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...

August 1, 2012

BLET endorses Barack Obama for Reelection

BILLINGS, Mont. — Just moments before the opening of the 72nd Annual International Western Convention (IWC), the BLET’s Advisory Board voted unanimously today to endorse Barack Obama for reelection as President of the United States.

“We believe President Obama is the best candidate to protect the rights of the 55,000 men and women of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said, in announcing the endorsement during opening ceremonies here at the IWC, prompting a rousing ovation from the body.

As part of his commitment to more strongly involve all departments of the BLET, President Pierce announced today that the union’s top legislative body, the National Legislative Board, passed a resolution last week urging that the Advisory Board endorse President Obama’s reelection.

The BLET cited the ongoing War on Workers as a primary reason for endorsing President Obama.

“The divide and conquer strategy employed by Corporate America and its agents at all levels of government has turned working class Americans against one another,” President Pierce said. “Barack Obama presents our best chance at fighting back against these attacks on the Middle Class.”

The presumptive Republican nominee stands on a decidedly anti-rail worker platform. On the campaign trail, he has promised to slash Amtrak’s budget, endangering the jobs of thousands of unionized Amtrak employees, and thus, the stability of the Railroad Retirement system. Additionally, he has supported the Republican Party’s Ryan Budget, which proposes to deprive railroad workers of hard won Railroad Retirement benefits.

“The 2012 National Election will be a watershed event for the United States, because either the electorate will choose a federal government of, by and for the people or it will choose a federal government of, by and for capital,” the BLET resolution reads.

In May, the General Executive Board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters also endorsed President Obama, and the BLET and IBT both endorsed Obama in 2008.

President Obama is only the fourth Presidential candidate the BLET has endorsed in its 149-year history. Founded on May 8, 1863, the Brotherhood’s first Presidential endorsement was Bill Clinton in 1992, followed by Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.

Hosted by Craig Gilchrist and D.B. Kenner, the IWC will conclude tomorrow following a day of educational workshops for BLET members.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a Division of the Teamsters Rail Conference, has over 55,000 active and retired members.

For the full text of the National Legislative Board’s resolution, click here:
www.ble-t.org/pr/pdf/NLB_Obama_Final.pdf

July 19, 2012

James Tiede elected Chairman of Kansas State Legislative Board

CLEVELAND, July 18 — James (Jim) Tiede was elected by acclamation to serve as Chairman of the Kansas State Legislative Board during the Board’s quadrennial meeting in Kansas City, Kan., July 17-18, 2012.

Brother Tiede, a member of BLET Division 587 (Salina, Kan.), is a Union Pacific locomotive engineer. Immediately prior to his election, Brother Tiede served as 2nd Vice Chairman of the Kansas State Legislative Board. He has held continuous membership since first joining the Brotherhood on June 1, 1979.

Also elected by acclamation was 1st Vice-Chairman Steve Facklam of BLET Division 130 (Kansas City, Kan). Tyler Jones, Division 740 (Pratt, Kan.) was elected 2nd Vice-Chairman. Scott Newell of Division 336 (Osawatomie, Kan) elected Secretary-Treasurer. William Tillsworth of Division 777 (Kansas City, Kan.) was elected by acclamation to the Alternate Secretary-Treasurer position.

Three members were elected by acclamation to serve on the Audit Committee, including: Jim Rosebaugh Jr., Division 224 (Marysville, Kan.); William Tillsworth, Division 777 (Kansas City, Kan.); and Dustin Bishop, Division 64, (Newton, Kan.).

The Board gave special recognition to longtime State Chairman James Keele, Division 336, who retired. Also retiring this year was longtime State Board Secretary-Treasurer J. R. (Rich) Dame and former 1st Vice-Chairman Rick Lewis, who succeeded Keele as State Chairman for a brief period following his retirement at the beginning of July.

Representing the National Division at the meeting were: National President Dennis R. Pierce; 1st Vice President E. Lee Pruitt; National Secretary-Treasurer William C. Walpert; Vice President and National Legislative Representative John P. Tolman; and National Vice President Cole Davis.

“Brother Tiede and his newly-elected team of officers have big shoes to fill, but I know they will do an excellent job of representing our membership in Kansas,” President Pierce said. “This is an important election year and they definitely have their work cut out for them. I would also like to thank Brother Keele, Brother Dame and Brother Lewis for their many years of dedicated service to our Brotherhood.”

Additional special guests included Anthony Hensley, Kansas Senate Minority Leader, and Paul Davis, Kansas House Democratic Leader. Both discussed the upcoming State elections.

July 13, 2012

D.B. Kenner elected Chairman of Montana State Legislative Board

CLEVELAND, July 13 — D.B. Kenner was elected by acclamation to serve as Chairman of the Montana State Legislative Board during the Board’s quadrennial meeting in Billings, Mont., June 12-13, 2012.

Brother Kenner, a member of BLET Division 195 (Forsyth, Mont.), is a BNSF locomotive engineer. He first joined the Brotherhood on September 1, 2004. Immediately prior to his election, Brother Kenner served as Secretary-Treasurer of the Montana State Legislative Board.

Incumbent Chairman Craig A. Gilchrist did not seek reelection after having served the Board for 12 years, winning elections in 2008, 2004 and 2000. However, he was elected to continue serving as 2nd Vice Chairman, allowing him to devote more time to his family as he prepares for retirement.

Also elected by acclamation were the following officers: 1st Vice Chairman James S. Cowan, Division 262 (Missoula, Mont.); Secretary-Treasurer Kris Melone, Division 504 (Great Falls, Mont.); 2nd Vice Chairman Craig A. Gilchrist, Division 298 (Glasgow, Mont.); and Alternate Secretary-Treasurer Barry E. Green, Division 180 (Glendive, Mont.).

Three members were elected by acclamation to serve on the Audit Committee, including: W.C. (Cory) Holmes, Division 392 (Havre, Mont.); Joe A. Courtney, Division 499 (Whitefish, Mont.); and Barry E. Green, Division 180.

BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce expressed regret that he was not able to attend the meeting, but thanked Chairman Kenner and all officers of the Montana State Legislative Board for their dedication to the Brotherhood. President Pierce also thanked outgoing Chairman Gilchrist for his passionate dedication and outstanding service to the Brotherhood over the past many years.

Representing the National Division at the meeting were: First Vice President E. Lee Pruitt; National Secretary-Treasurer William C. Walpert; Vice President and National Legislative Representative John P. Tolman; Special Representative David B. Ditzel; Special Representative and Coordinator of Education and Training Ken N. Kroeger; and Special Representative Rick A. Olson.

Additional special guests included: Cory L. Runion, Chairman of the Wyoming State Legislative Board; and Al Ekbald, Executive Secretary of the Montana State AFL-CIO.

Members of the Board conducted business for the good of the Order and discussed strategy for the upcoming elections, including local and state elections in Montana as well as the national elections coming up in November.

The BLET’s Montana State Legislative Board was founded on May 17, 1904.

June 26, 2012

Whistleblower rights under attack; BLET fights back

CLEVELAND, June 26 — The railroad industry has launched a coordinated attack on rights enacted by Congress as part of the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA).

These “whistleblower” rights, which are contained in Section 20109 of Title 49 of the United States Code, protect BLET members and other railroad workers from harassment and intimidation when they report or participate in an investigation of injuries and safety violations, when they seek prompt medical treatment for on-the-job injuries, or when they follow their physician’s treatment plans.

A major battle is being fought out in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, where Norfolk Southern Railway (NS) has sued Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. NS seeks to overturn a decision by the Administrative Review Board (ARB) of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) affirming an earlier decision by an OSHA Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) that railroad workers may pursue whistleblower claims in addition to labor agreement disciplinary appeals when their rights are violated by a railroad.

The ALJ had ruled that both avenues are available to railroad workers because subsection (h) of Section 20109 states that “[n]othing in this section shall be deemed to diminish the rights, privileges, or remedies of any employee … under any collective bargaining agreement.”

NS, with the support of the Association of American Railroads, seeks to overturn this decision, claiming that railroad workers who appeal their dismissals are barred from pursuing a whistleblower claim by FRSA subsection (g), which states that an “employee may not seek protection under both this section and another provision of law for the same allegedly unlawful act of the railroad carrier.” The carriers argue that the right to appeal discipline for alleged rules infractions to a Section 3 adjustment board under the Railway Labor Act constitutes “protection under another provision of law”, not from a collective bargaining agreement.

The ALJ ruling upheld by the ARB was issued in a case involving the whistleblower rights of a BLET member wrongfully terminated by the Union Pacific Railroad (UP). The ARB decision came in a consolidated appeal with an NS conductor’s complaint, which opened the door to the NS court challenge.

The BLET member involved is a locomotive engineer who was discharged in November 2007. The BLET appealed on his behalf under the collective bargaining agreement and, when UP refused to put him back to work, successfully argued to a Section 3 arbitrator that his agreement rights were violated. On March 27, 2008, this member filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA, charging that he was illegally terminated for reporting an on-the-job injury.

The National Division has requested the court’s permission to intervene in NS’s lawsuit in defense of this Brother’s whistleblower rights, and join Secretary Solis’s Motion to Dismiss the case.

“This is nothing more than an attempt by NS, UP, and the other carriers to silence our members and strip them of important whistleblower protections provided under the FRSA,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said. “Railroad workers should not be subject to dismissal when they are injured on the job. These whistleblower protections are needed to stop railroads from harassing and intimidating workers who speak out about safety.”

The whistleblower decision NS is attempting to overturn is just one of several OSHA decisions that have gone against that carrier. On June 18, OSHA announced that NS has been fined over $800,000 for unlawfully firing workers who reported on the job injuries, including $525,000 for punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.

The carrier also has been ordered to expunge the disciplinary records of the whistleblowers, post workplace notices regarding railroad workers’ whistleblower protection rights and provide training to its workers about these rights.

Newspapers throughout the United States have published reports regarding harassment and intimidation of NS employees. None was more critical than the Virginian-Pilot, based in Roanoke, Va., where NS is headquartered. In an opinion column dated June 21, 2012, the newspaper reported that OSHA’s ruling had tarnished the railroad’s safety achievements over the years in winning the industry’s highest award for safety, the E. H. Harriman Award.

According to the newspaper: “Discouraging reports of injuries doesn’t improve safety. Changing that practice might cost Norfolk Southern an award, but it would help the company — and workers — in the long run.”

NS is not the only Class I carrier that has caught OSHA’s attention. Early this month the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health slammed attorneys for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) for asking OSHA to disclose the names of non-management employee witnesses the agency intended to interview in several other ongoing whistleblower investigations.

BNSF officials had taken the ludicrous position that it should be able to “offer its representation” to these non-management witnesses. BNSF also asserted that it had a right to be present during any OSHA interview of a non-management witness. In a letter to BNSF’s General Counsel, Assistant Secretary David Michaels rejected the BNSF requests as “wholly inappropriate.”

“OSHA assumes that BNSF counsel would be well aware of the conflict of interest that would inevitably arise if BNSF’s attorney were to represent both the corporation and non-managerial employees in a whistleblower case … OSHA takes allegations of such retaliation extremely seriously and will not tolerate retaliation against witnesses who cooperate in FRSA whistleblower investigations,” Michaels wrote.

President Pierce responded to Assistant Secretary Michaels on behalf of all BLET members in a June 25 letter, thanking him for his “strongly worded rebuke of BNSF’s request and its position,” and supporting the agency’s “position in respecting employee confidentiality as complete, unequivocal and paramount in cases such as this.”

In response to the growing need for education and information to increase awareness and use of whistleblower protections throughout the Organization, the National Division is providing all General Chairmen, State Legislative Board Chairmen, Local Chairmen and Legislative Representatives this latest information concerning the industry’s attempt to thwart whistleblower investigations and enforcement of worker protections.

“In the NS/UP case you can see the railroads are doing everything in their power to prevent railroad workers from exercising their whistleblower rights,” President Pierce said. “And BNSF is attempting to uncover the identities of those who may be testifying in whistleblower cases in an effort to directly interfere in OSHA investigations. These are the new tactics the nation’s railroads are using to continue their decades-old harassment and intimidation of railroad workers who are injured on the job — and we must fight them at every turn.”

Copies of OSHA’s press release concerning the NS fines, OSHA’s letter to BNSF’s Legal Department, National President Pierce’s response to the OSHA letter, and his letter to BLET officers concerning this issue can be viewed, printed and/or downloaded from this link:
www.ble-t.org/pdf/Whistleblower_Circular.pdf

June 19, 2012

BLET legislative workshop preps officers for fall elections

CLEVELAND, June 19 — The BLET held a State Legislative Board Chairmen’s training workshop in Washington, D.C. from June 3 through 7, 2012. Twenty-four State Legislative Board Chairmen, Vice Chairman and Secretary-Treasurers from around the country attended the workshop, which covered issues such as the BLET-PAC, the 2012 elections and the duties of State Legislative Board Chairmen.

The workshop included three and a half days of classroom training, followed by one day of meetings on Capitol Hill with both House and Senate delegations after the workshop’s conclusion.

BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce addressed the group during the classroom training, providing an update on the activities of the BLET National Division and teaching a session on the BLET Bylaws.

In addition, First Vice President E. Lee Pruitt and National Secretary-Treasurer William C. Walpert addressed the group and provided updates on various aspects of the National Division’s operations. NST Walpert also taught during several other sections of the course.

Vice President & National Legislative Representative John P. Tolman participated in and led most of the sessions, including a session on the 2012 elections. He encouraged all of those in attendance to volunteer to work for candidates for office in their free time. He also moderated a roundtable discussion on growing the BLET-PAC.

Several guest speakers also addressed the group, including: Federal Railroad Administration Chief Counsel Melissa Porter; IBT Director of Field and Political Action Christy Bailey; IBT Federal Political Director Nicole Brener-Schmitz; and IBT State Political and Legislative Director Dan Reilly.

Various portions of the workshop covered: legislative and regulatory research, which included a hands-on research project; a presentation regarding the BLET national mobilization network; leadership skills; Department of Labor reports; online audits; and communications.

The following also made presentations to the group: BLET State Legislative Board Chairmen Terry Briggs (Texas), Tim Smith (California) and Craig Gilchrist (Montana); and National Division staff members Ken Kroeger, Kent Confer, Vince Verna, Gail Carson and Kathleen Policy.

On June 7, the group met with over 150 members of their Congressional delegations. These meetings focused on the Railroad Retirement issues raised in the Ryan budget and the possible delay in the implementation of Positive Train Control currently being discussed as a part of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization in the Conference Committee. The BLET representatives educated the members of the House and Senate about the BLET’s position on these issues.

“At their root, both of these issues are part of a larger war on workers,” President Pierce said. “One is a blatant attack on largely unionized railroad workers and another one is an example of corporate greed being placed before worker and community safety. The timing of this class couldn’t have been better as it allowed our members to speak with many Representatives and Senators at a crucial time. We need to continue to ensure the BLET’s voice is heard on both of these issues.”

Vice President Tolman thanked everyone involved in making the workshop a success.

“The attendees were a mix of newer State Chairmen and those with more experience,” he said. “Throughout the week, this group was able to share ideas, experiences and knowledge. It was truly great to see that level of collaboration and teamwork happening, and I thank all of those who participated.”

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