Year in review: 2006 sets the pace for 2007

By Don M. Hahs
National President

The year 2006 was an eventful and successful year for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

We began our third year as Teamsters and owe much to the solidarity provided by our membership in the Rail Conference. It is my hope that the Rail Conference will continue to grow and unite all of rail labor so that we may work in harmony to achieve our goals.

The BLET began the year with several organizing victories as part of our aggressive organizing campaign. The BLET successfully organized workers at the Panhandle Northern on January 20; the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic (MMA) on April 19; and the Huron & Eastern Railroad on May 11.

Overall, more than 3,100 new members joined the Brotherhood in 2006.

The BLET also reached contract agreements on several properties, including some of our newly organized shortlines. Among the railroads with new agreements are: the Portland & Western Railroad; SEPTA; Chicago, Fort Wayne and Eastern Railroad; Panhandle Northern Railroad; Montana Rail Link (MRL); Illinois Central; and New England Central Railroad (NECR). And looking forward to 2007, we already have a tentative contract on the Grand Trunk Western, with ballots due on January 15. The agreements on all of these railroads will provide our members better working conditions, pay and benefits.

National negotiations are still ongoing. It has been more than two years since we served the carriers our Section 6 notices. We have been negotiating as part of the Rail Labor Bargaining Coalition since this round of negotiations began. We expanded our bargaining strategy to include joint negotiations with the United Transportation Union. Our show of solidarity has left the carriers no choice but to remove the specter of single-person crews from the table, a substantial victory for our members and all rail labor.

Our strong show of solidarity has let the carriers know that we are serious about negotiating an excellent agreement for our membership. This is a time of record profits and record traffic volume for the carriers. Those profits are due in large part to our highly skilled and dedicated members, who deserve an equitable piece of the pie.

We have been lucky to maintain continuity at the bargaining table thanks to the delegates at the First Quadrennial Convention. In June, more than 500 delegates convened in Las Vegas for the BLET's first convention since merging with the Teamsters. The delegates, representing more than 53,000 locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States, elected the Brotherhood's leaders for the next four years. Delegates also voted on more than 50 different resolutions and other changes to the Brotherhood's constitution and bylaws.

Delegates reelected all members of the Advisory Board, with the exception of two who retired. The two newest members of the Advisory Board are John P. Tolman and Marcus J. Ruef. I look forward to working with all these Brothers during the next four years. John will give the BLET active representation in Washington, D.C., and Marcus brings a wealth of experienced membership representation to the Advisory Board. Hopefully, this continuity will allow us to continue the great strides we have made on the behalf of our members.

The Rail Conference also held its inaugural convention in Las Vegas on June following the completion of BMWED and BLET national conventions. During that convention, delegates voted on changes to the Rail Conference bylaws, which set the foundation for the BLET and BMWED to work together more closely, and they elected leaders for the next four years. They are: Ed Rodzwicz, First Vice President of the BLET, is the new President of the Rail Conference; Bill Walpert, National Secretary-Treasurer of the BLET, is Vice President of the Rail Conference; and Perry Geller, National Secretary-Treasurer of the BMWED, is Secretary-Treasurer of the Rail Conference. In addition, Brother Fred Simpson, President of the BMWED, won election to the office of At-Large Vice-President of the IBT and will represent the Rail Conference on the Teamsters General Executive Board. I congratulate these Brothers, all of whom won their elections unanimously, and know they will do a fantastic job of taking the Rail Conference into the 21st Century.

Brother Walpert has also done a tremendous job leading the change over from old fashioned paper reporting of dues to a streamlined, Internet-based reporting system. Under his leadership, the BLET stands as one of the most technologically advanced national unions in the country. He and his team deserve praise and thanks for the hard work they have done to keep the BLET to the cutting edge of advancing technology.

The leaders of the BLET and all of labor had cause to celebrate in the November elections. We hope that the shift in power will be a shift towards the interests of the working men and women of this country and away from corporate special interests. With more than 40 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots, the November 7 elections put the Democrats into power in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. The Democrats also made their mark in many state races and now hold 28 governorships across the country. The new Congressional majority has created an ambitious legislative agenda largely geared toward reforms - and working men and women.

This new focus will help us to continue to make gains in the legislative arena. In 2006, the BLET worked on myriad pieces of legislation related to health and welfare, railroad security and safety and Amtrak, among other things, and we scored a big victory for disabled railroad workers at the end of the year, with the passage of H.R. 5483, Railroad Retirement Disability Earnings Act.

One of our major legislative goals for 2006 is the full funding of Amtrak. For its entire history, our nation's passenger railroad has received just enough funding to limp along on a year to year basis - creating an unfair situation for our members. Amtrak needs multi-year funding at a level consistent with its needs. BLET members who work for Amtrak have been without a contract for more than seven years, and we hope to achieve this legislative goal and many others in the next year.

The BLET enjoyed a safe, successful and prosperous 2006 and we hope to continue this success into 2007!




© 2007 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen