Brotherhoods and Efficiency





RECENT articles on the causes of train-accidents and the problems of discipline have done much to stimulate discussion and create a demand for further information on these important subjects. Whether the result of certain suggestive analyses, or of the reaction due to dissent from opinions expressed as to both causes and remedies, there are signs of an increased interest, both on the part of the general public and in railroad circles. The need is the greater, therefore, for a plain statement of the case as it appears to one railroad official.

The views which I shall express are, I believe, those of a large number of railroad operating officials, and my illustrations are drawn from a personal railroad experience of more than sixteen years, the greater part in the operating or transportation department of four representative railroads, in close touch with grievance-committee procedure, the making of wage-schedules, the disposition of appealed cases of discipline, and the formulation of rules and regulations pertaining to train, yard, and station service. The nature of this experience has afforded an exceptional opportunity to become familiar with the inside workings between railroad managements and their employees.

We have been given to understand that labor-organization influence is the one reason, above all others, for the deplorable casualty record of American railways. It has been suggested that this influence has honeycombed discipline, has reduced the manager to a mere cipher, and has placed the traveling public at the mercy of a secret schedule. It has been suggested further that the labor organizations are unconcerned about the number and frequency of accidents, and are apathetic on the whole subject of safety and efficiency of train-service. It is true that certain indications may lend color to these views, and, indeed, isolated specific instances apparently afford support to such suggestions; yet a careful study of average conditions, as they obtain generally throughout the United States and Canada, will, I am convinced, show that railroad managers still have it within their power to control the safety and efficiency of train-service, and that neither the public nor the railroad managements have cause for apprehension on account of the influence of the railroad brotherhoods.

The scope of this article will not include a consideration of labor unions in general, but will necessarily be confined to the limits indicated by the title. The brotherhoods of employees in train-service are four in number, and include engineers, conductors, firemen, trainmen, and switchmen in the yards. These brotherhoods stand highest in the ranks of organized labor, and should not be classed with many trade unions with less defensible policies. Other employees in railroad work, such as switchmen, station agents, telegraph operators, baggagemen, freight handlers, shopmen, car inspectors and trackmen, have their organizations, varying in strength in different sections of the country and on different roads.


The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers dates from 1863, was the pioneer organization, and is first in influence. Upon it fell the brunt of the early struggles for recognition of the right to organize, and for the grant of seniority and right of appeal. Yet, notwithstanding the early aggressiveness of the locomotive engineers, their policy in recent years, under better conditions, has been marked by conservatism. Their cool-headed counsel and disinclination to be drawn into sympathetic strikes frequently have prevented belligerent action by the younger organizations.

The membership of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers is said to be about 64,000, or between 80 and 85 per cent of all the engineers in locomotive service. The policy of the brotherhood — and the same may be said of the other train-service brotherhoods — is to invite eligible men to join; but no coercive means are used to bring them into the organization ranks. Union and non-union men work side by side on all roads. Chief Engineer Stone, of the locomotive engineers, is on record as regarding any attempt to coerce a man into joining the brotherhood as an unwarranted interference with his liberties as a citizen. He believes in showing the non-union man the benefits to be derived from membership, but states that it is never intimated to him that he must join, or that other men will refuse to work with him if he does not join. An engineer who joins because he feels obliged to do so is regarded as a poor member —a hindrance rather than a help.

Mr. Stone’s statement doubtless reflects the official attitude of the railroad brotherhoods. They emphasize their policy to have membership regarded as a privilege rather than a requirement. Yet it is idle to overlook the strong social pressure which operates on the young trainmen and firemen, and causes them to feel uncomfortable if they continue to remain outside the pale.

The; “ closed-shop ” policy is, however, not characteristic of the railroad organizations. In addition to the considerations mentioned by Mr. Stone, there are other reasons which would make such a policy unworkable. So many young men take up railroading because it seems so interesting and romantic, and drop it after a month or two because they find the ratio of hard work to romance so high, that the brotherhoods of trainmen and firemen require actual service of six to nine months before the “ student ” may be accepted as a member. A closed-shop policy would prevent any period of probation as a condition precedent to membership. The brotherhoods differ also from the trade unions in that one organization is not limited strictly to the men in one class or occupation. For instance, a train-man when promoted to be a conductor may, if he chooses, retain his membership in the train-men’s organization; or a conductor who has been set back to his former position as a train-man (a frequent occurrence when the volume of business suffers a material reduction) may continue his membership in the conductors’ order. Likewise, a fireman when promoted to be an engineer may elect, for sentimental reasons or because of the outlook for better insurance rates, to remain in the younger organization.

The Order of Railway Conductors is next to the engineers’ brotherhood in age and influence. It was organized in 1868, and now embraces a membership of 43,370, or approximately 90 per cent of all train conductors in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Train conductors only are eligible; yard conductors belong to the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen or the Switchmen’s Union.

The Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen is the strongest numerically of the train-service organizations, and also the youngest. It was organized in 1883, and has a membership of over 102,000. It includes passenger and freight trainmen (or brakemen, as they are popularly known), as well as yard conductors, yard brakemen or switchmen, and switchtenders. It also continues to hold many of the young conductors who have not transferred their membership to the Order of Railway Conductors. By reason of the variety of occupations embraced in its membership, and the lack of statistics in the Interstate Commerce Commission report classifying the different grades of men in yard-service, it is impracticable to ascertain what percentage of the potential membership is now within the ranks.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen (until recently the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen) was organized in 1873, and is said to embrace a membership of more than 64,000. As I have already indicated, it includes within its ranks a goodly number of young engineers who choose to remain with the firemen rather than relinquish the insurance rights of the younger organization, to enter the engineers’ brotherhood.

It would be well at this point to consider some of the causes which led the employees to organize. As already indicated, the scope of this article does not embrace a consideration of the forces underlying the trades-union movement in general, or the history of the earlier struggles of all classes of labor for higher wages and better working conditions. Our attention will be directed to one phase of the general subject which had a powerful influence on railroad workmen in stirring these underlying forces into activity.

In the earlier days of railroading the superintendent and master mechanic were vested with autocratic powers. Employees were not generally conceded the right to appeal from a decision, however unfair. The very nature of this supreme authority over employees tended to make subordinate officials inconsiderate. In the promotion of men, merit was ostensibly the standard; but while it was observed in the great majority of cases, the service was permeated by the evils of favoritism. In many cases subordinate officials were swayed by family, political, religious, or other considerations. In frequent changes of officials it was not uncommon for the new official to bring with him a number of engineers, conductors, or other employees, who, he believed, would be of special service to him, but who seldom were any better workmen than those displaced. In many instances, too, discipline was meted out according to varying standards, the “ favorite ” being more leniently dealt with than the employee with a personal standing relatively lower.

I knew of a case where an engineer was suspended for permitting a stock-drover to ride on his engine. The drover was entitled to free transportation while caring for the shipment of cattle, but his place while the train was in motion was in the caboose. He paid no heed to the protest of the engineer, who hesitated to attempt to use force on a man very much his superior physically. The master mechanic, in suspending the engineer, told him he should have used a red-hot poker on the drover. A few days later, another engineer was detected in the act of carrying three or four acquaintances (not employees) on his engine while hauling a passenger train, but no action whatever was taken in his case. The second engineer was widely known as a “ favorite,” was an enthusiastic fisherman, and kept the master mechanic and other subordinate officials well supplied with brook trout. He was wont to make much of his “ pull ” with those in authority. The effect on discipline is not hard to imagine.

It frequently happened that the personal equation was given too much weight in selecting men for promotion. Before the right of appeal became effective generally, the official had not quite the same incentive to be absolutely fair in estimating the qualities essential to promotion. I knew of a freight conductor of exceptional ability as such, a man possessed of good judgment and a clear record, who was denied promotion to be passenger conductor because the train-master considered his penmanship too poor. The superintendent heard of the case some time later, and on investigation overruled the train-master. But there were so many similar instances where the outcome was not so fortunate, that a deep-seated resentment grew in the minds of employees against anything that bordered on favoritism. It is possible that this factor is exaggerated in its bearing on the development of railroad labor unions, but seven or eight out of ten men, if asked the principal functions of their organization, would answer, “ To prevent favoritism, and secure higher wages and shorter hours.” Favoritism is given equal weight with low wages and long hours as a prime reason for organizing.

I do not wish to convey the impression that all superintendents or their lieutenants, or even a majority of them, hired, disciplined, or discharged men unfairly or without due regard for merit and efficiency. But the cases of inconsiderate treatment were sufficient to drive the men to create the protective machinery of the labor organization. The engineers banded together for the principle of equal rights and fair treatment to all, as well as for higher wages and a shorter working day. The growth of the organization was gradual, but its effective influence increased with the successful termination of one fight after another for fair play and better conditions. To be sure, they sometimes made mistakes and met defeat, particularly in struggles for higher wages; but the fight against favoritism progressed steadily and successfully, until it has now practically ceased to exist. This brings us to the question of promotion by seniority, but before taking it up, let us first look at the usual agreement or schedule defining rates and working conditions.


The so-called “ schedule ” is a scale of wages and a set of rules defining working conditions, a form of agreement between the general superintendent or the general manager, representing the company, and a committee, representing one or more classes of employees. In the greater number of printed schedules but one signature appears, that of the general superintendent or general manager; in other schedules, the signature of the chairman or chairmen of the committees appears as well, but as representing employees; in a few cases, the signatures of the committeemen appear as representing the organization. The railroads generally insist upon recognizing the committees as representing employees, not organizations, but the distinction is one with a very small element of difference. It is well known that the members of the committee are elected in the lodge-room, and represent employees by virtue of the power conferred upon them by the lodge.

When the original copy of the schedule has been executed, it is printed, usually by the company but sometimes by the organization, and distributed to all officers and employees affected. The various railroads exchange their schedules, so that each knows the conditions which govern the others in respect to rates of pay and working rules. The associations of operating officers frequently compile comparative summaries, and the brotherhoods publish and sell a book which gives the rates and working agreements of all the principal roads on the North American continent. In a word, the information is widely disseminated. No attempt is made to keep it secret, and I have never heard of any secret supplements which amplify or modify any of its provisions.

The first sections of the schedule usually deal with rates of pay, hours of duty, allowance for overtime, etc. Then come the rules governing promotion, assignment of runs, reduction of force, the right of appeal, and miscellaneous local regulations. As the seniority rule and the right of appeal have attracted considerable attention, each will be considered separately.

Seniority means the relative standing of an employee in length of service in the class of work in which he is employed. The rule usually reads something like this: —

“ Seniority will be the rule for promotion or advancement in train-service when merited by faithful discharge of duty, and when, in the judgment of the superintendent, the employee has shown capacity for increased responsibility.”

In appearance, the rule subordinates personality and ability to length of service. It places the ambitious workman on the same plane with the man of mediocre ability. It tends to make “ average ” men instead of developing individuality. But it was the direct result of favoritism of years ago when the older, more experienced, and more competent men were held back for the younger and more favored. If discriminations of the kind had always been based upon merit, the deeprooted objection might not have developed. Unfortunately, however, promotions and appointments were often dictated by other motives, and caused such resentment that the whole strength of the organizations was focused on the eradication of favoritism and the recognition of the seniority principle. Their efforts were successful, and now the oldest man has the choice of runs, ’provided, always that the superintendent considers him competent.

The saving clause which makes the superintendent judge as to qualifications is carefully observed. The prerogative of denying a man promotion, when the superintendent is convinced that he is unsuited, is frequently exercised. Let me quote the statement of an executive officer of an important eastern trunk line, a man who successively was a train-master, superintendent, general superintendent, and general manager: —

“ With reference to the seniority rule. In general, the seniority clauses provide that where merit and ability are equal, seniority shall apply. I never hesitated to exercise this exception where conditions required it. It is a very serious proposition, however, to deprive a man of what he may have worked hard to obtain, and unless there is clear and unmistakable reason for it, seniority should govern. The instances in which it should not govern are infinitesimal. The employee should always be given the benefit of any doubt, if such doubt does not involve the safety in handling business. This question can and should be largely affected by the selection of men for employment. Where judicious selection is practiced in employing men, the seniority rule can be applied in practically every case. I have had to set aside seniority a few times, but I have never done so without a most careful and serious investigation and consideration of the matter, on account of the grave consequences involved, not from the fear as to what any organization might do”

The need for promotion of men does not, as a rule, come all at once. The train-masters and superintendents know months in advance when it will be necessary to make new conductors or engineers, and the candidates for promotion are under close surveillance. A careful record is kept of every man’s service from the time he enters the employment of the company. Every mishap is noted on his record; a minute is made also of instances of meritorious service. This record is always consulted when the time for promotion draws near. As a further precaution, the candidate is carefully examined on train-rules. This examination is given by an expert and covers the best part of one day. The knowledge of the candidate as to the other duties of his position and the physical characteristics of the road are tested, as well as his acuity of vision, hearing, and color-perception; and sometimes a thorough physical examination is required. The firemen are subjected to exhaustive examinations on the mechanical features of the locomotive, and what they should do in break-downs and other emergencies. The usual mechanical examinations contain more than six hundred questions, and it is reasonable to suppose that a fireman who can answer them satisfactorily, pass the examination on train-rules, and measure up to the physical standard, is not an incompetent. In these and in other ways the officials have abundant evidence upon which to judge of the man’s qualifications, and it is within their power absolutely to deny promotion when the senior man is not qualified. On every road with which I have been connected, and on many others of which I have personal knowledge, train-men and firemen who could not meet the requirements have been refused promotion, and the fairness of such decisions has not been questioned. One official has set the proportion of men who fail as approximately two in every one hundred examined.

That the seniority principle is open to serious criticism, is not for a moment to be denied. Tn an address to employees at Hartford in April, 1904, dealing frankly with the good and the bad features of labor unions, President Mellen, of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, characterized seniority as most discouraging to men of ability; repressive and oppressive ; putting men of little wit and less ability into positions for which they are not fitted, and keeping out those who are better qualified, more competent, and far more deserving. Yet despite the weight of this objection, I am convinced from the views expressed in conversation and in correspondence with many prominent operating officials, and from close observation in my own experience, that, all things considered, the seniority rule is preferable to the danger of the misrule possible under former conditions. Seniority prevents favoritism on the part of the subordinate officials. It guarantees to the employee that every year of faithful service is an investment which will bring him sure returns. The employee’s stock-intrade is his experience, his years of service, and his record; and according to these he can command a good, fair, or poor run. It is plain that employees as a body will give better and more loyal service and place a greater value on their positions, when assured of fair treatment, than when disheartened or embittered by personal discriminations. The great desideratum in train-service is a contented and loyal body of men, and the seniority rule contributes materially to that end. Its objectionable features are susceptible of such measure of control, by effective supervision and by care in selecting new men, that conservative operating officers have become convinced that in the seniority rule the good outweighs the evil. The case is put clearly by the vice-president and general manager of an important railroad system in the middle west. He writes: —

“ Seniority is recognized in the army, in the navy, and generally in the civil service. It is not a new idea, it is a growth; and with all its imperfection it probably represents the best system developed up to the present time. Railroad officers are prone to complain of the objections to the seniority system, and they sometimes, if not always, fail to give due consideration to the only alternative. With seniority, we must know that it has happened, and will happen on the railroads as well as in the army, that at times incompetent men, because of their age in the service, will find themselves in positions for which they are not properly fitted. On the other hand, if the practice of seniority could be absolutely eliminated, we would then find in its place the system of favoritism, and the effect upon the character of the whole service would, in my opinion, be much worse under the rule of favoritism than under the rule of seniority, with all its known defects.”


We will now pass from the question of seniority to the consideration of the right of appeal, or the privilege of an employee or committee of appealing to the general superintendent or general manager, or even to the president, when the decision of a superintendent in a case of discipline is considered unjust or unduly severe. This right is now recognized by practically every railroad in the country. No fair-minded officer objects to it. Mr. Aaron M. Burt, division superintendent of the Northern Pacific Railway, in a lecture delivered a short time ago before the Graduate School of Business Administration of Harvard University, expressed himself as in sympathy with the principle. He laid no claim to infallibility, and thought that no superintendent should feel such absolute confidence in the justice of his decisions as to deny an aggrieved employee the opportunity to have his case reviewed. In his opinion, the man should always have the benefit of the doubt; and since it very frequently happens that the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States differ among themselves in their verdict, it is just as possible that there should be an honest difference of opinion among railroad officials in difficult cases of discipline. When such differences occur, there should be no hesitation in affording the employee the chance to reopen the case and have another trial. Mr. Burt’s experience with grievance committees had led him to consider them reasonable in their attitude, and they have caused him no embarrassment.

When Chairman Knapp of the Interstate Commerce Commission spoke before the same body of students in March last, he was asked if his experience on the conciliation board of the Interstate Commerce Commission and Bureau of Labor had led him to think that the right of appeal has had a demoralizing effect on discipline. He replied quite positively that, taking the country as a whole, he believed that the right of appeal has not been taken advantage of to an extent that has been subversive of discipline. He stated further that a combination of a weak management and a very strong organization in all classes of service might result in poor discipline. Such cases, however, are rare.

The majority opinion of operating officials is that they do not object to an employee or a committee exercising the right of appeal. It is not embarrassing to them, nor has it an adverse effect on discipline. It is much more embarrassing to have to punish a man at all. The possibility of appeal does not deter the superintendent from imposing discipline when such is deserved, but it has the effect of making him more judicial, and certainly prevents him from showing prejudice, should he be so inclined. A few superintendents, by their very nature, are poor disciplinarians, and it will be found frequently that they have the most to say about the alleged demoralizing effect of labor unions. A superintendent possessing the qualities essential to the successful handling of men seldom complains about committees or unions.

As an indication of the consideration which the railroad men’s organizations give to grievances before they are taken up with the officials of the company, I will sketch briefly the rules of the order under which they are handled. It should first be noted that a committee or an officer of the organization cannot originate a complaint. Every complaint or grievance or request for ruling, no matter how trivial, must be made by the employee in writing, addressed to the lodge, and considered at the regular monthly or semimonthly meeting. Each case is discussed in the open lodge, and must have the support of a formal vote of two-thirds of the members present before it may be referred to the local grievance committee for adjustment with the local officers of the railroad company. If the local committee fails to reach a satisfactory conclusion with the railroad company, the case is reported back to the lodge and a vote taken as to whether it shall be dropped or referred to the general grievance committee.

The general grievance committee is made up of the officers of all the local lodges of that order on that particular railroad, and meets once or twice a year, or when something extraordinary demands a special session. The general committee, when it meets, will have all the grievances from all the lodges on that road or system. Each case is reviewed and voted upon, and a two-thirds vote of the general committee is necessary to have any case included in the docket. The general committee, having made an appointment with the general officer of the railroad, will endeavor to adjust each case. If the results are not satisfactory, and the general committee considers it worth while to make further effort, it may call in an official of the brotherhood to assist. When this stage is reached, the committee usually requests the general manager to meet them, with the brotherhood official, and the points in dispute are reviewed. The brotherhood official, with his long experience and skill in such matters, is able to present more effectively the arguments in support of the employees’ contention, and usually secures some concessions.

If no concessions are offered, and the general committee and the official of the brotherhood consider it justified, a poll of the membership may be taken, to ascertain whether two-thirds will vote to sustain the committee and the brotherhood official in aggressive measures, even to the extent of suspending work. If twothirds of all the members vote in the affirmative, the brotherhood official is empowered to order a strike, but he cannot take such action without the formal authority of two-thirds of the membership.

Neither can the general committee, even with the support of the entire membership, order a strike without the sanction of an executive officer of the brotherhood. It will be seen, therefore, that under the rules of their organization it is impossible to take injudicious steps on the spur of the moment. Each move must be made deliberately and concurrently as between the employees, the committee, and the officers of the organization.

As a matter of fact, grievances are carefully considered by the local lodge, and more than half of them never reach the local grievance committee. Sometimes grievances will be presented as a matter of form, or to register a protest, but without any hope of favorable consideration. For instance, on roads running long freight trains with two engines, known as double-headers, every time the general committee waits on the general manager a request will be made to discontinue running such trains or to pay higher rates to the conductors and trainmen. The committee knows that the request will not be granted, but they go on record every year as protesting against the practice of “ double-heading.” Their objection is based on the extra work incident to handling the longer trains, and on the fact that by running two trains in one the railroad company saves the wages of a conductor and one or two train-men.

The appeals from discipline when important rules are disobeyed, and where the guilt of the employee is plainly apparent, are comparatively few. When such cases are appealed, they usually are put on a basis of sympathy, — a request for leniency for a man in “ hard luck.” Stress is laid upon his previous good record, if it happens to be good; or sickness at home, if the man is so unfortunate; or a large family, if it fits the case. Occasionally, a suspension sentence is reduced or a discharged man reinstated on such appeals, or when an element of doubt as to responsibility enters into the case; but this is not done to an extent that affects discipline.

The Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen is on record as challenging any one to cite an instance where the brotherhood has interfered in a case where discipline had been fairly administered. On this point, Hon. E. E. Clark, formerly head of the conductors’ order, and now a member of the Interstate Commerce Commission, says in a letter dated April 15, 1909, —

“ A large number of men is employed in the train-service, and it is not surprising if in that number there be found a very small percentage of those who are disposed to impose on good nature, who presume upon the idea that the right of appeal can be used in a sense to intimidate the subordinate official. The percentage of such men is, as suggested, extremely small, and they invariably find that they will not be sustained by the organization in any such spirit or attitude. I personally know of one instance in which a conductor who entertained such a view carried his expressions and his attitude to such length that the superintendent dismissed him for insubordination and for being an agitator. He assigned these reasons for his dismissal in the presence of two other conductors. The justice of his action was recognized by the other conductors on the road, and the organization locally refused to undertake any effort to secure modification or reversal of the decision.”

I could cite numerous instances such as that mentioned by Mr. Clark, but his is typical of the majority. I could also give specific instances where local committees, in their desire to force an issue, have been overruled by general committees. Further, I could give cases where the grand officers of the brotherhoods have called off the general committees, and will later cite two instances wherein the grand officers repudiated and annulled strikes ordered by general committees.

I have gone into considerable detail in discussing the two rules relating to seniority and appeal because they have received more attention in public discussion than the others, and relatively are more important. Before passing from the consideration of the schedule, it might be well to note briefly some of the other rules.

With very few exceptions, the concessions which have been granted to the men, and made a part of the schedule, are not unreasonable. To quote again from the letter of an executive officer of an eastern trunk line: —

“ It is true that the influence of the labor organizations has brought about a somewhat different treatment of the men. It is also true that there are things which have been done in favor of the clients of the labor organizations which would not have been done otherwise. However, the majority of the concessions that have been secured by the responsible labor organizations have been things that are just and right, and things that the men should have had.”

It sometimes is asked why the schedule should go into so much detail as to just what may be done, and what may not be done. Many of the articles seem unnecessary, and apparently circumscribe the authority of those responsible for operation. The answer to the question is that nearly every rule of the kind grew out of misunderstanding or inconsiderate use of authority on the part of train-masters, yard-masters, or other minor officials, and sometimes of the superintendent. The schedule is designed to cover all working relations specifically in detail, so that the men may know just what is expected of them, and the minor officials may know just how far they may go. I once heard a general superintendent remark that he desired the schedule, then in process of revision, to cover every contingency of service and have every rule ample in detail, so that no misunderstanding could occur. The management would not knowingly permit any imposition on employees by minor officials, and the schedule, in the opinion of that general superintendent, is as much a protection to the company as to the men in preventing abuse of authority.

As a specific instance, let us refer to the rule which prescribes one-quarter of a day’s pay to a man who is called for a freight-train run and is not used. Several years ago, before such a rule appeared in the schedule, the yard-master never took chances on running short on crews, and many crews were called and reported for duty with their dinner-pails packed, only to be sent home again, without compensation, to await another call. The rule now in effect very rarely costs the company anything, and results in the men having much more time at home, since they are not called until there is a reasonable certainty that they will be required.

There are many other rules in the schedule which apparently hamper the management; yet, if their history were traced, it would be found that most of them were caused by subordinate officials taking advantage of the men by requiring them to do more work than should reasonably have been asked, or by a lack of consideration for the convenience or comfort, of employees. Occasionally a rule which works a hardship on the company will creep into the schedule: as, for instance, an arbitrary limit to the number of cars which a through freight train may drop or pick up at intermediate stations. Train-men are paid on a mileage basis, and naturally dislike any switching work which takes time without adding mileage, and therefore contributes nothing to the day’s income, unless there is enough of it to make the number of hours on duty, multiplied by the guaranteed mileage per hour, exceed the actual miles run. Way or local freight-train crews are paid a higher rate per mile on account of the large amount of switching and the relatively small mileage made. To place a penalty on switching by through road crews, some wage-schedules call for way freight-rates for the crew if they are required to make more than five or six stops to set out or pick up cars.

Under certain conditions, a through train may be required to exceed this limit slightly without adding appreciably to the work or hours of the train crew, but substantially increasing the cost of wages for the trip.


Since the subject of railroad labor organization is closely related to the safety of train-service, it is proper that some reference should be made to train-accidents; but I can touch only upon the fringe, confining my remarks entirely to the suggestions quoted in the third paragraph of this article.

It must not be forgotten that an employee has an intense personal interest in train-accidents. If he contributes to their number he materially increases his risk of personal injury. If he has fewer accidents, he stands less chance of loss of life or limb. There is, therefore, the most effective motive for using care, although with some employees it is not appreciated to its fullest extent.

It is true, unfortunately, that some accidents are due to lax discipline; and where lax discipline is responsible, it will be found in the greater number of cases that the cause is as much one of management as of labor-organization influence. A superintendent who fails to maintain effective discipline will seek to find a reason which will not reflect upon himself, and it seems to him that the brotherhoods are the real cause overlooking the fact that on neighboring lines, with the same character of employees and the same physical and working conditions, good discipline and esprit de corps exist. A poor disciplinarian will have trouble with labor organizations, but he would have trouble also if the men were not organized.

To show that the brotherhoods are interested in preventing train-accidents, numerous instances could be cited where the management is indebted to committeemen for valuable suggestions. Accidents, and conditions which may lead to accidents, are frequent topics for lodgeroom discussion, and it is not uncommon for railroad managers to use the committees as a medium for getting their views before the employees when the subject is difficult to handle by official communications. Let me give a few illustrations.

Here are two cases which are authenticated by an official of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. I quote from his letter: —

“ The manager of one of our most important systems called the chairman of the board of adjustment to his office and advised him that a certain conductor was not giving efficient service; that he was jeopardizing the safety of everybody who had to work with him. The chairman was asked if he could not set the conductor right. He realized that the statement was true. He saw the offender, talked with him, and was satisfied that he would not do better —that it was not in him. He so advised his manager and said. ‘ I find that Mr. J. has tipped too far over the hill to be pulled back, and the service will be better without him.’

“ Again, the management on another line requested the chairman of the committee to advise an employee that he was not giving satisfactory service, and suggested that he take a less responsible position. The proposition was fair, and it was complied with to the satisfaction of everybody. This procedure is not uncommon in railroad service.”

To illustrate further, I will give two cases which recently occurred on New England lines. Within a month, the chairman of an organization informed the train-master that a certain freight conductor was drinking, not to the extent of becoming intoxicated, but just enough to make him stupid and unsafe. He had managed to escape the detection of the train-masters. The committeemen had warned him, but he did not take it seriously, so the chairman came personally to the train-master. An effective warning saved the conductor from disgrace and the company from possible accident.

The second New England illustration applies to engineers. The general manager was greatly concerned about the number of engineers who were not giving proper regard to the observance of automatic signals. The offenders who were detected by surprise tests were disciplined, but the trouble seemed to continue. He thereupon called in the chairman of the engineers’ committee, had a talk with him about the condition, and requested the chairman to use some good means of his own to bring home to the men the danger and discredit of such carelessness or indifference. This the chairman did with gratifying results.

Parenthetically, I should say a word about the attitude of the brotherhoods on surprise tests, or tests to determine to what extent automatic or other signals are disregarded, or signal rules ignored. The most common method of making such tests is to set a signal in the stop position by disconnecting the wires. The signal selected usually is in an out-ofthe-way spot, and two or three officials and a signalman will be secreted near by to observe and record how the signal or the rule is regarded. Sometimes a signal light is extinguished, and an observation made as to how the rule is obeyed which requires the engineer to stop and make a report of the occurrence. On the Pennsylvania Railroad, recent tests of this kind, running up into many thousands, indicated that the percentage of engineers observing the rules absolutely was 99.1 per cent on automatic signals, and 99.6 per cent on fusees and torpedoes. The few engineers who failed absolutely to live up to the rules partially observed them by reducing speed or stopping after passing the signal.

Surprise-testing is now general throughout the country, and is a most effective means of out-on-the-road supervision. The engineers’ brotherhood has never objected to it; in fact, they look on it as an advantage to them, because it soon shows the careless runners, and the stigma is placed upon them, instead of upon the whole organization.

As further evidence of the policy of railroad train-men on train-accidents, I am indebted to the editor of their journal for a copy of a resolution passed at their Buffalo convention in May, 1907. It reads: —

“WHEREAS, we feel that it is the duty of our brotherhood to teach its members that they owe the best of service to their employers, to the end that railway disasters, that have been so common within the past few years, may in no sense be attributed to inferior service on the part of the men employed in the train-service departments ; therefore, be it

RESOLVED : That the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen will obey the rules and regulations of its employers until such time as it has been clearly proven that these rules have been misinterpreted and are beyond adjustment. In such event, the usual rules of the organization will be employed to secure adjustment of the condition of which the complaint is made.”

The phraseology of the resolution is a little obscure; but, as interpreted by an official of the brotherhood, it means that in the event of a subordinate official giving orders which may seem unreasonable or even absurd, such orders are to be obeyed without question, so that trainmen may not be charged with disregarding authoritative instructions. Flagrant cases are to be reported to higher authority, but in no case are orders to be disregarded, unless involving danger.

Only a few weeks ago the engineers’ committee of a line running out of Boston made suggestions to the management with regard to the location of new automatic signals, and has had assurance that the location suggested will be selected. This is a common occurrence on all roads. Valuable suggestions in regard to time-tables, train-service, and many other features of operation, emanate from committeemen as well as from other employees.

The Railroad Age Gazette of March 26, 1909, contains an article referring to the coöperation between the management of the Ann Arbor Railroad and the brotherhoods employed on its lines. Meetings are held monthly at which accidents are discussed, and employees of all branches of the service are present. The circular announcing the meeting is signed by the chairmen of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, Order of Railway Conductors, Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, and Order of Railroad Telegraphers, and the suggestive topic of the last meeting was: “ In the interests of the company and the employees, how can we raise the standard of efficiency ? ” The meetings are presided over by an official of the company, the call is issued officially by the brotherhoods, and the instance is a good one to show how closely together some of the railroads and their employees’ organizations are working.

Railroad managers generally recognize that the railroad brotherhoods, wisely constituted and conservatively managed as they are to-day, are not without advantage to employer as well as to employee. It is plain to every one that such organizations have come to stay, and the condition is generally accepted.

Like all forms of industrial activity, railroad organization and operating methods have changed radically in recent years. The superintendent can no longer call all his men by name and know their personal history, as he could years ago. The intimate relations between official and employee, possible under earlier conditions on the small railroad, have disappeared in the consolidation of short lines and branches into divisions, and divisions into districts. The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad system is comprised of nearly two hundred small roads; the Boston and Maine system has approximately one hundred and twentyfive; and the four hundred miles of the Boston and Albany, now a part of the New York Central system, is made up of thirteen smaller roads, all of which at one time had distinctive rules and rates of pay. Under these conditions of consolidation it is now impracticable to deal with employees as individuals. It is easier, just as effective, and more binding, to negotiate the working agreement with committees from the organizations. Such an agreement has the backing of the entire organization and carries with it a reasonable stability of rates and working rules, which is as much a protection to the company as to the men. The brotherhoods lay great stress on the inviolability of the working agreement.

As an instance of the manner in which the contract is supported by the organization, I will mention the unauthorized strike of the engineers on the New York Elevated several years ago, when the motive power was being changed from steam to electricity. The local lodge struck, in violation of the terms of the agreement and against the instructions of the officers of the brotherhood. The action of the lodge was promptly repudiated by the organization, the entire lodge expelled from membership, and its charter canceled.

Another and more striking case occurred at New Haven in the latter part of 1907. The local lodge of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen employed in the yards of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad struck without the authority of the executive officers of the organization. The Vice-Grand Master immediately ordered the striking members of the brotherhood to resume work, and called upon other lodges of the brotherhood on that railroad to furnish men to take the places of any of the striking members who might refuse to recognize his authority. Twenty-five brotherhood men from Providence, R. I., with the consent and advice of the system chairman, volunteered their services, and the Order of Railroad Conductors officially discountenanced the strike (which they declared illegal, unwarranted, and in violation of the schedule), assuring the management of the railroad of their moral support. Naturally, the strike was short-lived and ineffective.


The foregoing, in a general way, covers the subject within the defined limits — the bearing of brotherhood influence on the safety and efficiency of train-service. It may be well, in concluding, to summarize some of the points which have been emphasized: —

The existence of railroad labor unions, while a natural result of the economic and social forces underlying the general trades-union movement, was hastened by inconsiderate treatment and favoritism years ago. Instead of antagonizing the brotherhoods, the efforts of railroad managers should be and are being directed to the development of their good features by closer coöperation and a better understanding of mutual obligations, rights, and interests.

Some of the fundamental defects of all labor unions apply to railroad brotherhoods, but the indefensible policies and acts of violence which are common to some of the trades unions are not a part of the principle or practice of the men in train-service. The railroad man, by the very nature of the service which he performs, is trained along more liberal lines. Strict discipline and absolute regard for orders are a part of his existence, and tend to make his brotherhoods a conservative and well-balanced type of labor union.

By the execution of the working agreement, the rates of pay and rules are simplified and made uniform, and the information furnished to everybody concerned. The handling of negotiations through committees facilitates the work, and is the only practicable method with large bodies of men.

The rule of promotion by seniority was caused by, and has corrected, favoritism. It promotes loyalty and peace of mind in the rank-and-file, and on that account its objectionable features may profitably be overlooked for the greater gain.

The right of appeal is in accord with the first principles of fairness and justice.

The superintendent should not object to having his disciplinary action reviewed, any more than the judge of the lower court should resent an appeal to a higher court. The cases where just decisions have been reversed by higher authority are few, and are not subversive of discipline. Railroad officers generally are in sympathy with the spirit of the rule giving employees the right of appeal.

The articles in the wage-schedule which apparently circumscribe the authority of the superintendent are nearly all due to some former misunderstanding or lack of consideration on the part of minor officials in requiring to be done without compensation work which was not contemplated as a regular feature of the run. With few exceptions, the concessions granted are those which by right the employee should have.

The relations generally between railroad managements and committees are harmonious and coöperative; the committees make frequent suggestions in line with better and safer service, and the management occasionally uses the committees to get information or instructions before the employees which might not be so effective if promulgated officially.

Finally, taking all things into consideration, including the universal tendency to centralize, I believe that the railroads and the public have nothing to fear from the railroad brotherhoods, as now organized and conducted. The public has a right to look to railroad managers to maintain proper discipline, and the railroad managers have it within their power to maintain proper discipline. The solution of the problem of eradicating the defects to which attention has been called lies in closer, more friendly, and more reciprocal relations between the managements and the organizations. Tangible progress has been made to that end, and the outlook for further progress is promising.