BLET Auxiliary Update

Dear Mable: Thank you, from all of us!

By Becky Schneider
President, BLET Auxiliary

In a departure from the usual information provided by the Auxiliary for the BLET News, we would like to dedicate this month's submission to thank long-time member Mabel Grotzinger for her years of service representing the Auxiliary and the interests of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, their spouses, and families. For personal reasons, including the illness and passing of her husband and best friend, Michael Grotzinger, and subsequent return to work after suffering a broken wrist, Mabel feels she can no longer perform the duties of Auxiliary National Vice President up to her standards. As you will see below, her standards have always been high. Effective January 1st, Sister Grotzinger has stepped down from her position; however, she will always be just a phone call away.

Mabel joined the Grand International Auxiliary to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (GIA) in March of 1987. She is a charter member of Susquehanna Auxiliary 11 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and currently serves as its Secretary and Legislative Representative. She attended her first Quadrennial Convention as a delegate representing Auxiliary 11 in 1991, and by 1996, she ran for and won election to the position of 2nd Vice President and National Legislative Representative. She is admired by both her colleagues and politicians alike because of her enthusiasm, tenacity, and ability to grasp complex issues involving the safety and quality of life of railroad workers. More than once, she was known to have corrected an elected representative, politely of course, when their understanding of an issue was wrong. With previous lobbying experience under her belt, she hit the ground running, raising the bar incredibly high for future National Legislative Representatives.

Sister Grotzinger gained a great deal of lobbying experience in her home State House in Pennsylvania. Brother Ken Kertesz, Chairman of the Pennsylvania State Legislative Board, has this to say: "Mabel and Mike were active and involved in safety issues for the BLE for as long as I can remember. I believe they were both instrumental in pushing for critical incident stress provisions in the collective bargaining agreement. Mabel displayed abilities and natural talent to grasp BLE issues and so she was called up to lobby many, many times, in both D.C. and Harrisburg. I walked the halls of Congress with her several times and each time was a learning experience. Cold calls to legislators were far from cold. When she walked into the offices, most everyone knew her and greeted her as though they were old friends. She was a quick study and ready to hit the ground at a moment's notice."

Chairman Kertesz goes on to say, "In 1998, the Pennsylvania State Legislative Board bestowed Mabel with an Honorary Membership on the Board, and was awarded a plaque and recognition by then-BLE International President Clarence Monin. To my knowledge, Mabel is the only woman to ever receive this distinction and the Pennsylvania Board is proud and privileged to have done so. The BLET membership will miss Sister Mabel now that she has decided to step down, and it is truly a loss for the Brotherhood and Sisterhood. However, at any time she decides to become active, we will welcome her with open arms. The BLET salutes Sister Grotzinger and wishes her nothing but the very best in her endeavors and good health for many decades. She deserves nothing less."

In July of 2000, the first Railroad Retirement Reform act was filed and Mabel worked diligently with the BLE in conjunction with other rail labor representatives to push for passage. Because the majority in Congress rested with the Republicans at that time, the bill was prevented from ever reaching a vote on the floor of the Senate, and died with the 106th Congress.

In October of 2000, due to the resignation of the International GIA Vice President, Mabel reluctantly assumed the office of 1st Vice President. Her passion was in the legislative arena, but she made the move for the good of the Order. As 1st Vice President, she became a member of the Executive Council, the governing body that oversees Auxiliary business between Conventions. Then-GIA President Ruth Windham appointed me to fill out her term as 2nd Vice President, and all I can say is that Mabel left some pretty big shoes to fill; however, she did provide the patience and mentoring I needed in order to continue her work.

Together in 2001, we continued efforts to pass the re-filed Railroad Retirement Reform Act, and because of a change in Senate leadership late that year, success was finally realized. While I may have held the official title of NLR, Mabel's close proximity to Washington allowed her to be there on short notice to represent the Auxiliary, and her close relationship with the late Betty Child, Office Administrator for the BLE D.C. office, gave her an inside advantage. At one point, because the D.C. office was short staffed, she became the office's unofficial Amtrak representative sent to monitor and report on the numerous hearings on Amtrak reform.

When Mabel moved into the 1st Vice President's position, she was no stranger to the Executive Council. Because of Court rulings prohibiting the BLE from striking over safety issues, then-BLE President Monin saw a new way in which the Auxiliary could aide the BLE in addressing those issues. He approached GIA President Windham, and together they came up with a strategy for mobilizing our members. Sister Windham put Mabel in charge of coordinating our mobilization team and ensured that they were well trained. Conference calls were then held by the Executive Council on a quarterly basis, and Mabel reported her progress, as well as keeping the Council abreast on current legislative issues, which were many.

When asked what Sister Windham valued most from Mabel's contributions, she said, "during my tenure as International President beginning in 1996, our motto was to 'Grow, Inform, and Achieve.' Mabel's friendly, motivated, and hardworking attitude helped in that respect. No job was too large or too small for Sister Grotzinger. For me, she was a good source for information to keep me abreast of current issues, and she provided excellent ideas to help us continue to grow, inform, and achieve. She is a great officer and a good person."

At the convention in 2001, Mabel was elected to the office of Vice President under what would turn out to be our last International President, Onita Wayland. With the transition to a more proactive role, the Auxiliary experienced some serious growing pains. Sister Wayland said, "if she had not had Mabel, along with the other members of the Executive Council, by her side during some of the more trying times, it would have been harder to overcome the adversities the Auxiliary experienced."

Also in 2001, the 7th Quadrennial Convention created the office of Auxiliary State Legislative Representatives to work in concert with the various State Legislative Board Chairmen. Since Sister Grotzinger had already been doing the job, she was officially appointed the Pennsylvania State Legislate Representative by International President Onita Wayland.

I remember our first Council meeting in Waco, Texas, at which we shared a room. We had become close, realizing that we had so much in common even though we were born on opposite sides of the Mason-Dixon line. We were almost like sisters. She didn't know me from Adam when Sister Windham appointed me, but it only took one phone call to realize that our passions and ideas for ways the Auxiliary could help the BLE were very similar. As we dressed for our first meeting, to our surprise, we were dressed almost identically. Apparently, not only did we share the same fire and passion, we had the same taste in clothes, and frequented the same stores. From then on we coordinated who would wear what so it would not appear like a legislative uniform.

During President Wayland's term, Mabel's husband Michael was diagnosed with cancer, and Mabel's world was turned upside down. She continued to do the best she could to fulfill her duties as Vice President, in part because Mike wouldn't let her stop. As she knows, he was one of the Auxiliary's staunchest supporters, who offered advice and help whenever and wherever he could. Even when she would want to stay home to help take care of him, he would send her off to meetings. I personally miss discussions Mike and I had, which more often than not resulted in a difference of opinion, but I respected his openness and genuine concern for us, the Auxiliary, and the BLE.

Michael left us in February of 2006, our convention year, and in part because of the drastic change in Mabel's life, she decided not to run for President. It was something Mike wanted her to do ­ to be the first President in many years who was married to an active BLE member. However, she did not feel she was in a position to give it her all, and she knew she would need to return to work because she was still too young to draw retirement benefits.

At our convention in June, a special dispensation was made to allow Mabel to run for Vice President a second time, waiving the term limits, and she was re-elected by acclamation. In spite of her desire to move on, between the need to work full time and the unfortunate accident that shattered her wrist, it became clear that she needed some time to take care of herself, so with reluctance she tendered her resignation.

We have grown accustomed to seeing Mabel at Executive Council meetings and conventions and will miss her, but I'm pretty sure we have not seen the last of her. Perhaps when she has had some time to heal her heart and body, she will be back with the tenacity and passion that has been her mantra.

This is so long and good luck, but not good bye, our Friend and Sister.



© 2008 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen