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The Benefits of Belonging

By Dennis R. Pierce
BLET National President

(BLET Editor’s Note: The following message from BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce has been excerpted from the February 2016 issue of the Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen News.)

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, March 16 — On May 8, 2017, we will mark our great Brotherhood’s 154th anniversary. Many things have changed since that time, but one of our primary responsibilities remains the same as it was when our Union was founded on May 8, 1863 — to protect and defend the jobs of our members.

We have reached this level of longevity and success thanks in large part to the democratic principles of our Organization and the involvement of our rank-and-file members. Communications is a key part of that success. As I have said before, the National Division encourages all members to voice their opinions and I think it’s important for you to know that I personally read the vast majority of the comments we receive.

Many recent membership comments have been in regards to the political climate in Congress, which is decidedly anti-union. This is in large part due to well-organized and highly-funded anti-union organizations that have spent years cultivating a sea of hostility toward Unions and Union members. This prolonged anti-union campaign has so thoroughly saturated the media that some BLET members are questioning their commitment to our Union. This is understandable in a time where a deck stacked against operating employees fails to prevent the Carriers from running roughshod over them. Ironically, that deck has long been stacked against us by the very anti-union forces, both corporate and political, that now suggest you abandon your Union. Beware that temptation; the history of our Brotherhood is clear evidence that we are better off fighting together as Union Brothers and Sisters than trying to go it on our own.

Since 1863, a million or more railroaders have held membership in our Organization. Their contributions, great and small, have had a lasting impact in the struggle for better wages, better working conditions, and an improved quality of life. The cumulative yield of these investments benefit those of us working today, but there are days where things seem so bad that we begin to overlook the benefits of a Union contract.

To address the question, “What do I have to show for belonging to the BLET?”, I have asked our National Division staff to do some research so that we can all be aware of just what is at stake in these anti-union, anti-union contract, times. Currently under development is a series of articles titled “The Benefits of Belonging.” This series of reports will review some of the benefits the BLET has negotiated on behalf of our members, and will show when and how they were obtained and improved. Our effort is not to ignore the fact that there is much to improve upon, but is instead an effort to show what could be taken away if our Union does not survive the current anti-union attacks.

Make no mistake, you are the Union, and an attack on your wages and benefits is also an attack on our Union. There is no better example of that attack than the current round of bargaining for our national contract. The Carriers have delayed making any meaningful offers; in fact, recent proposals provided to one of the other bargaining coalitions make it clear that they intend to pursue dramatic changes to our Health and Welfare benefits, while offering pitiful wage increases. BLET’s bargaining coalition will have met in its first mediated bargaining session by the time you read this article, and I have every expectation that the Carriers will have pushed a similar “bad faith” proposal to our coalition as well.

You have my commitment, and that of our National Negotiating Team, that we will do everything in our power to prevent such a proposal from becoming your next National Contract. But that is where the political world truly collides with our efforts. Winning, keeping and improving national contract benefits is a process that frequently exhausts all avenues of resolution, beginning with the collective bargaining process under the Railway Labor Act. Absent a dramatic change by the Carriers, we will in all likelihood move through mediation without reaching a proposed agreement that you would find acceptable. In that event, we must all be mindful that it is President Trump who will appoint a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB). There obviously are opinions on both sides of whether or not the President will take action to support working class Americans by appointing a fair PEB, but one thing is certain: we will find if and when he does make that appointment exactly where he stands with our membership.

Regardless of the answer to that question, the PEB will make its recommendations, good or bad. Either way, it will be incumbent upon the Rail Unions to make an effort to use those recommendations to negotiate a proposed contract. If that effort does not result in an agreement that you would ratify, the ultimate conclusion of our contract dispute will be decided by Congress. That is also when we will find out exactly where the current Congress stands with our membership. I share this not to paint a gloomy picture of the future, but to ensure that all members understand just how affected by politics we all are as we labor under the terms and conditions of the Railway Labor Act.

Some members have suggested that rail Unions “hide” behind the Railway Labor Act (RLA), but nothing could be further from the truth. The RLA is the law of the land when it comes to the processes that all Rail Unions must follow. There is no choice available to ignore the law; in fact, those who suggest that we should break the law are not only putting your Union representation at risk, they are putting the benefits or your existing Union contract at risk. Benefits such as paid holidays, vacations, health care, and the seniority system are all benefits we enjoy today thanks to the longevity and success of our Brotherhood. I cannot say it often enough, none of those benefits survive in a non-union railroad workplace.

Please take the time to read the upcoming series outlining the “Benefits of Belonging.” It is my hope that you will agree with me that the stakes are too high to let our Union fail. Be involved in your Union, and help us in our efforts to protect and improve on the benefits in place today.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

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