BLET Auxiliary News

Lobby for rail safety bill is a labor of love

By Diane Shifflett
BLET Auxiliary
Virginia State Legislative Rep.

What started out as a project to get resolutions passed against remote control train operations has turned into something I found out I love to do. I have had the opportunity to lobby in our Nation's capitol on behalf of BLET and Auxiliary members and families. Without a doubt, it has been the greatest learning experience of my life. Helping to inform and educate our representatives in Congress and in our State House about the working conditions and family life of railroaders is just one of the things I can do to help.

In September, I was invited by the BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative John Tolman to help with lobbying efforts for S. 1889, the Senate Rail Safety Bill, and H.R. 2095, the House version of the bill. This was my second trip to Washington, D.C., representing the Auxiliary. The first time was to support Amtrak employees who had been working without a contract since 1999, and to attend a transportation labor rally.

My most recent trip allowed me the opportunity to work with BLET representatives from various aspects of the union, not just the legislative side. For example, BLET Vice President Stephen Speagle helped lobby the bill. Also representing the protective side was Norfolk Southern Vice General Chairman Bob Linsey. Working in teams of at least three, we set out to cover as many offices as possible over a three-day period. Working as a team gives a variety of perspectives to the same problems, and provides different ways the rail safety bill can correct those problems and why it is so important.

The great thing about the Auxiliary being invited to participate in these joint lobbying efforts is that it gives us a chance to let our legislators know about life on the railroad from a different perspective. We cannot give firsthand accounts of working conditions, but we certainly have second-hand knowledge because our spouses come home and tell us about all of the things that go wrong while they are at work. We do experience firsthand how tired they are and how worried we are every time they go to work, praying they will make it back home safely. We are the ones who usually end up keeping the home fires burning and trying to be both a mom and a dad because our spouses are either gone, sleeping, or are just too tired.

While visiting with the legislative aide for Congressman Tom Davis (R-VA), I was asked how the time at work affected the families. I told him that there was no time to plan activities because there is no schedule and you never know when your husband will actually be home from work because of limbo time. I did add that we all make the best of our time together, it's just not enough. I was also fortunate to be invited by Vice President Tolman to attend a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

I want to thank him for the opportunity, and I would also like to thank Herb Harris, Buddy White, Terry Todd, and all State Legislative Board Chairmen and team members, for their help in making sure the legislator's heard the Auxiliary's point of view. I would also like to thank Virginia State Legislative Board Chairman Tim Craver for their help in making the trip possible.

In representing the Auxiliary, I have done my best to make sure that our legislators understand the problems railroad families live with every day and that these safety bills go a long way in taking care of some of those problems. I have been lucky and fortunate to have had this experience, but even as rewarding as it is, our real power comes from our grassroots efforts by our members. This is the first time in 13 years that we have a safety bill that begins to deal with the problems that exist on the railroad. We must all do our part now and in the future.

(Diane Shifflett can be reached at (540) 652-1339 or by e-mail at:, or visit

From left: BLET Vice President & National Legislative Representative John Tolman; BLET Auxiliary Virginia State Legislative Representative Diane Shifflett; and Danny Shifflett, Legislative Representative of BLET Division 217 (Shenandoah, Va.).



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