October 6, 2011: An overwhelming 97 percent majority of BLET members have voted to authorize a strike when a mandatory 30-day cooling off period under the Railway Labor Act comes to an end later this week.
Locomotive engineers would walk off the job at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on October 7, 2011, unless President Obama intervenes and appoints a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB). A PEB would halt any strike or lockout by the parties, and would investigate and issue a report and recommendations concerning the dispute.
As background, the National Mediation Board released the BLET and 10 other Rail Labor unions from mediation with the rail carriers on September 6, creating a 30-day cooling off period, which expires at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on October 7, 2011. At that point self-help is available to the parties, which means the BLET and/or any of the other unions could go on strike.
BLET National President Dennis Pierce said the near unanimous vote in favor of a strike is a clear mandate from BLET members that they are unwilling to accept a concessionary contract and cuts in health care coverage.
“It is unfortunate that, in this time of record industry profits, the carriers insist upon attempting to take advantage of a weakened general economy to further line its corporate pockets at the expense of the railroad workers whose labor generates those profits,” Pierce said. “And it is shameful that the carriers have chosen to specifically target those railroad workers who are most vulnerable — older workers and the sick and injured — to shoulder a disproportionate share of the demanded givebacks.”
President Pierce said the level of voter turnout was higher than any referendum in decades. He thanked the BLET Mobilization Network for helping generate the high level of membership participation. He also thanked the members for their participation and patience throughout the process, especially when high call volume caused phone lines to crash in the early days of the strike authorization vote.
August 10, 2011: The second quarter brought good news again for the US's four major public rail carriers, while Old Dominion again flew high among less-than-truckload carriers in a quarter that all improved their results if not exactly deliver outstanding results in some cases.
As shown in the chart below, all four public rail carriers (Burlington Northern was acquired by Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway in 2009) enjoyed strong results, and continued to enjoy relatively strong pricing power. Despite car load growth of just about 3% for three of the four (the smallest of the four, Kansas City Southern, saw volume growth of 7%), revenues were up 13.3-17.9% for all four of them.
Click here to read more.
July 15, 2011: Teamster rail workers are urging fellow unionists in the United Transportation Union (UTU) to reject a substandard contract negotiated by UTU leaders.
“The UTU rank and file should say No to this deal,” reads a leaflet other rail unions are distributing. The leaflet points out that the carriers are making record profits, so it is time to make gains, not give concessions.
The rail carriers want to use the UTU contract as a “pattern” in bargaining with all other rail unions, to drag them down to subpar gains and concessions on health care.
The rail industry is heavily unionized, but divided among several unions. Most work together through the Rail Labor Bargaining Coalition. The UTU broke ranks and signed a deal which is unacceptable to the bulk of rail workers.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (BMWE), two of the larger rail unions, are both affiliated with the IBT.
More information about the struggle of rail workers to win a fair contract is available here.
July 14, 2011: An Appeal To Reason - United Transportation Union (UTU) recently released to the public their tentative national agreement with the Class 1 Freight Railroads resolving wages, health care and rules covering the six year period from 2010-2016. The last five years have seen the Freight Railroads post record profits. The new proposal is substantially worse than the one negotiated under President Bush’s National Mediation Board in 2007. When that agreement was concluded, the Freight Railroad’s profits were half of what they are today.
Click here to read more.
March 30, 2011: Imagine an election where all non-voters are counted as “NO” voters. It’s undemocratic, and it would make it extremely hard to get enough “YES” votes to pass anything.
That’s exactly what House Transportation Chairman John Mica has in mind for airline and railway workers who are voting in union elections. Mica, who has taken more than $620,000 in campaign contributions from the airline industry, has put a provision into the FAA reauthorization bill that would make it much more difficult for railway and airline employees to form unions.
Click here to read more at Jobs with Justice.
October 5, 2010: Delegates to the BLET Convention have withdrawn a resolution that would have taken away members’ Right to Vote.
In August, BLET members voted three to one to save their Right to Vote. The first one-member, one-vote election for top BLET officers is scheduled for this fall.
Read the report from the BLET convention below from Ron Kaminkow, a member of Division 51.
BLET Elections Controversy -- Division #98 Does the Right Thing and Backs Off
BLET Division 98—the home division of BLET President Dennis Pierce and sponsor of the resolution to bypass the will of the membership and strip the members of the right to a one-member-one-vote election this fall—has withdrawn their resolution to amend the bylaws. The matter now appears to finally be settled. Yes, there WILL be an election this fall for all BLET members to take part in!
In other news, Division #98 has withdrawn another resolution to amend the bylaws that would have made it virtually impossible for the membership to ever conduct another rank-and-file initiative, by making the threshold to trigger such a referendum of the members way too high (I guess they were unhappy that theirs was trounced... so they didn't want anyone else to utilize the procedure that they themselves had just made use of!)
And Harrisburg NS Division #74 has introduced a resolution to amend the bylaws to allow for one-member-one-vote elections for our officers to the General Committees of Adjustment.
The spirit of democracy is flourishing in our Brotherhood (and Sisterhood)!
More news direct from the BLET Convention in Reno, NV. as it develops.
Ron Kaminkow, BLET #51
September 28, 2010: Canadian National Railway offered new contract terms that include cutting the crew size on some trains, said a spokesman for the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, and the union is preparing a response.
TCRC spokesman Bryan Boechler told The Journal of Commerce that while either side could trigger a labor action - a strike or a lockout - after giving 72 hours notice, "we have no intention of serving strike notice."
Click here to read more at The Journal of Commerce.
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.”
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.”
August 30, 2010: By an overwhelming vote of 6,305 to 2,452, members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) in the Teamsters have saved the Right to Vote for their top officers.
BLET members won the Right to Vote in 2006, by a smaller margin and lower turnout.
That was before three of the union’s top officers left in disgrace for misusing tens of thousands of dollars of union funds, double-dipping on expenses, and soliciting a $20,000 bribe from an attorney.
In December, officials from Divisions 13, 98, 155, and 236 started circulating petitions to take away the Right to Vote, and the issue was put to a referendum vote. Behind the scenes, top BLET officers campaigned hard to take away members’ democratic rights.
Right away, rank-and-file members and local officers mobilized to protect their rights.
“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 and a member of TDU’s Steering Committee, in a letter that was mailed to all BLET members.
“Why should the members ever give up that right?”
First Direct Election in Full Swing
Now the BLET’s first-ever one-member, one-vote election for top officers is moving ahead in full swing.
Tom Brennan, a local chairman and candidate for BLET President, supported the Right to Vote vocally from the beginning.
The incumbent candidate for president, Dennis Pierce, refused to come out publicly for or against the Right to Vote. Privately he worked to pass the initiative and take away members’ Right to Vote.
Sore Losers Prepare for Round Three?
The members have spoken—they want the Right to Vote.
But the officials of Division 98 have already submitted a resolution to the union convention that would strip members of the Right to Vote. Their resolution could be heading to the convention floor for a vote in October.
Keeping the Right to Vote should be a no-brainer for delegates at the Convention. The members have spoken loud and clear on this issue—twice.
We hope Division 98 officials will do the right thing and withdraw their resolution before the convention even begins.