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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

BROTHERHOOD OF LOCOMOTIVE ENGINEERS

BROTHERHOOD OF LOCOMOTIVE ENGINEERS

The BROTHERHOOD OF LOCOMOTIVE ENGINEERS, founded as the Brotherhood of the Footboard by Michigan Central Railroad engineers in 1863, is the oldest labor organization in the U.S. In 1870 the BLE chose Cleveland as its headquarters city, due to its central location for servicing U.S. and Canadian members. The union was conservative in nature, often eschewing strikes notwithstanding rank-and-file sentiments. A bitterly contested strike against the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad in 1888 nearly destroyed the union when it was forced to accept company conditions, which included giving preferential promotions to scab engineers hired by the CB&Q during the strike.

The BLE was behind the passage of the Adamson Act of 1916 (the "8-Hour Day Law"), signed by Pres. Woodrow Wilson as the basis for determining overtime in interstate commerce. Today the BLE displays in its Cleveland headquarters the pen used by Pres. Wilson to sign the legislation. The BLE's earliest known Cleveland address was 76 Frankfort St. The union was headquartered in the Society for Savings Bldg. from 1897 until 1910, when it moved into the newly constructed Locomotive Engineers Bldg. on the southeast corner of Ontario and St. Clair. The BLE relocated to the Standard Bldg. on the southwest corner of Ontario in Feb. 1989, when its former headquarters were razed to accommodate the Marriott at Society Center. The BLE also built the Park Lane Villa on 105th St. near Euclid.

In the 1920s, under the direction of BLE president Warren S. Stone, the BLE initiated various financial endeavors, including two banks, one holding company, real estate developments, building construction, and a coal company. Most notable were the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Cooperative National Bank and resort developments in Venice, FL. In 1925 the BLE National Cooperative Bank Bldg. (Standard Bldg.) was completed. In 1930 the union's bank merged into the STANDARD TRUST Bank, which was taken over and liquidated by the State Banking Department in 1931. Standard Trust's president, Sterling Smith, was imprisoned for embezzlement. As deregulation shook the railroad industry, the brotherhood lost 8,000 members between 1976-86. However, since 1992 it has initiated 4,000 new members. Recently, the Rail Canada Traffic Controllers and the American Train Dispatchers Assn. merged into the BLE. By 1995 the BLE had grown to 54,000 members and had 3 Cleveland divisions (locals).