By Dennis R. Pierce, BLET National President
CLEVELAND, December 28 — I am proud of our Brotherhood’s many accomplishments throughout the year 2015 and we have much to be thankful for. While many significant challenges may lie ahead, I have every confidence that our Brotherhood will continue to grow and become stronger in the year 2016 — our 153rd year as an organization.
Like the brave men who founded our Brotherhood in 1863, our goal remains the same: to improve the wages and working conditions of our members. Because of the important part they play in maintaining our nation’s economy, locomotive engineers and trainmen have a justifiable pride in their jobs. BLET members are instrumental in keeping the lifeblood of our economy flowing through the arteries of steel that lace the North American continent. BLET members have a right to stand tall and look with pride at their accomplishments. Ceaselessly day or night, winter or summer, BLET members get the job done.
With that pride comes the satisfaction that our pay and benefits are among the best in the nation. The BLET has worked tirelessly in 2015 to defend these well-earned benefits in the face of hostile adversaries at the negotiating table. This year alone, BLET members have ratified on property contract agreements with Norfolk Southern, Long Island Rail Road, Indiana Southern, CP Rail-U.S. (Soo Line), and the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern. These contracts maintain and improve the pay, benefits and quality of life our members deserve.
On the national level, we continued to negotiate jointly for a national contract as a member of the Coordinated Bargaining Group (CPG). In addition to the BLET, the CPG consists of the SMART Transportation Division, the American Train Dispatchers Association, the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers/SEIU, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers. Jointly, the participating unions represent more than 85,000 railroad workers and comprise over 58 percent of the workforce who will be impacted by national negotiations. Although a final agreement is not yet in sight, significant progress has been made throughout 2015 identifying the issues of greatest importance to both sides. Serious discussions are ongoing and both parties believe that a voluntary agreement is the desired outcome. Additional meetings are set for the first quarter of 2016, and updates will be made available when appropriate.
Working together with our fellow Brothers and Sisters in other unions gives us the best chance to come out ahead in negotiations. It makes our position stronger. The same can be said of issues like two-person crews. For the second year in a row, the BLET worked with our counterparts in the SMART Transportation Division to advance a two-person crew bill on the national level. Similar legislation was also advanced in at least 14 states during 2015, including Washington, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wyoming, Iowa, Utah and North Dakota. On September 8, rail labor scored a major victory for rail safety when California Governor Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown signed a two-person crew bill into law. This represents a major victory for all of organized labor, especially our hard working engine and train crews. While the advancement of technology such as Positive Train Control can make the workplace safer, technology cannot replace the trained eyes and ears of experienced professionals inside the cab of the locomotive.
Speaking of technology, our own Education and Training Department achieved a significant milestone this year. On August 31, our Brothers and Sisters in Wisconsin were able to network with our Brothers and Sisters in Cleveland via the Internet using video and audio equipment. Our Wisconsin members were able to participate in real time with the classroom presentation being offered to our members in class at the Training Center in Cleveland. This was a small, but an important step, helping move us closer to realizing the vision established by our 2010 delegates.
In December, our Education and Training Department hosted the final workshop at our Training Center in Cleveland. As you will recall, the BLET purchased a new headquarters building in the Cleveland suburb of Independence, Ohio, earlier this year. Construction has been moving along quickly as we prepare to relocate to our building in the spring of 2016. Our new headquarters location will provide ample room for our National Division officers and staff in a more modern work environment, and we will also use the opportunity to continue and expand our state-of-the-art Education and Training Center.
The BLET has been headquartered in Cleveland since the 1870s, and the BLET constructed its original headquarters building, the Engineers Building, 1910. The Brotherhood’s second office building, the Standard Building, was dedicated in 1924. The Brotherhood sold the Engineers Building to developers in 1989, and the building was demolished. We moved into the Standard Building at the time, and have been here ever since.
While the 22-story Standard Building is a significant part of the Brotherhood’s heritage, it had reached a point where considerable assets are necessary to repurpose the building. The Advisory Board made the decision to sell the building in order to better focus our efforts on representation of members as opposed to working as commercial property managers.
But before we turn out the lights on the old headquarters and make the move to our more modern facility, it must be said that what matters most is not the building, but the people. The building may change, but the people haven’t and our mission hasn’t — and won’t. We intend to keep offering the best representation and the best contracts to the best railroaders that America has to offer.
As we move into 2016, let us reflect on our achievements in 2015 and let us work together in solidarity and Brotherhood throughout the New Year. Happy Holidays to you and your family!
Monday, December 28, 2015