In the halls of Congress

BLET State Legislative Board Chairmen meet with members of Congress on Capitol Hill

Twenty-one BLET State Legislative Board Chairmen descended on Capitol Hill the week of January 22 in a major effort to educate their Senators and Representatives about railroad security, Amtrak funding, and many other issues of importance to the BLET and the Teamsters Rail Conference.

The 21 State Chairmen visited 140 members of Congress in two days. The BLET National Legislative Office organized the event, which was held in conjunction with the Teamsters Leadership Academy on Political Action. The IBT's Training and Development Department and the IBT Government Affairs Department hosted the Leadership Academy.

"We visited members of both parties," said John Tolman, BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative. "We focused on getting our message across to both Republicans and Democrats - and will work with members of both parties to get legislation passed."

Several newly-elected State Legislative Board Chairmen and Teamsters from around the country attended the Teamsters three-day Leadership Academy. The program educated participants on how to develop a political action program at the local level, and a winning strategy for the upcoming 2008 elections.

"Educational opportunities such as this one provide our officers and members with the occasion to learn side by side with their brothers and sisters from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters," BLET National President Don M. Hahs said. "They serve to encourage greater solidarity with in the organization."

During the Academy, Vice President Tolman gave attendees a presentation about communications.

"I really enjoyed the training and found the variety of programs very interesting. I believe they will be especially valuable to me as a new Legislative Board Chairman," said Brian Kelley, Missouri State Legislative Board Chairman. "I thank Brother Tolman and the members of his staff who helped put this whole event together."

Veteran BLET State Legislative Board Chairmen joined the new Chairmen for visits to the Capitol. Railroad security and Amtrak funding were two of the key issues among the many that were discussed. The Chairmen stressed that worker training and whistleblower protections should be necessary parts of any rail security legislation passed by the Congress. In addition, the Chairmen stressed that a new collective bargaining agreement for Amtrak workers should be a part of any long term funding given to the National Railroad Passenger Corporation. BLET members at Amtrak have been without a new contract in more than six years.

"I think these visits provided an invaluable experience for both the new Chairmen and the veteran Chairmen," Vice President Tolman said. "It gave us an opportunity to express our views to more than 140 members of Congress and also allowed these brothers to get experience in discussing legislation that impacts our members on a national level."

Tolman said he received overwhelming positive feedback from the Chairmen about the Hill visits. All of the Chairmen filled out questionnaires and gave their opinions of the visit. He said the questionnaires will be used in the future to target certain members of Congress when legislation is coming up for votes.

"The opportunity to meet with our legislators in Washington during the first 30 days of the new Congress was invaluable," said Tim Hanely, Ohio State Legislative Board Chairman. "Change is definitely in the air on Capitol Hill."

The State Chairmen were organized into small groups for the visits to Capitol Hill. Each new Chairman was paired with one or more experienced Chairman, often leading to diverse pairings.

"I was impressed by our friends in D.C.," said Terry Todd, Arkansas State Legislative Board Chairman. "They were very knowledgeable about our issues and wanted our input. I am a freight engineer in the south with Union Pacific. George Newman is a passenger engineer from Massachusetts. I think we worked well together. George doesn't run freight and I don't run passenger. We each had our own specialty."

The meetings were set up over a three week period to coincide with the days that were scheduled for the efforts.

"On the behalf of the State Legislative Board Chairmen who participated and myself, I would like to thank Dan Sullivan of the National Legislative Office, and Kathleen Policy of the BLET Public Relations Department, for their hard work in setting up these appointments and organizing this event," Tolman said.

The following BLET members participated in the Capitol Hill event (all are State Legislative Board Chairmen unless otherwise noted): Mike Weston, Colorado; Jim Wilmesher, Colorado State Legislative Board Secretary-Treasurer; Craig Gilchrist, Montana; T.M. "Mike" McClary, Tennessee; Dave Lavery, Florida; Jeff Worthington, Utah; Terry Jones, Wyoming; Brian Kelley, Missouri; Jeff Kurtz, Iowa; Ed Way, Illinois; Bill Verdeyen, Indiana; Tim Hanely, Ohio; Ken Kertesz, Pennsylvania; Tony Dimond, Wisconsin; Terry Briggs, Texas; Rob Holton, Washington State Legislative Board Member (Division 104); Tim Smith, California; Herb Harris, Washington, D.C.; Terry Todd, Arkansas; George Newman, Massachusetts; and John Collins, New York State.

Clockwise, from left: Lobbying in the office of Congressman Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) is Ken Kertesz, Pennsylvania State Legislative Board Chairman; A.J. Stokes, State Coordinator, International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Tim Hanely, Ohio State Legislative Board Chairman; Congressman Shuster; Stephen Martinko, Legislative Director of Shuster's staff; and John Tolman, BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative.

Herb Harris (right), Washington D.C. Legislative Board Chairman, at a meeting with two representatives from Maryland.

From left: Jeff Kurtz, BLET Iowa State Legislative Board Chairman; Jeffrey Bainter, BMWED Indiana Legislative Director; Andrew Lattner, Transportation Legislative Assistant for the office of Representative Joe Donnelly (D-IN); Bill Verdeyen, BLET Indiana State Legislative Board Chairman; and Ed Way, BLET Illinois State Legislative Board Chairman.



© 2007 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen