BLETs 85th Southeastern Meeting Association begins in Orlando
ORLANDO, Fla., June 25 — BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce led members in a moment of silence this afternoon for three Union Pacific railroad workers killed in the line of duty near Goodwell, Okla., on June 24.
Two freight trains collided head-on and exploded into flames on Sunday, leaving three Union Pacific crew members, including two BLET members, missing and presumed dead. BLET Safety Task Force Primary Investigators Jerry Bullard (Division 212) and Russell Elley (Division 197) are on the scene.
BLET members and their families are gathered here for the Southeastern Meeting Association’s (SMA) 85th annual convention, one of four regional meetings hosted by the BLET this summer.
The ongoing War on Workers and protecting Railroad Retirement were common themes in remarks during opening ceremonies here this morning.
SMA Chairman Earl Karper (BLET Division 35) kicked off the week-long meeting by welcoming everyone to Orlando and giving members a history of railroading in Florida. SMA Secretary-Treasurer Chuck Warder gave the invocation and led a ceremony to recognize BLET members killed in the line of duty. An empty chair was left at the front of the meeting hall to symbolize the Organization’s departed Brothers and Sisters.
The opening ceremonies continued with the historic presentation of state flags by members of the BLET Auxiliary, a tradition that dates back nearly 100 years. States flags presented in the ceremony include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce introduced members of the BLET Advisory Board and National Division staff who were in attendance. He gave members an update in the War on Workers and described the challenges facing the organization.
“We need to find and support politicians who believe in working class America,” he said. “Another challenge is to motivate our members to vote to protect their economic self interest rather than voting on social issues. You need to know which politicians are working for you, and which ones are working for corporate interests.”
Anita Caruso, President of the BLET Auxiliary, was next to address the members. “The Auxiliary makes every effort to be proactive on issues that impact BLET members,” she said.
Michael Lacey, Legislative Representative of Division 769 and 1st Vice Chairman of the Florida State Legislative Board, introduced guest speaker Scott Randolph. Randolph is a member of the Florida House of Representatives, from District 36, and Chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party.
“Working class America is under attack,” he said. “The other party uses fear and distrust. It’s up to us to make sure we talk to our neighbors, families and friends about unions. Don’t let the other side use fear and distrust to push their anti-worker and anti-labor initiatives. We have got to make sure we have a strong middle class in this country.”
Next on the agenda was Walt Barrows, Labor Member of the Railroad Retirement Board.
“The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen is a great labor organization and you should take pride in your President, Dennis Pierce,” Barrows said. “Under his leadership the BLET has been in the forefront to protect your retirement rights.”
Barrows said the Railroad Retirement fund in solvent and funded well into the future. However, it remains a target for conservative politicians.
“Railroad workers are entitled,” he said. “We worked for it. We paid for it. We sacrificed and fought for it. We are entitled because our blood and sweat helped railroads to achieve record profits. We have earned it.”
The first morning session concluded with a presentation by Carl Fields, Coordinator of the BLET Safety Task Force. Members should call the STF Hotline, (800) 306-5414, in the event of major derailments, fatalities, hazardous materials release, evacuations, or passenger train incidents.
The afternoon concluded with a closed meeting for BLET members and open meetings for the BLET Auxiliary. Members will enjoy numerous educational opportunities throughout the remainder of the week.
Monday, June 25, 2012