By Dennis R. Pierce
BLET National President
(BLET Editor’s Note: The following message from BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce has been excerpted from the April 2017 issue of the Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen News.)
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, May 3 — My last President’s Message contained the text of the remarks that I prepared to present to an American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA) gathering celebrating that union’s 100th Anniversary in March. I was honored to join over 100 ATDA officers and members at that gathering, and truly enjoyed the interaction that we shared across craft lines. My take away from that historic event was this: it is more imperative now than ever before that all rail union members join together and find ways to work in unison when and where we can. That is best accomplished when the officers of our National Organizations work hand-in-hand, setting a clear example of the solidarity that is so needed at this time.
A week after I attended the ATDA gathering, I was honored to attend a BLET Town Hall meeting in Kansas City. The meeting was set up by the BNSF General Committees of Adjustment representing BLET members in the Kansas City area, with General Chairman Alan Holdcraft taking the lead role in that process. My thanks go to Brother Alan; the work that his General Committee did ahead of the meeting got the word out and was in large part why over 100 BLET members were in attendance at the Town Hall meeting. Those members came with questions and concerns that included recent actions by BNSF and Union Pacific in the Kansas City area, as well as questions and concerns about the National Contract and recent developments in Washington, D.C.
Meetings like this Town Hall Meeting are at the core of what I have been saying in my recent messages to you: member involvement in our shared future makes for a stronger rail union movement. Meetings like this not only give the officers of BLET’s General Committees and the National Division a chance to candidly share information on current events, they also give us a chance for fellowship as union Brothers and Sisters. More importantly for me, personally, is the chance for the membership to share on-the-job stories and situations, and what I have heard makes it clear to me that the railroads are treating the membership worse and worse as locomotive engineers and trainmen make a good faith effort to perform their responsibilities professionally. Key tenets of the union movement like fair treatment in the workplace, fair pay and fair benefits for a fair day’s work, are being constantly challenged in today’s workplace. Hearing those stories first hand directly from the membership helps me to stay focused on the issues and priorities that our Union should be pursuing, and I offer my thanks to all of the members who took the time out of their busy schedules to join us at the Town Hall meeting.
Moving to April, I also was honored to attend a Training Class in Tucson, Arizona, set up by Arizona State Legislative Board Chairman Nick Johnson. As the tone of today’s politics moves to a more anti-worker platform, it is imperative that we have strong State Legislative Boards, and I am encouraged by the interaction that Vice President and National Legislative Representative John Tolman and I shared with the Officers of the Arizona State Legislative Board. BLET’s National Division Director of Regulatory Affairs and former Arizona State Legislative Board Chairman Vince Verna also was in attendance, sharing information on the current regulatory front in DC. Whether it be the State Board’s efforts to enroll more and more members into the BLET PAC Fund, or their efforts to make a difference in the State’s politics and regulations, it is clear to me that the Arizona State Legislative Board is proactively performing the responsibilities that BLET’s Bylaws expect of all State Boards and I commend them for that.
My time in Tucson did not end with the State Board’s training session, however, as I was further honored to attend the April Meeting of BLET Division 28. The April meeting is an important meeting for Division 28 as it is the annual “Old Timers” meeting, where all retired members are invited to join the Division for a lunch time of fellowship and memories. As I have often said, the retirement that our Railroad Retirement system provides creates the best job that any member can bid on. I was privileged at the meeting to listen to stories of the past and the present; we can learn a lot from our senior members, both those approaching retirement and those enjoying retirement. In reality, the railroads may change the play of the day, and things may progress from bad to worse, but their general callous disregard for the lifestyle of their operating employees has not changed for decades. It was truly a pleasure to see members young and old gather, and, in doing so, reinforce the importance of our Union, and the need for strong unions in the rail industry.
As I write this piece, I am now travelling to attend the annual meeting of the National Association of Legislative Board Chairmen (NASLBC). Our State Chairmen meet every year to discuss the issues that confront us both on legislative and regulatory fronts and, as I said before, it has never been more important that we have a strong Legislative Department within our Organization. As National President, I also serve as Chairman of our National Legislative Board, a responsibility that I take very seriously. Our efforts in the coming week will be to assist the Association in its efforts to provide support to BLET’s State Legislative Boards as their battles are our battles.
The week following the NASLBC meeting, I will travel to join our Western General Chairmen’s Association for their annual meeting. As with our legislative and regulatory efforts, our efforts on the collective bargaining side of the Organization are also under tremendous pressure. Whether it be harsh and excessive discipline policies or Carrier notices changing operations purely for profit at our membership’s expense, our General Committees are more challenged now than ever to keep up with the battles that their respective Carriers are dropping on them. Our efforts at this meeting will be to assist our General Committees in those battles, and to provide them with the support they need to best protect the interests of their collective memberships.
I share this story of my travels to meet with Union Members and Officers — both within our Brotherhood and in other rail unions — for a very important reason. In the time that I have been honored to serve as your National President, I have made an effort to be in the field meeting with our rank and file members and officers at all levels. I have worked very hard to be accessible to the membership, and to take the time to better understand what is going on in the industry through their experiences, as opposed to the version that the railroads’ propaganda machine shares. The reasons I continue to do this is because I believe in the union movement, and honestly believe that we are at our strongest when we convince more and more members to get involved in their union by taking an interest in our shared future. Our strength is best shown when we all act in a common fashion, and as our National Contract negotiations unfold this year, our solidarity stands to be greatly tested.
I ask each of you again to get involved, take the time to learn the truth about what is going on in our industry, and don’t get pulled into the Carrier’s “fake news” version of what they have offered your union in our negotiations. To stay up to date, make an effort to join us at one of our Regional Meetings this year, San Antonio, Texas in June and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in August. This is your Union, and it is strongest when you are involved.