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...

April 20, 2012

Remember in November: An open letter from BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce

By Dennis R. Pierce
BLET National President

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On April 16, 2012, the BLET National Division posted a News Flash article at www.ble-t.org warning our membership of the attack on our Railroad Retirement system that was included in Republican Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s Budget Plan. Since that time, the National Division has received many calls and emails from the membership, many of them curious as to exactly where in the Ryan Budget those attacks were found. To that end, I am including in this message an exchange that I had this week with a member, in this case a member that I have known personally for over 30 years. This Brother questions BLET’s facts, as was his right; unfortunately he also chose to question our motives. While our union is big enough for all opinions, it is imperative that we not get sidetracked when it comes to who is attacking working Americans, and what your National Division is doing to defend our way of life. My response sets the record straight on both accounts, and is shared for your information.

I would also like to address some of the other activity that has followed our April 16 News Flash. Most Rail Unions agree with BLET that we must not take attacks on our Railroad Retirement system lightly. That said, I cannot agree with any Rail Union that would suggest that we have defeated this attack and that we should now rest easily. Complacency is our enemy and anything but an all-out effort to continue to educate our members on who is trying to help them and who is trying to hurt them is a recipe for failure. While it is true that all of Rail Labor has mounted an aggressive lobbying effort with Congress against the Ryan Budget Plan, and while it is true that his Budget Plan is more than likely dead for now, it is not dead because of any Rail Labor success in the House of Representatives. The facts are that the House passed the Ryan Budget Plan on March 29th, in spite of our efforts and without removing the offending Railroad Retirement language. The only reason that Republican Ryan’s Budget Plan is dead for now is because the Democrats in the Senate refuse to bring it up for consideration.

However, the White House and control of both chambers of Congress is up for grabs on November 6. This is the backdrop for our effort to make sure that all members know who is trying to hurt them and who is trying to help them. If we are not vigilant, and we allow anti-worker politicians to take the Senate this fall, legislation like Ryan’s anti-Railroad Retirement Budget Plan will not only be resurrected, it will sail through the halls of both the House and Senate and to the President for his signature. Far from being the time to “stand down”; now is the time to stand proud and strong in our defense of working class America. Between now and this fall, we must all ask the tough questions, but our attention cannot be distracted from the facts. Join me in our effort to support politicians who support us, the hard-working Americans who made this country the proud land that it is.

The following is a reproduction of an email exchange between a 30 year-plus member and me:

• • •

To: BLET President’s Staff

A reading of the legislation you have targeted reveals no such information. Are you basing this newsflash on rumor or other unsubstantiated information received from a political enemy of the GOP?

Please verify where exactly in the proposed legislation one can find the “devastating effects” mentioned in your article. This would be a real service to BLET members, rather than scare-mongering for political purposes.

Many of your members find the proposed budget full of common-sense approaches to real financial problems faced by our nation and would appreciate a more even-handed approach to issues on the part of our BLET national officers.

Thank you for providing the information requested in an up-dated News Flash so members may be fully informed.

• • •

Dear Brother,

I asked my staff to forward your comments to me for response. While our policies don’t allow me to issue any official communications via email, I do think that I need to clarify a couple of things.

You and I have known each other for a long time and I have never made a habit during that time of adding any untruths or misinformation to the serious issues we must deal with. I have long said that things are already too messed up based in the truth to make them worse by adding something that is not true. You obviously question the authenticity of the information that we recently reported, and you also suggest that we are working for some anti-GOP platform. While I may not convince you to share my political perspective, I do need to insure that you know that everything that we posted is true, and that the only platform that I am working for is our pro-union, pro-working class and pro-America platform.

To that end, my goal is to make sure that all members of our union know the truth about what any politician’s plans will actually do to them as working class Americans. Most of our members have very little in common financially with the wealthy corporate citizens of this country that have tremendous influence over the country’s political direction. Those citizens won’t need social security or railroad retirement when they retire, but working class Americans do and will. The influence of these corporate citizens, which is by design intended to give them more of the corporate profits by giving you less, has led these corporate sponsored politicians to put forth a barrage of anti-worker/anti-union legislation As a working class American, I am personally offended by those attacks. The union movement in this country was instrumental in building the middle class that the majority of our members belong to. We owe no one any apologies in my mind for working to make sure that the members we represent are treated fairly in the workplace, with good health care benefits and a decent retirement plan. For that reason, you will continue to see me identify the politicians of either party who push anti-worker legislation such as the recent Ryan budget plan.

To that plan, the Ryan Budget was adopted by the House of Representatives as House Concurrent Resolution (H. Con. Res.) 112, and the final product — the engrossed version, is attached. The relevant portion of the budget is Section 102, which sets forth levels of budgetary authority and outlays for fiscal years 2013 through 2022 by “major functional category.” Of particular interest to the News Flash is functional category 600, entitled “Income Security,” which is budgeted in Section 102(13) of the Resolution, on pages 27–28. The Resolution, by itself, provides no information about the proposed changes necessary to achieve the budget targets. Those details are provided in the report accompanying the Resolution, House Report (H. Rep.) No. 112–421, which also is attached.

The Report describes Function 600 as “the Federal Government’s income-support programs [that] include … benefits to railroad retirees.” Id. at p. 99 (emphasis added). The Report goes on to state that “[a]mong reforms that could be considered by the committees of jurisdiction” are the following:

Conform Railroad Retirement Tier 1 Benefits to Social Security Benefits. Tier 1 benefits for railroad retirees are supposed to mimic Social Security benefits, but they are more generous than Social Security in many ways. This option would conform Tier 1 so that its benefits would equal those of Social Security, with an estimated savings to taxpayers of $2 billion over 10 years.

Id. at pp. 100, 101 (italics in original).

We reported specifically on this item, pointing out that such changes “would eliminate the Rail-road Retirement Occupational Disability program, as well as the ‘60/30’ provision allowing for early retirement for railroad workers at age 60 if they have 30 years of service.” Further, that the “Ryan Budget fundamentally misconstrues the relationship between Railroad Retirement and Social Security, and ignores the fact that all Railroad Retirement benefits above Social Security — whether Tier 1 benefits or Tier 2 benefits — are fully funded by railroad workers and their employers; none of these benefits are funded from the general treasury.” The Report confirms that our reporting was accurate. Indeed, the letter to Chairman Ryan from the Association of American Railroads — also provided herewith — makes specific reference to this passage in the Report and draws the same conclusions as our reporting does in pointing out that there are no federal budgetary savings to be realized by pursuing such draconian changes.

Due to the number of inquires we have received, we will be making this information publicly available to help our membership become well educated on the issues of the day. America is again headed toward an election in which certain parties and candidates will use social and religious “wedge” issues as a way to get working class people to vote against their economic interest. As a labor organization, BLET’s function is not to give you spiritual or social advice, but to educate and inform members on the voting records of candidates on issues of economic security to BLET members and their families. In the end, we will all make our own decisions about the politicians who introduce and support legislation that hurts working class Americans. I believe I have a duty to ensure that all members know who supports the working class and who is trying to take away the benefits that you and I have both worked so hard for, in this case Railroad Retirement.

Fraternally,
Dennis Pierce
National President, BLET

• • •

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Link to H. Con. Res. 121 (70 pages)
http://www.ble-t.org/pr/pdf/H.Con.Res. 112 eh.pdf

Link to Resolution, House Report (H.Rep.) No. 112–421 (230 pages; offending language on Page 101):
http://www.ble-t.org/pr/pdf/H.Rep. 112-421.pdf

Link to House voting record on H. Con. Res. 112:

http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2012/roll151.xml

Link to Association of American Railroads letter to Rep. Paul Ryan regarding House Report 112-421:

http://www.ble-t.org/pr/pdf/AAR_Letter_Ryan_Budget.pdf

April 16, 2012

War on Workers: Ryan Budget targets railroad workers, retirees

The U.S. House of Representatives has adopted federal budget legislation sponsored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) that would have devastating effects on the retirement security of both active and retired BLET members, as well as all railroad workers. The measure passed on March 29 by a vote of 228-191, with 10 Republicans joining all of the Democrats in voting against it.

Perhaps the most devastating portion of the Ryan Budget are the provisions that sponsors claim “would conform Tier 1 so that its benefits would equal those of Social Security, with an estimated savings to taxpayers of $2 billion over 10 years.” Enactment of this legislation would eliminate the Railroad Retirement Occupational Disability program, as well as the “60/30” provision for allowing early retirement for railroad workers at age 60 if they have 30 years of service. Under the legislation, the earliest these individuals could retire would be age 62. Annuities for spouses of these workers also would be negatively impacted in this manner. These provisions would negatively affect the annuities of almost 120,000 non-disabled employees, almost 90,000 spouses and over 62,000 occupationally disabled employees.

The Ryan Budget fundamentally misconstrues the relationship between Railroad Retirement and Social Security, and ignores the fact that all Railroad Retirement benefits above Social Security — whether Tier 1 benefits or Tier 2 benefits — are fully funded by railroad workers and their employers; none of these benefits are funded from the general treasury. Therefore, no actual budgetary savings would result from enactment of this legislation.

“The Ryan Budget’s claim that American taxpayers will realize a savings if our occupational disability and retirement annuities are gutted is so blatantly false,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said, “that even the head of the carriers’ lobbying group has called out Chairman Ryan on his deception, and told him not to ‘interfere’ in our privately-funded industry pension.”

The Ryan Budget also attacks two other key components of the American social compact in a way that would negatively impact active and retired railroad workers. Under current law, new retirees receive Social Security benefits based on the growth in wages. The Ryan Budget would set initial benefits based on the growth in prices, which over time grow at a slower rate. This would harm 70% of Social Security beneficiaries by cutting benefits by roughly 16% for the average new retiree in 2050 and 28% in 2080. These cuts also would affect Tier 1 Railroad Retirement benefits.

The Ryan Budget also would end Medicare as we know it. The Medicare eligibility age would be raised to 67. This, alone, would increase out-of-pocket health care costs by $4,300 a year for nearly 1 million individuals ages 65 and 66, and would cause the costs of the GA 46000 Plan to soar. Further, the Ryan Budget replaces Medicare’s guaranteed benefits with a “premium support” payment that beneficiaries would use towards the cost of private insurance or traditional Medicare starting in 2023.

The amount of this voucher would be based on the second cheapest available plan in the area. There is no guarantee that this payment would actually cover enough of a premium’s cost to actually make the Medicare replacement health care affordable. In fact, it is more than likely that beneficiaries would be left with increased out of pocket costs, because the Ryan Budget caps the amount of the voucher at a half percent above Gross Domestic Product, which is far below the growth in health insurance costs in recent years. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that new beneficiaries could pay over $1,200 more per year by 2030 and over $5,900 more per year by 2050 under. It also would allow private insurers to cherry pick the younger and healthier beneficiaries, leaving Medicare with a disproportionate share of the oldest, sickest and costliest beneficiaries, driving up costs for the program and setting it on an unsustainable path.

“This budget is one more example of how Republican Paul Ryan and his worker-hating allies are trying to hurt middle class Americans — including the railroad workers who, with the carriers, fully fund their own pension plan,” BLET Vice President & National Legislative Representative John Tolman said. “Also included are the standard targets — Amtrak and its workers and high speed rail, by eliminating funding for high speed rail and limiting overtime for Amtrak workers. But the cuts aren’t limited to only railroad workers. The Ryan Budget also attacks the poor, the sick, the elderly and the nation’s children, while allowing the wealthy to continue to get away with not paying their fair share by extending the Bush tax cuts, retaining oil company subsidies and increasing defense spending by $228 billion.”

While the legislation is not expected to be taken up by the Senate in this session, President Pierce is warning BLET members not to take the threat lightly.

“The presumptive Republican presidential nominee already has publicly stated his support for the Ryan Budget, and Chairman Ryan is reported to be on the ‘short list’ of potential vice presidential candidates,” President Pierce said. “If those who support the Ryan Budget capture the White House and the Senate, and retain the House, this nightmare will become a reality, and our members’ economic security will be set back by decades. We need to remember this on November 6 and vote for candidates who will help working Americans.”

April 4, 2012

The 99% Spring is coming: Will you join in?

America’s greatest steps forward have come when everyday people stood up and took courageous, visionary, morally compelling action — from strikes that built power for workers and unions, to the struggle to secure the vote for women, to the civil rights movement.

That’s why the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and International Brotherhood of Teamsters are joining forces with dozens of other pro-labor and pro-Middle Class groups in the nationwide movement known as the 99% Spring.

From April 9-15, we will gather across America — 100,000 strong — in homes, places of worship, campuses and the streets to join together in the work of reclaiming our country. It’s the first step in a massive campaign to make the voices of the 99% impossible to ignore.

We will organize trainings to:

• Tell the story of our economy: how we got here, what went wrong, who’s responsible, what a different future could look like;
• Learn the history of non-violent direct action; and
• Learn how we can take action and create great change in this country.

Last year, from the Wisconsin workers who took over their state capitol, to Ohio voters who repealed anti-worker S.B.5, to Occupy Wall Street, we saw a new movement in America using action to highlight the massive inequality that’s destroying our country.

The 99% Spring is our chance to maintain and broaden that change-making energy, and learn how we can take action to challenge corporate power, end tax giveaways to the 1%, fight the influence of money in politics, and create an economy that works for all of us.

We will take non-violent action in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi to forge a new destiny one block, one neighborhood, one city, one state at a time.

Local organizations and volunteers are running more than 750 trainings in living rooms, union halls, churches, and community centers nationwide. All we need now is to get as many people as possible to join in — people like YOU.

Our movement is uniting, and this is a chance for all of us to come together to shift the political landscape in America. Will you join in?

Click here to find the 99% Spring event closest to you: http://civic.moveon.org/event/events/index.html?action_id=268&rc=99IBT

March 28, 2012

BLET to conduct workshop for State Legislative Board Chairmen

In this important election year, 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 State Legislative Board Chairmen in Washington, D.C., from June 3-6, 2012.

The workshop will take place at IBT headquarters with classroom training beginning the evening of Sunday, June 3, and will conclude the evening of June 6. After completion of the classroom training, attendees will participate in a full day of lobbying on Capitol Hill on Thursday, June 7.

The National Division Education and Training Department has updated the curriculum for the upcoming workshop based on suggestions from the NASLBC’s Education and Training Committee. The updated workshop will cover the following topics: the upcoming November elections, both national and state; mobilization; State Board bylaws; elements of Political Action Committees; leadership skills; Internet research; regulatory affairs update; new online filing of monthly audit reports; and a segment on yearly reports.

Participation in the workshop is limited to the first 20 who register.

Those who successfully complete the classroom portion of the workshop will be eligible for a $123 per diem from the North American Railway Foundation (NARF). It will be paid directly to the State Legislative Board or Division Secretary-Treasurer.

NARF (www.narfoundation.org) is a non-profit operating 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 15 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 http://www.ble-t.org/lr.

After registering for the workshop, workshop attendees will receive an e-mail confirmation that will include hotel registration information. Attendees are responsible for their transportation costs, along with the cost of room and board.

For more information, please contact Ken Kroeger, Coordinator of the BLET Education & Training Dept. at (216) 272-0986 or kroeger@ble-t.org.

March 22, 2012

BLET Boston Division 57 joins in groundbreaking safety study

Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen in Division 57 (Boston, Mass) are working in conjunction with researchers at the John A. Volpe National Transportation Center on a groundbreaking rail safety study to examine the issue of distraction among commuter rail locomotive engineers.

This study of distraction and attentional error is the first to apply the science of cognitive performance to the railroad workplace. The project’s goal is to identify causes and reasons for distraction and to develop strategies and countermeasures to prevent rail accidents/incidents.

Members of Division 57 are participating in this joint project with the Federal Railroad Administration, passenger rail operator Veolia, and the Volpe Center. The study is funded by a grant from FRA. In late February, BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce and a delegation of BLET members and officers toured the Volpe Center’s Cab Technology Integrated Laboratory (CTIL) in Cambridge, Mass., where they learned about the study first-hand.

Joining President Pierce in the hands-on tour were: National Secretary-Treasurer William C. Walpert; Vice President & National Legislative Representative John P. Tolman; Vice President Cole W. Davis, and several BLET staff members.

During the tour, several members of the BLET delegation became test subjects themselves. While operating the CTIL locomotive simulator, they were asked to perform numerous short-term memory tests while at the same time properly executing the safety-sensitive task at hand. The goal of the test was to gauge when too much information became a distraction and resulted in a breakdown of safety.

Recently retired BLET Division 57 members George Newman and Richard (Pie) Duggan have been collaborating with the Center, assisting in the design and construction of the testing simulations being developed for the CTIL simulator.

Additionally, there are volunteer locomotive engineers who will serve as anonymous testing subjects. BLET Division 57 President Paul Chaput and Local Chairman Gary Hobson, have visited the CTIL facility and have operated the CTIL simulator. BLET Division 57 fully supports the project and has recruited test subject locomotive engineers from the ranks of active BLET MBCR commuter rail engineers. Along with the members of Division 57, MBCR General Manager Hugh Kiley has also toured the CTIL and has given his full support and cooperation to the project. He works with Brother Chaput and Brother Hobson to facilitate the participation of MBCR engineers.

Another objective of the study is to further demonstrate the way all human beings respond to situations that involve task overload and the influence of mind wandering, which can cause them to lose their focus on the task at hand and inadvertently make mistakes that — in the rail industry — result in rule violations or accidents. Researchers hope that the lessons learned through this research will result in training that can not only benefit rail operators, but all employees involved in safety sensitive occupations. The researchers also hope that the results of the study will be educational for not only BLET locomotive engineers, but for rail management as well.

Already the preliminary portions of the study have resulted in the development of a training video that teaches locomotive engineers about attention lapses and attention-related errors. Researchers have also developed a series of presentations aimed at further educating rail management about the limits of human attention, as well as several hands-on experiential demonstrations of attention-related errors.

“This is a great example of railroad labor and management working together for the benefit of both our members and the railroads,” President Pierce said. “Instead of the railroad applying punitive discipline, as many railroads do, they are collaborating with us to help determine the root causes behind distraction related incidents. Operating crews are threatened with what can only be called situational overload on a daily basis. By working together, it is my hope that we can identify human limitations and develop strategies to create a safer industry for our members and the traveling public. This is an example of something that we need more of in the industry.”

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