How We Saved Our Right to Vote

September 28, 2010: In August, BLET members voted 6,305 to 2,452 to save their Right to Vote.

The vote was so lopsided because dozens of BLET members got organized and took a stand. Here’s how they made it happen.

Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) have overwhelmingly voted down an initiative that would take away their Right to Vote before they ever got a chance to use it.

Now their first ever democratic vote for top BLET officers is on for this November—and it’s shaping up to be a tight race.

In December 2009, BLET officials put forward an initiative to take away members’ Right to Vote.

Why did they oppose the Right to Vote? The officials who opposed democracy in the BLET said the Right to Vote was too expensive and too complicated. And they said that members were not informed enough to choose their officers.

The real reason was a different story: “The National Division Officers fear the wrath of the membership more than anything else,” explained Abe Vasquez, Local Chairman of Division 582 in Chicago. “They know they can more easily compromise the delegate structure to tilt the required number of votes to their favor with gratuitous arrangements, promises, and no doubt with threats and intimidation if necessary.”

Members Organize

Right away, BLET members from Teamsters for a Democratic Union joined up with other members and launched a campaign to save the Right to Vote.

They called their group BLET Members for Democracy and started educating members about the attack on their rights. “The single most effective way to campaign on this issue was talking to members one-on-one or in small groups,” said Robert Hill, an engineer on the BNSF in Division 758.

“For those who wanted to roll back the clock and take away this right, it was an uphill battle to convince members to give up that fundamental right,” said Ron Kaminkow, an Amtrak engineer in Nevada Division 51.

When the ballots came out in June, Hugh Sawyer, the president of BLET Division 316 in Atlanta, wrote a letter that was sent to every voter.

“The challenge was to make sure that the word got out, accurately, on exactly what the proponents of the resolution were trying to accomplish,” Sawyer said. “The rest was a no brainer.”

A Neutral Stand?

One candidate for the top spot in the BLET’s election, Tom Brennan, came out swinging in support of the Right to Vote. He put out blast emails and flyers to help the effort to save the Right to Vote.

The incumbent candidate, Dennis Pierce, opposed the Right to Vote when it first came to a vote in 2006.

This time Pierce tried to hide behind a “neutral” stance. But many BLET insiders report that he worked hard behind the scenes to kill the Right to Vote.

“Once members understood the situation, they quickly opposed the initiative and could easily see through the political maneuvering and motivation for taking away their right to vote,” said Ed Michael, a Union Pacific engineer on Division 724 in Illinois. “They were not fooled.”

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