded into Tampa to connect with his steamboat liners running from Cuba and other destinations.  In 1900 Henry Plant died and his railroad was soon purchased by the Atlantic Coast Line along with several other acquisitions in Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia.  The ACL Florida mainline ran from Jacksonville to Tampa via Sanford, Lakeland and Plant City.

       The Seaboard Air Line based in Richmond, Va. was a competitor of ACL and came to Tampa in 1902 running tracks through Ocala and Plant City before turning west toward Tampa.  Seaboard began building branch lines just after the turn of the century to St. Pete, Bradenton, Sarasota and Venice.

       Both lines also absorbed several short lines until their tracks intertwined throughout the state. In the end, 100 Railroads were incorporated in the two lines from Richmond to Florida.  In 1967 the ACL finally merged with the SAL, forming the Seaboard Coast Line after much haggling over a 10 year period to become the eighth largest railroad in America and dominating the Florida market.  Next came the National Railroad Passenger Corp., or Amtrak, that relieved the railroads from operating passenger trains unless Amtrak contracted them to do so.  SCL made a one time payment of $22.1 million and on April 30, 1971 the last SCL passenger train operated in Florida.  The following day, Amtrak became operational with SCL operating it's Florida Service.

     Another organization that surfaced was Auto Train Corporation conceived to transport cars and passengers between Virginia and Sanford, Florida.  It was originally privately owned but financial problems caused the operation to be taken over by Amtrak in 1983.

      In 1978 talks began between SCL and the Chessie System and on November 1, 1980 the CSX Corporation came into existence as the largest railroad system in the United States with 70,000 employees and 27,000 miles of track.  The goal of this new giant railroad was to eliminate redundant facilities and offer new services.  The size of the railroad was reduced and the workforce was cut through labor buyouts and furloughs.   CSX grew again with the purchase of a portion of Conrail.  Today CSX operates 1700 miles of track in Florida nearly 60% of the total. The rest is owed by Florida East Railroad, the Pinsly System, and Norfolk Southern. CSX has sold 142 miles of track to the state of Florida to create commuter lines for TriRail in South Florida and Sunrail in the Orlando area. The railroad industry continues to reinvent itself and now amazingly seems to be the wave of the future with the growth of intermodal service and the importance of fuel efficient transportation.