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...

December 5, 2013

BLET calls for Positive Train Control following Metro-North fatality

Statement by National President Dennis R. Pierce

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents more than 51,000 active and retired locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. While we are the largest union representing locomotive engineers in America, we do not currently represent locomotive engineers at Metro-North and, therefore, have refrained from commenting on the December 1 derailment or the ongoing investigation. In light of the multiple requests for comments on the derailment from various news outlets, BLET has issued the following statement from National President Dennis R. Pierce.

“First and foremost, the BLET extends our deepest sympathies to all accident victims and their loved ones. It is impossible for those who were not affected to understand the grief that now surrounds those who were, but it is paramount that the lessons from this tragedy are used to prevent any such loss in the future. Our thoughts and prayers are also with the professional and highly skilled locomotive engineers and conductors at Metro-North, who have expressed shock and sadness at the events of December 1.

“As to questions concerning the training that is provided to locomotive engineers, in general terms most engineers are seasoned veterans who receive years of on-the-job training working as rail conductors or in other railroad crafts. They must also complete classroom training and numerous written and field tests prior to earning promotion to engineer. Locomotive engineers are subject to extensive certification requirements pursuant to the provisions of Part 240 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Under Part 240, each railroad must have in place a certification program approved by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). An individual railroad’s certification program must meet minimum federal safety requirements for the eligibility, training, testing, certification and monitoring of its locomotive engineers. Locomotive engineers are then subject to annual testing to maintain their license, and must be recertified every three years.

“With respect to fatigue, BLET has been at the forefront of an effort to mitigate fatigue amongst railroad engineers and conductors. Although most passenger and commuter rail engineers and conductors work scheduled shifts, fatigue still occurs when work cycles are changed. In addition, most locomotive engineers who work for the freight railroads that run side by side with passenger operations must report for duty on an as-needed basis. They are on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. These demanding work schedules can result in instances of fatigue. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen has worked to ensure the safety of its members and the general public by seeking to resolve the issue of fatigue, either through the collective bargaining process or through the legislative arena.

“BLET has also called for the implementation of Positive Train Control technology for decades. This life-saving technology provides a safety overlay that assists locomotive engineers as they approach speed restrictions as well as required stops. History has shown that Positive Train Control could have prevented many of the fatalities and injuries suffered across the country by railroad employees and the general public. The BLET will continue in our efforts to see that this technology is implemented as soon as possible.”

November 22, 2013

Members urged to call their member of Congress after BLET lobbies for two-person crew bill

The BLET, working jointly with SMART-Transportation Division (formerly the United Transportation Union), made nearly 150 visits to members of the U.S. House of Representatives this week in support of H.R. 3040, the Safe Freight Act. The bill would mandate by federal law that two qualified individuals are in the cab of each freight train operating in the United States.

BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce and Vice President & National Legislative Representative John Tolman led the team of BLET lobbyists, which also included: Texas State Legislative Board Chairman Terry Briggs; Ohio State Legislative Board Chairman Tim Hanely; District of Columbia State Legislative Board Chairman Herbert Harris; Pennsylvania State Legislative Board Chairman Ken Kertesz; Illinois State Legislative Board Chairman Paul Piekarski; Director of Regulatory Affairs Vince Verna; and Director of Bylaws Administration John Fink.

President Pierce thanked all officers and members of both unions who took the time to walk the Hill and get the unions’ message to the members of Congress. “Although I too met with members of Congress to make our case, it was the National Vice Presidents, State Chairmen, State Directors and Staff members of both unions who did the heavy lifting on the Hill. It is events like this that show the true depth and strength of our legislative department and I am proud to have been there with them”

The legislation requires that “no freight train or light engine used in connection with the movement of freight may be operated unless it has a crew consisting of at least 2 individuals, one of whom is certified under regulations promulgated by the Federal Railroad Administration as a locomotive engineer pursuant to section 20135, and the other of whom is certified under regulations promulgated by the Federal Railroad Administration as a conductor pursuant to section 20163.”

Representatives Michael Michaud (D-ME) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced the legislation on August 2 in the aftermath of the tragic accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, which heightened awareness of the risks of single person operations.

The BLET, along with SMART-TD, has been working to gain co-sponsors for this bill since its introduction. The organizations recently sent a joint letter to all offices of the House of Representatives refuting memos sent to the Hill by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Shortline & Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) for the purpose of dissuading possible support of the legislation.

In the joint letter sent by BLET and SMART-TD, the unions noted that “[t]wo-person crews are the norm in both the U.S. and Canada. This bill will prevent a handful of rogue operators from endangering their employees and the communities through which they pass …

“The railroad industry has become a safer place to work than ever before, in large part because of the professionals who run the trains across America. And the folks who run our nation’s trains agree that the safest way to operate a train is with at least two certified crew members. Our industry is reducing the number of fender bender accidents, but fatalities continue to be in the teens for on-duty railroad employees. H.R. 3040 — the Safe Freight Act, is a bipartisan bill that will ensure that trains are operated safely everywhere in America.”

To follow up on the lobbying effort, President Pierce is now asking BLET members, retirees, the BLET Auxiliary, and all concerned family members to contact their members of Congress to continue the effort to increase the number of co-sponsors.

“I urge all BLET members to contact their members of the U.S. House of Representatives and ask them to sign on to this vital piece of legislation,” President Pierce said. “As the railroads noted in their letters to Congress, the issue is also going through the regulatory process as a result of Federal Railroad Administration Emergency Order 28, but that process isn’t an exact science. A Congressional mandate will be the best way to ensure the safest manner of operations possible, and we believe that means having two qualified people on each freight train in this country.”

To find your member of the U.S. House, go to www.house.gov and enter your Zip Code.

For more information, please click here (PDF).

November 19, 2013

BLET supports creation of coal export facility in Washington state

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) is supporting the building of a job-creating coal export facility in Washington state.

BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce made the announcement in a November 15 letter. He said the union is supporting the Millennium Bulk Terminal in Longview, Wash., because it is expected to create many well-paying union jobs.

“The terminal will create more than 1,000 jobs during its construction and more than 100 permanent jobs after its completion, jobs that are sorely needed at this time of continuing high unemployment,” President Pierce wrote.

The project is also expected to create new rail jobs, another key reason for the BLET’s endorsement.

“Eight trains per day will deliver coal to the terminal from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming, which is among the cleanest coal produced anywhere in the world, creating jobs for our members throughout the western United States,” he wrote. “These well-paying, union jobs are the types of jobs our economy needs and the American people want, and the creation of this facility will provide them.”

Pierce expressed confidence that the coal will be transported by rail in the safest manner possible.

“The safety record of these rail professionals who will transport this commodity is second to none,” President Pierce wrote. “The transportation of coal by freight rail is safe, clean and reliable.”

Situated along the Columbia River in Longview, Wash., the facility is expected to begin operations in 2015 and would export coal to emerging markets in Asia and beyond. According to media reports, Millennium officials expect to export about 44 million tons of coal annually from the proposed facility.

The BLET comments were submitted as part of the facility’s public review and input process. A copy of the BLET’s letter supporting the Millennium Bulk Terminal-Longview is available here.

October 4, 2013

Teamsters Rail Conference fighting to restore full railroad unemployment and sickness benefits

Beginning October 1, the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) will reduce railroad unemployment and sickness insurance benefits by 7.2 percent — instead of 9.2 percent — due to federal budget cuts first implemented in March 2013. Since that time, these benefits had been reduced by 9.2 percent.

However, Rail Labor and the industry say that’s not good enough. Both sides are actively petitioning members of Congress to eliminate the unfair benefit reduction entirely. Rail Labor unions have contacted all members of the House and Senate, while the Association of American Railroads has reached out to the Ranking Members of both the House and Senate Budget Committees.

Dennis R. Pierce is leading the charge on behalf of the Teamsters Rail Conference and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET). As President of both Organizations, Pierce mailed a letter to all members of Congress highlighting the unfair treatment that railroad workers receive under the Budget Control Act of 2011, more commonly known now as sequestration.

“Workers who are not employed in the railroad industry do not have their basic unemployment and sickness benefits reduced, only railroad workers,” he wrote. “It is difficult to understand why this unfair and onerous reduction is being applied to only one type of worker in this country.”

The sequestration cut impacts more than 70,000 Rail Conference members belonging to the BLET and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED).

“We believe that railroad workers should not be singled out and penalized by having their unemployment and sickness benefits arbitrarily reduced,” President Pierce wrote. “This is not only unfair but it is harmful to the economy as a whole since almost 100 percent of these benefits is immediately put back into the economy as these individuals struggle to buy food and medicine, pay mortgages, etc. Recipients of these temporary benefits do not save or invest these benefits. Rather, they use them to pay for everyday living expenses.”

According to the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board, the adjusted reduction amount is based on revised projections of benefit claims and payments under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act. It will remain in effect through September 30, 2014, the end of the fiscal year. Reductions in future fiscal years, should they occur, will be calculated based on applicable law. The 7.2 percent reduction in railroad unemployment and sickness benefits will reduce the maximum daily benefit rate from $68.00 to $63.10. As a result, the total maximum amount payable in a 2-week period with 10 days of unemployment will drop from $680.00 to $631.04.

“We… request that you rescind this unfair benefit reduction on our most vulnerable workers, and restore their full unemployment and sickness benefits,” President Pierce concluded.

A copy of President Pierce’s letter is on the BLET website (PDF).

September 24, 2013

Today is National Voter Registration Day

CLEVELAND, September 24 — The Teamsters 2013 Voter Registration campaign is in full swing. Teamster activists all across the country are working hard to meet our goal of registering thousands of our Brothers and Sisters to vote.

Voting is something we sometimes take for granted, but it really is one of the most important ways that you can make your voice heard in the political process. And with voter suppression laws being passed in states across the country, the right to vote is something we must protect and make sure is available to all citizens.

Today, September 24th, is National Voter Registration Day. People all across the country will be getting involved in their communities today to register their family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. If you’d like to help with this effort, or if you’re not yet registered to vote, please click here.

As reported by the BLET last week, the Teamsters have compiled voter registration information from all 50 states into one easy to find section of their website. The information can be found here on the Teamster website. This is a password-protected area and the password has been placed in the members’ area of the BLET website. Also, the voter registration information is available on each individual state’s Secretary of State website.

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