July 1, 2010: The third BLET president in a row has resigned. The initiative to take away the Right to Vote is headed to a vote.
The power to shape the future of the BLET is in the members’ hands.
Last month, Teamster Voice predicted that Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) president Paul Sorrow was headed for a showdown this fall against rank-and-file challenger Tom Brennan in the union’s first ever one-member, one-vote election.
We were wrong.
On June 3, Sorrow suddenly announced his resignation—surprising BLET officers and members.
Since 2006, no BLET president has served a full term.
In 2007, President Don Hahs was kicked out of the union for spending tens of thousands of union funds on basketball tickets and trips for his wife. In 2009, police arrested President Ed Rodzwicz for soliciting a $20,000 bribe from a lawyer looking for union business.
Now Sorrow has resigned after serving for less than eight months, for health reasons.
BLET First Vice President Dennis Pierce has taken Sorrow’s place, and announced he is running for the top spot in the union in the election this November.
Will Members Get to Vote?
That election may not happen, if some officials get their way.
An initiative to take away the Right to Vote has passed its first hurdle. Now it is going out to a vote of every BLET member.
“The Right to Vote gives us the tools to hold our leaders accountable, punish officers who violate our trust, and root out corruption from our union,” said Hugh Sawyer, president of BLET division 316, in a letter that will be sent to every BLET member along with their ballots to vote on the initiative.
“Why should the members ever give up that right?” Sawyer asked.
Division 316 is the division that originally proposed the Right to Vote for BLET officers.
The Candidates Weigh In
In 2006, BLET members voted almost two-to-one for the Right to Vote. But the new president Dennis Pierce opposed it.
Now, in a cryptic statement on his campaign website, Pierce seems to say that he will go along with the Right to Vote. But he doesn’t come out saying he supports the Right to Vote or opposes the initiative to take it away.
In fact, the initiative to take away members’ Right to Vote was put forward by Pierce’s home division, as well as the home division of his running mate Lee Pruitt.
Pierce did not return our phone call to clarify his position.
Tom Brennan, his challenger, has come out strongly in favor of the Right to Vote, and demanded that Pierce do the same.
Now more than ever, the power to shape the future of the BLET is in the hands of its members. They will decide if they keep the Right to Vote, or throw it away.
BLET Unity Slate here.
Tom Brennan New Leadership Team here.
June 4, 2010: In 2006, BLET members voted two-to-one for the Right to Vote for top officers. But now some officials are trying to take it away—and they’re one step closer to their goal.
Last December, a few BLET officials put forward an initiative to reverse the membership vote and take away the Right to Vote.
To get past the first hurdle with their anti-democracy initiative, these officials had to get divisions representing 25 percent of the membership to endorse the initiative. They’ve reportedly succeeded—at least in round one.
Now the opponents of democracy have to get over a much bigger hurdle. This month, the entire membership of the BLET will be mailed a ballot to vote on whether or not they want to give up the Right to Vote.
The timing couldn’t be better for officers who want to avoid having an election. The first ever one-member, one-vote election is scheduled for this November. In April, rank-and-file member Tom Brennan announced his candidacy for the top spot. And this week, BLET President Paul Sorrow announced he’s stepping down in July.
Sorrow is the third BLET president to resign since 2006. His last two predecessors resigned in disgrace: Don Hahs embezzled tens of thousands of dues money, and Ed Rodzwicz solicited a $20,000 bribe from an attorney.
In 2006, Sorrow’s replacement, Dennis Pierce, actively campaigned against the Right to Vote. Is he hoping to hold on to his new office without a vote of the entire membership?
BLET members have put out a new flyer asking members “Are you TOO DUMB to vote?” Click here to download the flyer.
June 3, 2010: BLET National President Paul T. Sorrow submitted a letter to National Secretary-Treasurer William C. Walpert today, advising that he is resigning the Presidency effective July 1, 2010, in order to retire. President Sorrow’s letter also stated the following:
"I have always known that my time would come, and trusted that I would have the wisdom to recognize this before anyone else. The pace of the past couple of months has taken a significant toll on me physically. Considering the even greater demands of the coming months that will be placed upon the National President by virtue of my in-depth involvement in the regional meetings and the upcoming Quadrennial Convention, I have concluded, with the advice of my physician, that now is the appropriate time for me to depart.
Click here to read more at the BLET website.
June 1, 2010: BLET National President Paul Sorrow and rank-and-file engineer Tom Brennan are running for the union’s top job in the BLET’s first ever one-member, one-vote direct election.
Everything is in place now for the BLET national election: rules, a nominating convention, and now candidates.
Tom Brennan, a rank-and-file engineer, became the first official candidate when he announced his bid for the top spot in the union back in April.
Paul Sorrow, the current president of the union, is expected to run for the top spot. But he has not announced his candidacy yet.
This will be Sorrow’s first time to run for president. He succeeded Ed Rodzwicz, who was removed from union office for accepting a $20,000 bribe.
Tom Brennan has run for top office before, at the 2006 BLET convention, where he got 42 percent of the delegate vote against Don Hahs. Hahs left office for embezzling union funds, and was succeeded by Rodzwicz.
“Can’t Sit Back”
“There’s no way I can sit back and allow the people who are running our organization to disgrace us and make us the laughing stock of rail labor,” Brennan said in an interview. “When you don’t have any respect walking in the door, you don’t have any way to get things done for your membership.”
Brennan says his top issue is pay: “I think our leaders have short-changed us at the negotiating table. I’m not of the belief that we’re paid enough. Most people in Cleveland at BLET headquarters don’t understand the difficult nature of our job, because they haven’t been out there for years. They just don’t get it.”
Even though he is running against an incumbent in a national union that is spread out all across the country, Brennan said he thinks he can win: “It’s a David versus Goliath battle. But I really like our chances.”
Paul Sorrow did not respond to our request for comments. He, and any other candidates who emerge, can be interviewed for a future issue.
Will the Election Happen?
As Teamster Voice goes to press, some BLET officials are still trying to stop the election from happening. But their time is running out.
They have until June 1 to get divisions representing 25 membership of the membership to approve an initiative taking away the Right to Vote.
BLET members won the Right to Vote in 2006, through a referendum. But this fall will be the first time they get to use it.
The Right to Vote is the best way for members to protect their union and to hold their officials accountable.
May 11, 2010: A 76-year-old transportation law was swept away Monday under a rule change announced by a federal agency.
The National Mediation Board, which oversees labor-management relations in the transportation industry, said future elections will require a simple majority of employees voting in favor of union representation. The upshot is that workers in the airline and railroad industries will have an easier path to organizing.
The previous rule, under the Railway Labor Act, counted any worker who did not participate as a “no” vote.
Read the full article at the Kansas City Star.
April 2, 2010: In 2006, members in the Pacific Federation of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) in the Teamsters held their first-ever one-member, one-vote election for officers.
Now members are losing the Right to Vote.
In March, Pac Fed officials announced that they are merging with the Unified System Division.
A new election for officers was scheduled for later this year in the Pac Fed. That election is cancelled and members will not get to vote on their new officers.
Instead, delegates will choose the new officers of the division at the Unified’s convention in October.
Members of the Unified can win the Right to Vote if two-thirds of their delegates and at least half of their officers vote to approve the one-member, one-vote elections.
March 5, 2010: The former president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen has pleaded guilty to bribery charges for accepting $20,000 in bribes from a St. Louis lawyer.
Edward Rodzwicz, 63, of Avon, Ohio, pleaded guilty to one felony count of bribery in connection with a federally funded program and one felony count of interstate travel to carry on unlawful activity. He appeared before U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw in St. Louis.
Click here to read more at the St Louis Business Journal.
February 15, 2010: Officials from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Trainmen and Engineers in the IBT (BLET) are getting closer to their goal: to take away members’ Right to Vote for top BLET officers.
Unofficial reports say that they’re about halfway there.Members Slowing Them Down
Officials announced their initiative back in December, and many rail experts expected them to clear that first hurdle by now.
What slowed them down? The members, voting the proposal down overwhelmingly in divisions from New York to El Paso, Delaware to Illinois.
But officials have still have until June 1 to hit their target. If they succeed, then the initiative will go to the entire membership for a vote.What Happens Next?
If officials hit the 25 percent mark, the entire membership of the BLET will get a chance to vote on their proposal.
Members won the Right to Vote in 2006. The first-ever one-member, one-vote election for BLET officers is scheduled for this Fall.
The officials want to pass their initiative before that vote ever happens. You can bet the other side is out organizing to get the extra divisions they need.
Members can stop them. Here’s what you can do to protect the Right to Vote:
- Download the NEW flyer and distribute it to members.
- Are you on Facebook? Become a fan of the Right to Vote page on Facebook—and invite other BLETers to become fans by clicking on the “Share” link in the left-hand column.
- Ask members to sign the petition to save our Right to Vote. BE SURE to ask members to write down their email address—that’s our number one way to communicate with members.
What are you doing to protect the Right to Vote? Click here to send a message to the TDU Rail Chapter.
January 29, 2010: Some rail officials are trying to take away the Right to Vote for BLET officers before members ever get a chance to use it.
Now members are coming together to save the Right to Vote.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), now part of the Teamsters, is one of the oldest unions in the U.S. But they’ve never had a rank-and-file election for their top officers—until now.
The first ever one-member, one-vote election for BLET top officers is scheduled for this fall.
But that election won’t happen if some BLET officials get their way.
In December, BLET divisions 13, 98, 155, and 236 circulated a petition to overturn the new voting system. And they’re hoping to get it passed before the first election can happen.
Their goal is to let the delegates to the BLET convention choose the union’s top officers—the union’s old system for choosing officers.
Why? They say that elections cost too much, that members don’t vote, and that delegates are more informed than average members and will make better decisions.
Was the old system better? Three of the last top officers chosen by the delegates at the last convention are now gone in disgrace—including two presidents. Police arrested the last president, Ed Rodzwicz, at his home for taking a $20,000 bribe from a union attorney.
Three Hurdles to Pass
To pass, the initiative will have to clear three hurdles.
First, divisions representing 25 percent of the BLET membership have to take action at a meeting to support the initiative.
If it doesn’t get that support in six months, the initiative dies.
If it clears that hurdle, a ballot will be sent to every member to vote on the initiative.
Finally, if a majority of voters agree to give up their Right to Vote, Hoffa will get a say. The Teamster General President must approve the initiative for it to take effect.
Hoffa has the power to stop the takeaway and save members’ Right to Vote right now by promising not to approve the initiative.
Members Say ‘No!’
Rank-and-file members and local officers are getting organized to save the Right to Vote.
They’ve formed BLET Members for Democracy, and they’re organizing conference calls, distributing flyers and a four-page Q&A, and getting members to sign a petition to save the Right to Vote.
Their efforts are already meeting with success. Reports are rolling in from divisions that have voted down the initiative: El Paso Division 192, Delaware Division 484, and Little Rock Division 182, for example. Illinois Division 724 and New York Division 11 voted down the initiative unanimously.
Most divisions have not considered the measure yet. You can help save the Right to Vote. Download flyers, the Q&A, and the petition at www.tdu.org/blet-vote
December 18, 2009: Just two months after the head of the BLET was arrested for taking a $20,000 bribe, some rail officials are trying to take away the Right to Vote for BLET officials.
They’re educating members about how the Right to Vote lets them hold top officials accountable.
Click here to download a flyer from BLET Members for Democracy.
Click here to download “Questions and Answers About the Right to Vote.”
Click here to download a petition members can sign to protect the Right to Vote.
Want to find out more? Email the new committee at info [at] bletmembersfordemocracy.org
What do you think? Click here to send your comments and suggestions to Teamsters for a Democratic Union.