BLE welcomes new members
Membership in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers is growing to numbers not seen in decades as North America's oldest railroad labor union welcomes a new and diversified membership.
In the past year, the BLE has initiated nearly 3,500 new members -- an average of 290 per month -- to bring overall membership to more than 59,500. This unprecedented growth streak is due in large part to the BLE's active recruitment of conductors and trainmen.
Members of two newly chartered divisions -- Division 218 (Laredo, Texas) and Division 244 (Laredo, Texas) -- are the pioneering Brothers and Sisters who have blazed a trail for other trainmen to follow.
Division 218 represents a first in BLE history - it is a BLE division chartered exclusively to trainmen. Division 244 (from the Texas-Mexican Railway) is also unique in that it gives the BLE a train & engine service employee presence for the first time in history.
Division 218 -- Union Pacific
"We worked long and hard at this and we are extremely proud to be the first-ever BLE Trainmen's Division," said Shane Lewis, local chairman of Division 218 (Union Pacific).
The recruitment of trainmen members can be traced to Jan. 12, 1998, when the United Transportation Union filed an application with the National Mediation Board to eliminate all operating craft lines. BLE members certainly remember their fight to protect the craft of locomotive engineer, but there was also a rebellion among UTU members to save the other operating crafts threatened by UTU's application to the NMB.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of UTU members became disillusioned with the path of destruction UTU leaders had taken. Many, like the Brothers and Sisters who eventually formed Division 218 in Laredo, turned to the BLE for relief.
"We do not agree with many of the UTU's recent actions," Lewis said. "We could not continue to support an organization that has lost touch with its membership."
The final straw came on March 15, 2000, when the UTU dropped out of the AFL-CIO. "This could not have happened without the hard work and devotion of so many people," Lewis said. "There are a few people that I'd like to personally thank, the first being Mr. Gus Meza. He has shared his many years of experience and helped guide all of us along the way. We must give thanks to Mr. Joe Martinez for always giving selflessly when a need surfaced."
Brother Meza is now president of Division 218 while Brother Martinez is the vice-president. In addition, John Witt is the Secretary/Treasurer, Dionicio Cruz the Legislative Representative, Jeffrey S. Akeroyd and Carlos G. Gonzalez are the Vice Local Chairmen, and Enrique Rendon is the Assistance Secretary-Treasurer.
"I am proud to recognize all new trainmen members and welcome them to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers," said BLE International President Edward Dubroski.
As a symbol of the BLE's commitment to trainmen, Brother Lewis has been elected vice-general chairman of the UP-Western Region General Committee of Adjustment. The GCofA bylaws expressly state this position is responsible for handling trainmen issues.
"This shows how our organization is taking (these issues) seriously and is creating a structure to address trainmen needs," Lewis said.
Division 244 -- Tex Mex Railway
The BLE also welcomes the members of newly chartered Division 244 from the Tex Mex Railway. These brothers give the BLE a diversified membership as they represent the first "train and engine service employees" to belong to the BLE.
This combined-craft status was forced on the Tex Mex brothers by the National Mediation Board, at the request of the United Transportation Union. UTU requested the NMB issue such a ruling in an effort to thwart a BLE-sponsored representation election for the engineer's craft on the Tex Mex. Early estimates were that the BLE would win the election, and the combined craft issue was a last-ditch effort by the UTU to undermine the likely BLE victory.
Workers on the Tex Mex voiced their displeasure with the combined craft issue in a certified letter to UTU President Charles Little. "Your position that the lines of distinction between the craft of locomotive engineer and conductor have become blurred to the point of extinction is totally without merit on the Tex Mex," the workers wrote.
Upon making the "train and engine service employee" classification an official craft, the NMB quashed the BLE's representation election attempt and suspended all such elections for a period of two years.
Disgruntled with UTU leadership, 22 Tex Mex workers submitted applications to the BLE and formed Division 244. These brothers were granted a charter and will represent their own General Committee of Adjustment as well. George Leyendecker will serve and General Chairman and Local Chairman.
Brother J.J. Vara is president, Arnold Salinas is Secretary-Treasurer, Rick Castilleja is Legislative Representative, and Terry Gill is the Vice Local Chairman.
"The hardships these new brothers suffered in their efforts to join the BLE will make our organization stronger," said President Dubroski. "Not only do they provide us with added strength in numbers, they give us an added strength of character.
"I believe I speak for all BLE members when I say their courage and determination is something to be admired. I am proud to welcome them to the BLE and to call them Brother."
From left: Elijah Graham of Division 22 (El Paso); Shane Lewis of Division 218 (Laredo); and President Edward Dubroski.
Members of BLE Division 218 (Laredo) pictured here are Charley Gonzalez, vice-local chairman; Donny Cruz, legislative representative; Bear Bennett; Raul Abrego; Shane Lewis, local chairman & UP vice-general chairman; and Wicho Gonzalez.
More members of Division 218 (Laredo) at a recent meeting are, foreground: Donny Cruz, legislative representative; Charley Gonzalez, vice-local chairman; Raul Abrego; Wicho Gonzalez; and "General" Piendon. Pictured in the background is: Joe Cascio, vice-local chairman of BLE Division 307 (San Antonio); John Witt, secretary-treasurer of Division 218; Rene Gonzalez; Nate Eglesias; and Joe Martinez.
Members and officers of BLE Division 244 (Tex Mex) proudly display their new charter with representatives of the BLE International Division who helped organize the Tex Mex property.
Seated, from left: ID Special Representative Tommy Miller; Division 244 Member Hector Tijerina; and Division 244 Member Danny Gustamante.
Standing, from left: Tex Mex General Chairman George Leyendecker; International Vice-President William C. Walpert; Division 244 President J.J. Vara; International Vice-President Ed Rodzwicz; and Division 244 Member Arnold Salinas.
A telephone call to the BLE International by General Chairman Leyendecker was the first step in the process that led the Tex Mex workers into BLE membership.
© 2000 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers