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BLET kicks off San Antonio regional meeting

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, June 6 — Approximately 335 members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and their families convened here this morning for opening ceremonies of the BLET’s first regional meeting of 2017.

BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce called the meeting to order. After presentation of flags by members of the Joint Base San Antonio Civic Honor Guard, retired Brother Terry D. Briggs delivered the invocation. Brother Briggs served as Chairman of the Texas State Legislative Board from 2001-2015.

President Pierce then welcomed all members, families and guests to San Antonio. 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: Warren Stevens, Local Chairman and Secretary-Treasurer of Division 197; Luis Esparza, Trustee and Member of Division 197; L.W. (Wayne) Davis, Legislative Representative of Division 918; and Brother Briggs, a retired member of Division 530 and former Chairman of the Texas State Legislative Board.

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. “There’s a huge storm brewing ... not only for BLET members and their Brothers and Sisters who work in the railroad industry, but for all workers and for the American Middle Class,” he said.

President Pierce encouraged all members to become active and involved in their union and in politics in order to protect what the union has earned. “We face a fight like none of us have ever experienced. And it won’t happen in a single, winner-take-all battle. Instead, years of attacks on labor, some hidden in seemingly harmless legislation, lie ahead. That means 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.”

President Pierce then introduced guest speaker Julian Castro, San Antonio native and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2014-2017. At the age of 26 he became the youngest city councilman in San Antonio history, and was elected Mayor of San Antonio in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

“I have a great deal of respect for the people in this room and for what you do,” Castro said. “Through your skill, professionalism and commitment to safety, you move people and goods throughout our country. In other words, you move our economy.

“We need a new vision to thrive in the 21st Century. It’s time for government to serve the people, not just the powerful. That’s where you come in. You have set an example with over 154 years of leadership and advocacy. Through your active union membership, you are helping to protect the American Middle Class.”

President Pierce then introduced Linda Chavez-Thompson, who was elected by acclamation to serve as Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO in 1995, a position she held until her retirement in 2007. She was the Democratic nominee to run for the office of Lieutenant Governor of Texas in 2010.

“Your union was founded 154 years ago by a group of people who said ‘enough is enough,’” Chavez-Thompson said. “Generations later, the union they established is in your hands. What are you going to do with it? You’re here today because you are already union leaders. But sometimes our members forget the fight. They forget the sacrifices that have been made on their behalf by those who came before us. It is your job to pass on what you learn here today. It’s your job to pass on the baton of educating and energizing others to carry on the union. Make sure they carry on the love of the union and teach them to give and to sacrifice for the union.”

The next guest speaker was Jodi Wallace, Alternate National Treasurer of the BLET Auxiliary. Sister Wallace 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. She also gave an update on the BLET Auxiliary Scholarship Program, announcing the names of recent winners and recognizing the parents who were in attendance.

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 Sister Chavez-Thompson, 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, discussed the health of the Railroad Retirement system. He said that there are many challenges facing the Railroad Retirement today, but encouraged members and their unions to maintain constant vigilance to protect it.

“What has protected Railroad Retirement for the past 82 years is a strong labor movement,” Barrows said. “Railroad Retirement is an earned benefit, not a gift. The money that railroads pay into the system is money that is earned by your labor. It isn’t a gift.”

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. Those in attendance also observed a moment of silence in honor of retired BLE International Vice President Ed Watson, who passed away on May 31, and former BLE International Vice President Jim Shell, who passed away on June 1.

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. These workshops will also include an overview of the BLET’s Mobilization network.

The 2017 San Antonio regional meeting will conclude with a banquet on the evening of Thursday, June 8. The BLET’s second 2017 regional meeting will be held August 14-18 in Myrtle Beach, S.C. More specific information is available at: http://www.ble-t.org/regional/.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

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