National Legislative Office

Welcome to the website of the National Legislative Office of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a division of the Rail Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

This site is intended to be a resource for BLET members, as well as anyone who is interested in the legislative and regulatory activities of our union.

As the site evolves it is our hope that it will be a useful tool in helping the BLET to continue to maintain, expand and deepen its relationships with Congress, labor leaders, government agencies and the general public.     Read Vice President Tolman's welcome message...

March 25, 2015

BLET urges Senators to oppose PTC extension

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) announced today that it strongly opposes S. 650, the Railroad Safety and Positive Train Control Extension Act, which is expected to be voted on in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation within hours.

Positive Train Control (PTC) is a technology that will prevent most train-to-train collisions in the rail industry, and was mandated by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008. The Deadline for implementation of PTC technology is December 31, 2015, and when it is completed, the technology will cover nearly 60,000 miles of track. S. 650 proposes extending the deadline for the implementation of PTC from the current deadline to December 31, 2020, with the possibility of an additional two-year extension to 2022.

In addition to the blanket extension, the legislation prohibits the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) from ever requiring railroads other than Class I and passenger/commuter railroads to have PTC if “the railroad does not choose to implement positive train control.”

Additionally, it mandates that the FRA must respond to a railroad application for extension within 10 days, which makes it nearly impossible for FRA to perform the sort of analysis required to determine whether the applicant truly cannot comply with the law, and would effectively grant the railroads the requested extension with little or no proof of legitimate need.

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said the Obama administration is opposed to extending the PTC implementation deadline, testifying before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in early February that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) continues to hold the “industry’s feet to the fire in getting PTC done as quickly as possible,” as opposed to allowing a blanket extension. In spite of that, certain railroads have convinced their “friends” in Congress to propose just that.

“Not all railroads have treated PTC the same, but contrary to statements made by certain railroads, Positive Train Control is not a new technology,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said. “It has been around in some form for more than 40 years, and has been on the National Transportation Safety Board’s most wanted technology list since 1971.

“The bottom line is that the technology saves lives, both in the railroad workplace and with the public in general. On the heels of the horrific railroad accident at Chatsworth, California that claimed 27 lives, Congress mandated in 2008 that PTC technology be implemented by the end of 2015. This latest push by Congress to now allow up to a 7-year delay raises the question of just who Congress works for – their large corporate benefactors or the general public. Those pushing this extension have obviously forgotten the multitude of avoidable railroad tragedies and resulting loss of life much quicker that I will ever be able to,” said President Pierce.

“Since 2005, the NTSB has completed 16 investigations of railroad accidents that could have been prevented or mitigated with Positive Train Control,” BLET Vice President & National Legislative Representative John Tolman said. “These 16 accidents claimed 52 lives and injured 942 people; the damages totaled hundreds of millions of dollars; and yet certain railroads have spent the last seven years dragging their feet on the implementation of PTC.

“Each death caused by the delay of PTC’s implementation is one too many, and Congress capitulating to the railroads for this broad extension is most certainly not in the public interest,” Tolman said.

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The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents more than 55,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

February 20, 2015

Right To Work battle may be coming to your state

A perennial threat to organized labor and the American middle class is once again making an appearance in state legislatures throughout the United States.

Our elected officials at the state level have taken it upon themselves to consider anti-union legislation called “Right To Work” or “Freedom To Work.” While this phrase is crafted to appeal to the most patriotic among us, the fact of the matter is that these proposed laws would severely undermine the rights that workers have on the job. “Right To Work” laws eliminate the workers’ financial obligation (dues) to a labor organization, forcing unions to perform their services for free toward the goal of eventually bankrupting the union. A bankrupt union would not be able to defend the true rights workers have.

We as railroaders enjoy decent pay, benefits, safety, retirement, and certainly have a sense of dignity and pride in what we do. These above mentioned benefits aren’t “rights” given to us by gracious corporate benefactors; rather, they are benefits that have been provided to us by the BLET through more than 150 years of negotiating and fighting with the business elite.

It has been documented across the country that these “Right To Work” laws are certainly not beneficial to the blue-collar worker. Some of the negative effects of such legislation can be seen in the following:

• It creates a situation where unions are legally required by federal law to represent all workers including those who do not contribute their fair share of the cost of that representation.

• It is meant to eliminate or at least stifle the voices of the workers by cutting off essential funding to our unions.

• Right To Work deteriorates our communities’ quality-of-life:

• Workers in Right To Work states make an average of $5,500 less than workers in worker friendly states.

• With less disposable income workers in our communities will spend less and the economic impact on our state could be disastrous.

• Fewer people have health care in Right To Work states (higher burden on taxpayers).

• The poverty rate is higher in Right To Work states (higher burden on taxpayers).

• Right To Work will bring substantial increases in Medicaid (higher burden on taxpayers).

The BLET National Mobilization Team is asking members to be prepared to take action regarding “Right To Work” by reading this News Flash and familiarizing themselves with the potentially devastating aspects of these laws.

For more information, please visit the following:

AFL-CIO Right To Work website.
Teamsters Right To Work website.

February 6, 2015

Federal hearing scheduled for next week to review SEPTA’s safety waiver

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will hold a public hearing next week to review SEPTA’s waiver of federally mandated safety rules.

The hearing was triggered by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen’s opposition to a safety waiver that allows SEPTA to stretch workdays at the expense of rest time for locomotive engineers. The BLET has called on the FRA to reject the waiver. Testimony by employees and union representatives at the hearing will document practices that force engineers to work on-call, with unpredictable schedules and phone calls from the railroad during periods designated for sleep. Interrupted sleep has a direct and negative effect on fatigue and thus safety. Currently many SEPTA engineers work 14-hour days and 6-day workweeks. Most other regional commuter railroads work engineers on 5-day a week schedule with shorter workdays.

The hearing on SEPTA’s request to continue reduced rest and recuperation time for locomotive engineers — who are the most critical safety employees on every train SEPTA operates — will take place on Tuesday, February 10th.

Who: Federal Railroad Administration
What: Hearing on SEPTA’s request for extended safety waiver
When: 10:00 a.m., Tues. February. 10, 2015
Where: First floor conference room, Baldwin Tower, 1510 Chester Pike, Crum Lynne, Pennsylvania, 19022

“Public safety is at risk; the tragedies at Metro-North should cause SEPTA and other transit agencies to review safety practices,” said BLET National Secretary-Treasurer Steve Bruno. “We’re glad the FRA listened to our request for a hearing and that it will take place in Pennsylvania. The FRA has reprimanded Metro-North for placing its rail schedule over safety considerations. We believe the February 10 hearing will show SEPTA also, is making unsafe choices.”

Last March, the FRA issued a sharply worded report on Metro-North, saying the New York commuter railroad had weakened safety standards while pushing to keep trains running on time. The report followed a fatal accident involving an engineer falling asleep on a Metro-North train that derailed in the Bronx.

“We’re going to testify next week that safety has to come first,” said Bruno. “There’s no margin of error when it comes to running a railroad the right way. We’ve seen terrible accidents due to sleep deprivation on Metro-North and other railroads, and we want to do everything possible to make sure that doesn’t happen here.”

In a recent letter to the FRA, BLET National President Dennis Pierce stated that since receiving a safety waiver in October, 2012, SEPTA has systematically reduced “the number of locomotive engineer assignments while simultaneously increasing the number of trains and route miles in the public schedule.”

“The FRA publishes minimum safety standards. The waiver allows SEPTA to conduct its operation below those minimum standards,” Bruno said. “Forcing engineers to operate trains with insufficient rest creates a known — and preventable — risk to passengers and crews members. When the FRA examines the record, we believe they’ll agree with us that SEPTA needs more compliance — not less — with federal safety rules.”

* * *

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents 53,500 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States, including 220 hardworking members at SEPTA. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

February 5, 2015

BLET Education & Training Dept. to conduct workshop for Legislative Representatives

The BLET Education & Training Department, in conjunction with the National Legislative Office and the National Association of State Legislative Board Chairmen (NASLBC), will conduct a workshop for BLET Division Legislative Representatives from April 12-16, 2015, in Washington, D.C.

The workshop will take place at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Headquarters with classroom training beginning the evening of Sunday, April 12 at 5:00 p.m. with an orientation and discussion of what to expect during the week ahead. All day classroom training will follow April 13 through April 15, 2015.

The workshop will cover the following topics:

• Computer skills (principles of letter writing and database management);
• Regulatory affairs (reporting and documenting important issues);
• Political affairs (the anatomy of elections, how a bill becomes law,
communications skills and correspondence with politicians);
• Understanding individual State Legislative Board bylaws; and
• Trustee responsibilities.

Upon completion of the classroom training, attendees will participate in a full day on Capitol Hill on Thursday, April 16, with a travel day home scheduled for Friday, April 17.

Participation in the workshop is limited to the first 20 who register, with a limit of two representatives from each state.

Those who successfully complete the April 12-15 classroom portion of the workshop will be eligible for a $129 per diem from the North American Railway Foundation (NARF). It will be paid directly to the State Legislative Board or Division Secretary-Treasurer.

NARF is a non-profit foundation formed by the Brotherhood’s Relief and Compensation Fund (BR&CF) to support rail history, education, safety and technology in the United States and Canada. With initial funding and continued Board of Directors stewardship coming from the BR&CF, NARF has supported many non-political projects throughout the United States and Canada over the past 19 years. The primary focus of these efforts has been in support of organized rail labor — giving back to all of the men and women of the railroad community across North America.

Register for the class at www.ble-t.org/lr.

After registering through the BLET website, workshop attendees will receive an e-mail containing hotel reservation information. The BLET has acquired a special hotel room block for this workshop at the rate from $269 per night.
Reservations must be made by Wednesday, March 11, 2015. Attendees are responsible for their own transportation costs and any expenses for room and board. Participants planning to bring family members may contact the BLET National Legislative Office for help in scheduling a tour of the Capitol. If interested, please call (202) 624-8776.

For more information on the class or hotel charges, please contact Jason Wright, Coordinator of the BLET Education & Training Dept., at (216) 296-4447 or wright@ble-t.org.

October 23, 2014

Your vote counts

(Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the upcoming October 2014 issue of the Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen News.)

By Dennis R. Pierce
BLET National President

For those of you who were in attendance at the BLET’s Third National Convention earlier this month, you know that we talked a lot about this fall’s mid-term elections. Whether it was from our guest speakers like Teamster General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall, or from a video message like the one from Senator Elizabeth Warren, the common thread that all of our speakers shared was the importance of this year’s election, both at the Federal level and at the State level.

In the U.S. Senate, there are 36 seats to be decided, and those who support an anti-worker, anti-union and therefore anti-middle class agenda are working hard to take control. At the same time, all 435 seats are up for re-election in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the same group is working hard to increase their existing majority. There is a reason for this push in the House and the Senate, and that reason does not benefit you as working class Americans.

Quite to the contrary, the agenda being pushed by the so-called conservatives trying to increase their power in Washington, D.C., is one that is bought and paid for by corporate America. Many of you do not know who the Koch brothers are, but they are billionaires who have long advocated ending Social Security and Medicare. By the end of the year, they will have spent millions trying to persuade voters, including good union men and women, to vote for their issues.

They will convince some of you to support their agenda, even though their cause includes nothing good for working class Americans. They oppose any increase to the minimum wage, even though our nation’s workers are some of the most productive in the world and their wages lag behind the bulk of the industrialized world. If their bought and paid for politicians take full control, they would end all hope of a secure retirement for millions of working class Americans by ending Social Security — and our Railroad Retirement system would not be safe either.

You only have to study the voting records of the politicians that these billionaires have already bought, to know what being owned by billionaires like the Koch brothers, the Walton family or Sheldon Adelson requires. Although said in jest by a well-known comedian, it was speculated during the recession that due to the downturn in the economy, the Koch brothers actually had to lay off several congressmen. In all truth though, it is imperative that you look beyond the advertisements that corporate America and its supporters will put on your television this year. You must instead study the voting records of all politicians that seek your vote, and if you truly want a strong working middle class in this country, you must not support those whose true agenda is just the opposite.

At our Third National Convention, delegates were honored to hear from U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who offered his unique insight into the importance of the upcoming elections:

“And while the rich get richer, the billionaire class, as a result of the disastrous ‘Citizens United’ Supreme Court decision, is investing hundreds of millions of dollars into political campaigns to make sure that elected officials in Washington will keep making sure the folks on top get an even greater share of the pie,” Sanders said. “If ever there was a time for a political revolution, one that engages millions of Americans in the political process, and significantly increases voter participation, now is that time. We need to educate, organize and bring to the polls millions of workers and young people who otherwise might not vote. We need to make clear to every American what the Koch brothers’ agenda is and what Republican control of Congress will mean for the working families of this country, and we need to bring forth a strong progressive agenda that reverses the decline of the middle class.”

Perhaps the most disappointing misrepresentation in all of this year’s politics is what I call the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” politician. I am talking about those politicians who are bought and paid for by corporate America, but try to convince you that they actually support you or a social issue important to you. Having been raised in a devoutly religious home, I am especially offended by those corporate owned politicians who claim to stand on “high ground” religiously.

There is no greater hypocrisy than to claim to support a religious philosophy, while at the same time supporting an economic philosophy that allows corporations to crush the working class of this great nation. It has been said that truly being religious requires a conscience, but that is the one thing that no corporation owns. Quite the opposite, corporations serve only one purpose, that being to make money for those who own and operate them. What that does not include in many cases is paying a living wage, providing benefits or allowing employees to have the time off that they need to enjoy the fruits of their labor. The almighty dollar — and not the Almighty — is king in corporate America.

I will leave you with this quote from Pope Francis, who eloquently explains the economic inequalities facing Americans today. I ask you to keep this in mind when you vote in November:

“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.” — Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel apostolic exhortation, November 2013.

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