Strength in solidarity

Keegel: BLE members would benefit by merging with Teamsters

SPARKS, Nev. -- BLE members would benefit from one of North America's largest political action funds and organizing budgets if they decide to merge with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT).

That's according to IBT Secretary-Treasurer C. Thomas Keegel, who described the structure of the IBT and explained how it can help the BLE in a speech delivered during opening ceremonies at the BLE's 63rd annual International Western Convention in Sparks, Nevada, on June 3.

Keegel said the IBT has budgeted $14 million for organizing in 2003, and that number more than doubles to nearly $30 million when factoring in money from the IBT's Joint Councils.

"We plan to organize anything and everything that moves," Keegel said.

The BLE has successfully organized several shortline railroads in the past few months, such as the Tex Mex, IC&E, and Utah Railway. Assistance from the IBT could help the BLE continue and expand its shortline organizing campaign.

Keegel also pointed out that the IBT had the nation's largest union PAC fund during the 1999-2000 election cycle, which was more than $9.1 million.

In addition to the PAC fund and Organizing Department, BLE members would receive assistance from the IBT's Strategic Campaign, Government Affairs, Communications, Education, Research, Safety & Health, and Legal Departments.

"This is an exciting time and I am excited about the future," Keegel said. "I see the merger as a win-win. It's a win for the IBT and a win for the BLE."

Keegel predicted that the next several years will be a time of great change for organized labor, and credited BLE leaders for staying ahead of the game by preparing for the future.

"If you don't change tactics in the 21st century, you'll be left behind," Keegel said. "The BLE has done well with the resources you have, but members have come to realize that 55,000 members won't cut it in today's economy."

Merging with the IBT would create a "kick ass union," Keegel said, that would allow the BLE to keep its autonomy and dues structure.

"It's the right thing to do," Keegel said. "There are people out there watching this (merger process) and they don't like what they see. Your employers don't like it and your enemies who tried to raid you don't like it.

"(Railroads) are scared to death that we'll band together and get into the board room and change the way they do business. They're also afraid we'll band together and change things on Capitol Hill."

Keegel said the BLE is the front-runner in gathering all rail unions together under the Rail Conference of the IBT, noting that other rail unions have already contacted the IBT regarding a merger similar to BLE's.

"A total transportation union is a good idea ­ one that will be in the forefront and deliver for the members. A total transportation union will allow us to best leverage our strength."

Teamsters Secretary-Treasurer Tom Keegel



© 2003 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers