October 5, 2010: Delegates to the BLET Convention have withdrawn a resolution that would have taken away members’ Right to Vote.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to bypass the will of the membership and strip the members of the right to a one-member-one-vote election this fall—has withdrawn their resolution to amend the bylaws.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In other news, Division #98 has withdrawn another resolution to amend the bylaws that would have made it virtually impossible for the membership to ever conduct another rank-and-file initiative, by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.
August 2, 2010: The ballots are out and BLET members are voting on whether or not they should keep the Right to Vote for their top officers. The ballots will be counted on Aug. 30.
Read the letter that Hugh Sawyer, President of BLET Division 316, sent to every member about this vote.
Dear Sisters and Brothers:
In 2006, the members of our union voted almost two-to-one for the Right to Vote.
Our first ever one-member, one-vote election is scheduled for this fall.
But now the members who opposed democracy and lost that vote are back again, trying to eliminate democratic elections in our union—before we ever get a chance to use it.
You can save the Right to Vote by voting No on the enclosed initiative.
Democracy and Accountability
Most BLET officers are honest and believe in the members. But under any system of government, there’s always the threat that some officials will use their office to benefit themselves—not the members.
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.
Why should the members ever give up that right?
Who Should Decide?
In his letter proposing to eliminate democratic elections, K.B. Pinson, president of Division 236 says the initiative is “intended to restore representative democracy by returning the right to elect ND Officers to our Delegates to the 2010 National Division Convention.”
That doesn’t sound like representative democracy to me. Democracy means you get to elect who leads and represents you.
We have a representative democracy in the United States. You get to vote for your mayor, representatives, governor, and president.
So why not the leadership of the BLET?
Whose Vote Counts?
The opponents of democratic elections say that it’s better to let the delegates to BLET conventions pick our officers.
But the delegate system doesn’t represent all BLET members equally. Some delegates represent hundreds of members. Others represent less than a dozen.
But their votes count the exact same. That means members in larger divisions get less of a say about who should run our union.
Under a democratic election, every member’s vote counts just the same, no matter what division you come from.
Some of the people who are trying to take away your Right to Vote say they are opposed to democratic elections because the majority of members don’t vote.
That’s just not true for all elections in our union. Just one example: the majority of members did vote on our merger with the Teamsters.
The majority of Americans don’t vote in every national election we have. But no one is talking about taking away our Right to Vote for our representatives in the United States.
I think we can all agree that we need more membership participation in our union—a lot more.
But taking away the Right to Vote does just the opposite. It sends a message to members that their voice doesn’t count. That’s the wrong message.
The cost of the balloting process is a fraction of the cost of a full Convention day that could be potentially saved. After all, how much is this initiative ballot costing?
Much has been made about an uninformed membership. In the 21st century, each member will have access to all candidates’ web sites via the BLET website. This makes it easy for the membership to get the information they need to make a sober, rational decision on who they want to represent their issues at the national level.
What can you do to save your Right to Vote? Vote No on the enclosed ballot and send it in right away. And tell other members to Vote No.
Together we can save democracy in our union.
Hugh L. Sawyer Jr. President, Div
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.