GIA Dialogue

Get involved, get informed and get educated!

By Becky Schneider
First Vice-President & U.S. National Legislative Representative
Grand International Auxiliary

In the August edition of the Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen News, Sereena Hogan outlined how she coped with being the spouse of a railroader, and the comfort she has found from her extended railroad family. Getting involved is key to understanding not only what our spouses go through on the job, but also the ways in which we can help them. There are a number of similarities between Sereena's story and my own.

Like Sereena, I, too, resented the railroad for taking my husband away at the most inopportune times, like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and other holidays. After we moved to Tucumcari, N.M., Larry took on the job of Division Secretary-Treasurer. As with many spouses of division officers, I helped him with his duties. It was at that point that we went to our first convention for the purpose of attending Secretary-Treasurer training classes. I attended the classes along with Larry, and noted I was not the only spouse there. The 1996 Southwestern Convention (SWCM) was the first time I had ever heard of the GIA. The following year, the SWCM was held here in El Paso, and Larry and I had just moved back to Texas. I offered to help with registration and ended up being the GIA Chairperson, which was certainly incentive to join, but I still did not know a great deal about what the organization did. El Paso had formed an auxiliary, but it did not take, so the spouses from my husband's division chose to form one under their Division's sponsorship. Even though we were tied to Division 591, and by merger now to Division 192, our Auxiliary is open to all BLET spouses in the El Paso area, which includes two railroads, UP and BNSF.

Through the years, our membership has grown, and we have a core group who are dedicated to our purpose. We survive by doing. We have been involved in helping the BLET pass a resolution against remote control; setting up informational meetings with designated counsel to educate spouses about what to do in the event of an accident; supporting BLET members with coffee and donuts when a strike was called; bringing aid and comfort to the families of the BLET members killed in a train crash; and being there for our Brothers and Sisters in times of need or loss. We continue to remain vigilant and lend a hand wherever we can help. I believe our success and dedication stems from the continuous updating and sharing of information, and educating our members on the issues that directly affect our lives.

The more I became involved, the more I understood about the railroad and the union, and the more I recognized the need for spouses and families to be involved. Learning about pending legislation that affects railroaders, and keeping up-to-date on the progress of that legislation is one of the key elements we can focus on to help make a difference. When the call goes out to contact elected representatives, it is imperative that we all heed that call, whether BLET, GIA, or just part of the railroad family. The more voices we have speaking with the same message, the stronger that message is for those we elected to represent us.

Time is probably the hardest obstacle to overcome when it comes to getting spouses and families involved. Everyone is busy. Whether or not spouses work, there are so many things that take time out of our busy days: taxiing kids; participating in PTA or Church activities; or just trying to keep up with the cooking, cleaning, and laundry, we sometimes feel overwhelmed by the demands made on us. That being said, allocating a couple of hours a month to attend an auxiliary meeting is worthwhile and brings solidarity to spouses and families. It provides a forum to learn what is going on with the Carriers, and with legislation that directly affects railroaders. It also provides a forum to discuss local problems that affect our daily lives, and the lives of those we love. Sometimes the most difficult part of having a local auxiliary is getting it started. I encourage anyone interested to hang tough and see it through. Once it gets off the ground, and spouses see tangible benefits, fitting in those two hours a month is not so hard. It is good to meet as often as possible; however, in this world of mass communication, members can stay in touch by telephone or email, when important matters come up.

I admit that my current job as an officer of the International GIA takes a great deal of my time, yet the job satisfaction I get from knowing I can make a difference makes up for a lot, even when I survey my dusty house, knowing I need to do something about that too.

The best thing we can do is to educate ourselves and listen to our spouses. By listening, you not only better understand the issues your spouse is dealing with, you have a better understanding of what goes on all over the country. Issues you may think are specific to your area are often problems nationwide. A network like the GIA provides opportunities to compare issues with others in different localities. The GIA International Officers and the BLET National Officers are available for you. Email or pick up the phone, and we will all do what we can to help. Knowledge is power, and through knowledge, we can direct our actions in an effort to make the railroad a better, safer workplace.

Establishing a line of communication between an auxiliary and the BLET division is also key to the effectiveness of your actions. When BLET divisions recognize our potential, great things can be accomplished. Trainmasters and Superintendents do not know what to do with informed outsiders who confront them on safety issues. Working in concert with the division(s), and being fully informed on the issues, can spark the Carriers into addressing concerns that may have been on the back burner.

These are some of my suggestions for coping with railroad life. The message is constant. Getting involved, being informed, and being educated are the best ways we can help our spouses to help themselves realize a better workplace.

The new GIA - it's not just tea and cookies anymore.


© 2005 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen