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BLET kicks off Clearwater regional meeting

CLEARWATER, Fla., July 23 — More than 300 members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and their families convened here this morning for opening ceremonies of the BLET’s second regional meeting of 2019.

BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce called the meeting to order. After presentation of the flags by members of American Legion Post 273 Color Guard, Brother Chris Hyde, Vice Chairman of the BLET’s CSXT Eastern Lines General Committee of Adjustment, delivered the invocation. Brother Hyde is a member of BLET Division 314 (Rocky Mount, N.C.).

President Pierce then welcomed all members, families and guests to Clearwater. 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: Brother Dave Wyatt, Local Chairman of BLET Division 216 (Tampa, Fla.); and Brother Dave Lavery, Legislative Representative of Division 216 (Tampa) and former Chairman of the Florida State Legislative Board; and Brother Dino Raptis, a retired member of Division 12 (Fort Wayne, Ind.), and his wife Kathy.

Guest speakers included: Ken Hall, General Secretary-Treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; John Bragg, Labor Member of the Railroad Retirement Board; Representative Charlie Crist, U.S. House of Representatives (D-FL); BLET Auxiliary National President Kathleen Bisbikis; and Brother Lavery, former Chairman of the Florida State Legislative Board.

The chief financial officer of the IBT, Brother Ken Hall discussed the strong financial state of the Teamsters. A second-generation Teamster, Brother Hall has been a member since 1976 when he began his Teamster career working in the oilfields for the Pennzoil Company. After serving as a Pennzoil job steward and negotiating committee member for 11 years, Hall was appointed as Local 175 business agent in 1987. He was appointed Teamster International Vice President, Eastern Region, in 2003 and elected GST in 2011. Hall spoke about the need for unity within the IBT and with all of labor.

“I’m a Teamster. You’re a Teamster. We’re all Teamsters. We just do different jobs,” Brother Hall said. “When one of us has a fight, we all have a fight. Your fight to protect two-person train crews is the fight of all Teamsters. We have to have each other’s backs.”

A native of Hinton, West Virginia, Bragg began his railroad career 18 years ago with CSX Transportation as a freight conductor at Pinoca Yard in Charlotte, N.C. He subsequently transferred to the Signal Department and was elected Local Chairman and Northeast General Committee Trustee for the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS). In May 2008, he was appointed as a BRS Grand Lodge Representative, holding several key positions, including Director of Research — a position that works jointly with the Federal Railroad Administration to craft railroad safety regulations. In 2011, he was elected as a BRS Vice President, and was reelected by acclamation in 2014 and 2018. On February 5, 2019, he was sworn in as Labor Member of the Railroad Retirement Board, with the support of the 13 national rail unions. He urged members to remain active in order to protect their retirement benefits.

“Rest assured, when you go to retire, the Railroad Retirement system will be there for you,” Bragg said. “But we have to remain vigilant. Any changes to Social Security or Medicare will impact your Railroad Retirement benefits. It’s up to us to make sure that the Railroad Retirement system is there for future generations.”

President Pierce delivered remarks regarding the state of the union and the state of the rail industry. He also discussed the upcoming national election and the need to elect union-friendly politicians to help safeguard what the BLET has accomplished since its founding in 1863.

“It’s important for spouses and other family members to understand what is at risk if we are not vigilant in protecting what we have,” President Pierce said. “We have been fortunate to work in an industry that is virtually completely organized, and for that reason, our members have benefits that come not only from collectively bargained contracts, but from also from legislation crafted and pushed by your Union, and implemented in the legislative halls over the years... To stop the anti-worker movement in the legislative halls across the country, we must seek out and elect politicians who will work for working class Americans. We must support politicians who know that a vibrant working middle class is what makes America great. In fact, the brave politicians that passed the six State Crew Size laws have earned our support.”

Midway through the morning session, President Pierce led BLET members in a moment of silence for all BLET members who have been killed in the line of duty since 1989. All their names were shown in a solemn video presentation.

Rep. Charlie Crist spoke after the morning break. He served in the Florida Senate from 1993 to 1999, and then as Florida Education Commissioner from 2001 to 2003. In 2003, he became Florida’s Attorney General, serving from 2003 until his inauguration as the Sunshine State’s 44th Governor on January 2, 2007. In 2016, he was elected to represent Florida’s 13th Congressional District. He pledged his support to the BLET’s Safe Freight Act (H.R. 1748), which would protect two-person train crews.

The daughter of a career railroader and the wife of a BLET member, Kat Bisbikis serves as National President of the BLET Auxiliary. In 2014, she was elected as the Auxiliary’s National Second Vice President and Legislative Representative, and in October 2018, she was elected to serve as National President. He is the founding member of the Nor Cal 39 Auxiliary in Stockton, Calif. Sister Bisbikis reported that the state of the national Auxiliary is good, having recently organized three new local Auxiliaries. Additionally, the Auxiliary recently awarded 10 $1,000 scholarships to the children of BLET& Auxiliary members.

The final speaker of the day was Dave Lavery, former Chairman of the Florida State Legislative Board. He comes from a deep-rooted Union family. His grandfather was a Local President in the United Mine Workers, and his father was Local President with the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks. Brother Lavery hired out in 1977 in the Maintenance of Way Department, and from there went into train service as a brakeman and a conductor. He later became a fireman and, finally, was promoted to locomotive engineer. He joined the BLE on October 1, 1985. In 1996 he was one of the leaders who re-formed the Florida State Legislative Board.

He spoke about A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, who fought against racism and for equal treatment of all workers. Brother Lavery encouraged BLET members to become involved and engaged in order to make their voices heard.

“Never allow your voice to be diminished in state, local or national politics,” he said. “The railroads don’t want to see you involved.”

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. The 2019 Clearwater regional meeting will conclude with a banquet on the evening of Thursday, July 25.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

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