By Dennis R. Pierce
BLET National President
(Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from the President’s Message column, which originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen News)
CLEVELAND, August 13 — If you have been following the BLET’s publications this year, you know that our message has been consistent. We have said repeatedly that unions and their hard working members did not cause this nation’s problems. We have also said that now is the time for all union members to get involved in their union and in doing so get involved in their future. Our “Proud to be American, Proud to be Union” campaign is all part of this effort.
I have also been very vocal in my efforts to point out that middle class Americans, especially those in labor unions, need to be wary of politicians that claim to side with you on a social issue, all the while supporting an anti-labor and anti-union agenda. And I have been saying to all who will hear it that we must support politicians who support the hard-working middle class of this country. This message came full circle this month as this publication was going to print.
As reported on the front page of this Newsletter, the BLET’s Advisory Board voted unanimously on Tuesday July 31st to endorse President Obama in his bid for re-election as President of the United States of America. The Advisory Board vote followed, and adopted, a resolution crafted by the BLET’s National Legislative Board, and that resolution is also provided on page 3 in this publication. As could be expected, the National Division received comments from several members, both in favor of the endorsement and opposing the endorsement. My message this month is in response to those who oppose our endorsement and I would ask that all members read it with an open mind.
As a labor union, BLET’s mission is to protect our membership’s economic interests in the workplace, the courthouse, the statehouse, the halls of Congress and most importantly, the White House. In making its decision to endorse President Obama, the involved Officers took many things into consideration, but you can be assured that the Board’s primary focus was the economic best interest of the membership.
Perhaps the most important piece in that mosaic of economic interests is the recent GOP attack on our Railroad Retirement system. The so called “Ryan Budget” took direct aim at our retirement system, even though the proposed changes to Railroad Retirement would not benefit the nation’s finances whatsoever. To this day, President Obama’s presumptive opponent, Mitt Romney, still defends and supports the Ryan Budget plan, which has already passed in the House. As I write this message, Democratic control of the Senate and President Obama in the White House are the only things standing with us in the way of a GOP budget plan that would dismantle the retirement system that we have worked so hard to pay for. This is not propaganda; this is a reality that every BLET member must consider.
To add insult to injury, Candidate Romney has also signed on to the GOP’s effort to dismantle Amtrak as we know it. Their effort to destroy the union jobs at Amtrak, who pay into the Railroad Retirement system, is just one more attack on all railroad employees. This isn’t some abstract concept that affects someone other than you; if you work for Amtrak your job is in the GOP’s sights, and if you work at another railroad, paying into Railroad Retirement and hoping to retire in dignity someday, this directly affects you. The loss of 20,000 union jobs at Amtrak, all of whom pay into Railroad Retirement, would be catastrophic to the retirement benefits of every single BLET member.
In addition to all of this, there is an even bigger issue looming on the horizon. None of us want to hear the words or even say them, but I must and I will: single-person operation. Not only would such an operation cost tens of thousands of good railroad union jobs, it would also eliminate those hard-working Americans as contributors to the Railroad Retirement system, jeopardizing all of our retirement benefits. If any of you think that the carriers gave up on their desire to eliminate operating employees in the cab of the locomotive, you are sadly mistaken. Those efforts were front and center the last time the GOP had control of the White House, and we have every reason to believe that they will be front and center again if the railroads succeed in their effort get the corporate-owned politician of their choice in the White House. We saw no targeting of crew size in the last bargaining round, and that was because President Obama was in the White House.
If these concerns are not enough for you, you can add that the GOP’s efforts to privatize Medicare are also supported by President Obama’s opponent. Like the attack on our retirement system, this is a direct attack on the benefits that you are counting on when you retire … benefits for which you have paid your entire working career.
In the end, President Obama’s positions on some social issues might not be the same as yours, but those are not the issues that your union is here to represent you on. As I have consistently said since becoming your President, our mission is to represent your economic interests in the workplace and that is where Barack Obama stands head and shoulders above his opponent. One only has to go as far as Presidential Emergency Board 243 to see that. When all was said and done, President Obama’s PEB gave us higher General Wage Increases than those found in the so-called “pattern” settlement, and higher than any offer ever made by your employers at the bargaining table. That may not have been a monumental amount of money, but the carriers still complain about it. You can be sure that they do not want to see President Obama in the White House the next time your contract is up for negotiations, and if for no other reason, that is why you should support him.
If you are willing to ignore these issues, and instead vote for a candidate that claims to share your views on a social issue, you do so at your own economic peril. That is what the National Legislative Board and the Advisory Board came to understand and that is why they have taken action to endorse President Obama.
In closing, I would like to commend the officers of the National Legislative Board and the officers of the Advisory Board. We hear often that leaders should lead, and the action of the involved officers is just that… they took a stand based upon their obligation to the economic interests of you and your family. I thank them for their courage to lead…
REMEMBER IN NOVEMBER
Dennis R. Pierce
BLET National President