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:
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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.
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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.
National President, BLET
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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):
Link to House voting record on H. Con. Res. 112:
Link to Association of American Railroads letter to Rep. Paul Ryan regarding House Report 112-421: