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 13, 2012

Why Obama?

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…



Dennis R. Pierce
BLET National President

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:

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:

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