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 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.”

Rail Conference urges Obama to reconsider coal regulations

The Teamsters Rail Conference is urging the Obama Administration to reconsider tough new environmental regulations for coal-fired power plants that could negatively impact railroad workers.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a final rule establishing Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS). According to Teamsters Rail Conference President Dennis R. Pierce, “This rule has the potential to cost our membership a staggering number of jobs by significantly decreasing the amount of coal used in electricity generation.”

In a March 16 letter to President Barack H. Obama, President Pierce alerted the White House of the potentially devastating impact the MATS rule could have on rail workers who are members of the BLET and BMWED, Divisions of the Teamsters Rail Conference. Pierce also serves as National President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET).

“Nearly one in five railroad jobs are related to coal haulage; if these jobs are lost, it is not likely that new business generated on our nation’s railroads will ever make up for the loss of coal,” President Pierce wrote.

According to the EPA, 40 percent of coal-fired power plants in operation in the U.S. are not equipped to comply with the new MATS requirements. Bringing the plants into compliance would be so expensive that some power companies already have announced that they intend to close plants because complying with the regulation in the short time permitted by the rule would be too difficult and expensive.

President Pierce stressed that, in these tough economic times, America needs more jobs, not less.

“We fully support (the White House’s) high-speed rail and green jobs initiatives,” President Pierce wrote. “The MATS requirements take the nation in the opposite direction and our members simply cannot bear the costs of these emissions regulations. Accordingly, I ask you today for your support for the petitions for reconsideration of the new source MATS emission limits that will be filed with EPA. We also ask you to include coal in your ‘all of the above’ plan for America’s energy future so that a balanced energy policy can be maintained.”

The Teamsters Rail Conference represents more than 70,000 locomotive engineers, trainmen and maintenance of way workers on commuter, passenger and freight rail lines across the United States.

For a copy of President Pierce’s letter to the White House, please visit:
www.ble-t.org/pr/pdf/Obama_MATS_Rule.pdf

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