The history of the advance and growth of American railroads is an
episode in the saga of a people's restless urge to explore and to
move on. Heeding that urge, these people expanded into the far
corners of the North American Continent, moving as slow or as fast
as their means of transportation allowed. This movement began in
earnest only after the railroad's steel web was spun from
coast-to-coast. Once the rail system was established, the great
construction gangs began to settle down and maintain that which they
had built. But, while the robber barons of the early railroads
amassed great fortunes, their employees worked from dawn to dusk for
pennies a day without insurance, vacations or means of support after
years of hard work. It was these conditions that inspired early rail
workers to organize collectively and form unions to protect their
One such union was the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (BMWE).
The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes - later to become the
Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division of the
International Brotherhood of Teamsters (BMWED) - is a national union
representing the workers who build and maintain the tracks, bridges,
buildings and other structures on the railroads of the United
States. Founded in 1887, at Demopolis, Alabama, as a fraternal
organization by Track Foreman John T. Wilson, the BMWED membership
forms a cross section of American culture. Their goals, interests
and political backgrounds are as diversified as their heritage. Once
an International union with over 350,000 members in the United
States and Canada, automation, the rise of the trucking and airline
industries, coupled with the policies of a conservative government,
has depleted the ranks of the BMWED to under 40,000 members. Since
the passage of the Staggers Rail Act of 1978, railroad management,
using competition as an excuse and the anti-union climate as an
ally, has been selling or abandoning the nation's rail system.
Realizing that our country is losing a vital link in its
transportation network, the BMWED struggles to reverse this trend.
Using our rich history as a guide - drawing on the strength of the
union - we confront management in the halls of Congress and the
State Legislatures, through use of our newspaper the BMWED Journal,
the nation's court system and at the bargaining tables.
It was in 2004 that the BMWE merged with the International
Brotherhood of Teamsters and consolidated its strength with that of
the powerful 1.4 million member Teamster Union. As a part of the
Teamster Rail Division the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way
Employes Division continues the battle that John T. Wilson
courageously fought in the face of so much opposition.
Rail labor leaders continue the fight today for job security, better
working conditions, fair wages and benefits, improved safety
conditions and elimination of massive cutbacks. The benevolent
society that started with a few trackmen on a hot July day in
Alabama has shown that it can meet the challenges and problems of an
ever-changing industry and will continue to protect its members'
rights as it has for more than a century.
Accomplishments of the
Brotherhood are reflected in benefits obtained: