BLET NEWS FLASH
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C., August 15 — More than 360 members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and their families convened here this morning for opening ceremonies of the BLET’s second regional meeting of 2017.
BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce called the meeting to order. After presentation of flags by members of the Color Guard from the Coast Guard based in Charleston, retired BLET National Vice President Paul L. Wingo delivered the invocation. Brother Wingo is a member of BLET Division 198 (Chattanooga, Tenn.) and he served as National Vice President from 2002 until his retirement in 2006. He has been a BLET member for 48 years.
President Pierce then welcomed all members, families and guests to Myrtle Beach. He introduced members of the BLET Advisory Board who were in attendance, and thanked National Vice President Jim Louis, Special Representative Matt Kronyak and Special Representative Jason Wright for their work in managing and organizing the regional meeting. President Pierce also recognized and thanked the regional meeting arrangements committee members who provided local support: Chris R. Hyde, Vice General Chairman of the CSX-Eastern Lines General Committee of Adjustment; Cecil E. Dubberly Jr., Local Chairman of Division 59 (Valdosta, Ga.); Kathy and Dino Raptis, a retired member of Division 12 (Fort Wayne, Ind.); and Chris and Steve Tuck, a retired member of Division 17 (Kansas City, Mo.).
President Pierce delivered remarks regarding the anti-union movement that exists in America and encouraged all BLET members to become involved to reverse this trend. He described H.R. 785, the national “right-to-work” law current in Congress, as the latest threat to organized labor.
“I am not exaggerating when I say that H.R. 785 is an attack on the labor movement unlike any seen in this country since Ronald Reagan wiped out the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization in 1981,” President Pierce said. “The bottom line is this: the reason that anti-union/anti-worker politicians want unions to go away is because when unions go away, union contracts which provide greater wages, benefits and working conditions go away with them. Many of our members do not realize that without a union and a union contract, there is no seniority roster or seniority district. Pay rates are decided by the boss, in many cases without regard to anything but personal favoritism and nepotism. There are no work rules that limit what you can be forced to do for a day’s pay; insurance is only provided to the extent required by government, and if you complain about any of this, you are terminated without the hearing and arbitration process that your contract currently provides you.
“We need all hands on deck, and we need to educate our membership exactly how stark are the risks we face if we don’t mount an historic struggle. But I can’t do this job alone … I need your help to spread the word, and the help of every BLET member who is willing to pitch in and do their part.”
President Pierce then introduced guest speaker Congressman James E. Clyburn (D-SC), who has represented South Carolina’s 6th Congressional District since 1993. Clyburn was previously House Majority Whip, serving in that post from 2007 to 2011. As Assistant Democratic Leader, Clyburn is the third-ranking Democrat in the House behind House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.
Rep. Clyburn stressed the need for unity among all citizens of the United States, and discussed the right-to-work legislation currently pending in Congress.
“What I see going on against unions today is similar to the lawsuits I saw against the NAACP in the 1950s and 60s,” Rep. Clyburn said. “These are lawsuits and rules designed to break the backs of unions. I’ve experienced this and can understand what is going on.”
President Pierce then introduced Teamsters International Vice President Sean O’Brien, a fourth-generation Teamsters and member of Local 25 in Boston. He was recently appointed by Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa to serve as Director of the Teamsters Package Division, which represents more than 250,000 Teamsters at UPS and UPS Freight.
“We are fighting every day to protect our pensions, our health care, and for respect in the workplace,” Brother O’Brien said. “You can’t put a price tag on respect. Failure is not an option. We’ve got to get up and fight every day. If we don’t fight today, then we will lose tomorrow.”
Brother O’Brien also emphasized the importance of training the next generation of union members.
“We have to cultivate and educate the younger generation,” he said. “Our goal, for everyone in this room, is to leave things better than we found them.”
The next guest speaker was Sereena Hogan, National President of the BLET Auxiliary. Sister Hogan described the relationship between the BLET and the BLET Auxiliary, and how they often work hand-in-hand to fight for issues of importance to BLET members and their families.
The fourth guest speaker was BLET General Chairman Gary D. Best, General Chairman of the CSX-Eastern Lines General Committee of Adjustment. He said the BLET is one of the most well respected unions in the United States.
“The BLET has people fighting to hold the line all over this country,” Brother Best said. “So the next time someone asks what the BLET is doing for them, you tell them the BLET has their feet planted on the ground, holding the line, and we ain’t going nowhere.”
National Vice President Gil Gore, the next guest speaker, spoke about the benefits of belonging to a union and the BLET in particular, which includes: higher wages, health and welfare benefits, pension, seniority, due process, a voice in Washington, D.C., Railroad Retirement, and the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). Like Brother O’Brien, Vice President Gore discussed the importance of mentoring young members to become leaders and encouraged all BLET members to conduct themselves with dignity and honor. He received more than one standing ovation for his moving and emotional speech.
Walt Barrows, Labor Member of the Railroad Retirement Board, was the final speaker on the morning agenda. Barrows discussed the health of the Railroad Retirement system. He encouraged members and their unions to maintain constant vigilance to protect the Railroad Retirement system.
“We have a pension plan that is solvent and well worth fighting for,” Barrows said. “Politicians need to keep their hands off it.”
The opening ceremony also included a memorial ceremony in which the names of all BLET members killed in the line of duty since 1989 were shown in a solemn video presentation.
Today’s afternoon session included a closed meeting for BLET members and an open meeting hosted by the BLET Auxiliary. Members will take advantage of educational opportunities throughout the remainder of the week. Workshops will feature specialized training for BLET Legislative Representatives, Secretary-Treasurers and Local Chairmen.
Next year, the BLET will host regional meetings in Monterey, California (June 18-22, 2018) and Washington, D.C. (August 13-17, 2018). More specific information is available at: http://www.ble-t.org/regional/