Legislative Chairmen conclude business at annual convention

Brother J.T. Norris of BLET Division 562 (Richmond, Va.) was reelected to another term as the Chairman of the BLET's National Association of State Legislative Board Chairmen (NASLBC) in meetings held in Kalispell, Mont., from August 1-3.

The NASLBC creates a forum for U.S. Legislative Chairmen to exchange information and develop unified plans to deal with safety and legislative matters that impact the lives and working conditions of BLET members. The meeting is an annual event designed to give the Chairmen the opportunity to discuss current, common issues and to plan for a united effort on the legislative and regulatory front to deal with these issues.

W.M. Verdeyen of Division 754 (Terre Haute, Ind.) was elected to the office of First Vice-Chairman and Craig Gilchrist of Division 298 (Glasgow, Mont.) was elected to the office of Second Vice-Chairman.

Perry Renfro of Division 569 (Heavner, Okla.) was reelected to the office of Secretary-Treasurer. Terry D. Briggs of BLET Division 530 (Commerce, Texas) was elected to be the office of Alternate Secretary-Treasurer.

The NASLBC also elected four Regional Chairman to represent four different geographic areas around the U.S. George Newman of Division 57 (Boston, Mass.) was elected Chairman of Region I; T.G. Mayne of Division 740 (Corbin, Ky.) was elected Chairman of Region II; Jim A. Keele of Division 336 (Osawatamie, Kan.) was elected Chairman of Region III; and M.R. Muscha of Division 671 (Enderlin, N.D.) was elected Chairman of Region IV. The officers were elected to three-year terms.

Thirty-one states within the BLET are represented at the meeting, which will conclude on Tuesday. A particular focus of this meeting is planning for the fall elections across the nation.

Chairman Norris (Virginia) called the meeting to order on August 1, and members approved an agenda that included reports of several standing committees, a financial report, and break-out sessions for working committees that are addressing issues of fatigue in the work place, remote control, switching operations fatality analysis (SOFA), and the fall elections.

"This meeting is particularly important at this time due to the pending national and state elections this fall," said Brother Norris, "and the Chairmen are determined to involve themselves in educating our members about the election issues and the candidates, then I am sure the members will do the right thing when they vote to protect their interests by electing the best candidates. Candidates such as Senator Kerry, whom we are supporting for President and others that must have a favorable attitude toward working men and women to gain our support."

The meeting also included reports by BLET President Don Hahs, who gave a comprehensive report that included a detailed explanation of the soon to be instituted short-term disability insurance program for BLET members recently negotiated by the National Division. An extensive discussion concerning the remote control issue followed.

President Hahs expressed disappointment with the current state of affairs between the BLET and the UTU. "I had hopes that their leadership would have been willing to take a look at coming in under the IBT umbrella, as doing so would have the unmistakable effect of benefiting the members of both unions, particularly in the upcoming round of contract negotiations that begin later this year," he said.

He encouraged all BLET members to return the membership surveys currently in the field. The purpose of the survey is to assess member's attitudes about the next round of contract negotiations.

BLET First Vice-President Ed Rodzwicz reported on recent organizing successes for the BLET, most recent being the contract for trainmen on the Wheeling & Lake Erie, formerly represented by the UTU. He pledged that the resources now available to the BLET from the IBT as a result of the recent merger will be used to continue our organizing successes.

He remarked on recent developments with the UTU, saying, "We have advised their leadership that the door is open. They can come under the Teamster umbrella, either as an independent union or as part of the BLET. Either way, BLET members get the final say on whether or not they are allowed to join the Rail Conference, as per the Merger Documents. Regardless, UTU members are continuing to flock to our Brotherhood on an individual basis at a rate of approximately 200 members per month."

He also spoke briefly about the upcoming BLET National Convention.

"It may seem to be a long way out, but we are already working on planning for the BLET National Convention, which will start the week of June 18, 2006, in Las Vegas, with the IBT convention to follow immediately after. We will have about 60 BLET delegates at the IBT convention, so our organization will be well represented."

Bill Walpert, National Secretary-Treasurer of the BLET, informed the Chairmen that the BLET has gained almost 1,700 new members in the first six months of this year, and that the BLET's assets have grown approximately $2 million since the present administration assumed office. "The new BLET-PAC brochure is now available for delivery on property, which we printed in our in-house print shop which has saved the BLET money."

He went onto report that Standard Building, the headquarters of the BLET National Division in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, is being updated. Some of the renovations to the 80 year-old building, which is wholly owned by the BLET, are slated for the main lobby. "We have experienced a downturn in the number of tenants in the building in the past 18 months, and we are moving aggressively to increase the occupancy rate," he said. "We have engaged a professional marketing service to recruit new tenants for the building, and this, combined with our renovations of the lobby and other areas, will - I believe - favorably impact occupancy."

Raymond Holmes, BLET Vice-President and National Legislative Representative, explained that Congress is in recess and little would be accomplished there until after the Labor Day recess, elections, or maybe not until after a new Congress is seated next year. "The elections are taking center stage now and members will be spending all possible time in their home districts. We continue to have a real concern about Amtrak funding. The present administration seems bent on privatizing Amtrak and resists all attempts to properly fund its operations."

As with all speakers, Holmes emphasized the importance of the coming fall elections.

Becky Schneider, the National Legislative Representative for the BLET's Grand International Auxiliary (GIA), addressed the group to explain the work of the auxiliary. Among other things, she told the group: "We are in the process of expanding our web site to include legislation in the form of a 'watch' list with a goal of monthly updates. Our purpose behind this initiative is to assist Auxiliary Legislative Reps in gathering current information to report at their monthly meetings."

Teamster's Legislative Director Fred McLuckie, who works out of IBT headquarters in Washington, D.C., gave an extensive explanation of the plans to coordinate efforts between IBT and BLET for respective PAC fund contributions in the current election cycle.

He also detailed the field campaign the IBT has planned to get-out-the-vote for the upcoming fall elections. "We often hear the expression that 'this election is critical,' but I have to tell you that our members must make some crucial and well-informed choices when they vote this fall if we want to have any reasonable hope for having an even playing field in the next four years and have any reasonable hope to make improvements in the standard of living for trade unionists in this country," he said.

The Switching Operations Fatality Analysis (SOFA) Working Group made a detailed report, including a slide presentation. The Group's central purpose is to analyze fatalities that occur during rail switching to find ways to reduce these types of accidents.



© 2004 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen