MONTEREY, Calif., June 19 — Approximately 200 members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and their families convened here this morning for opening ceremonies of the BLET’s first regional meeting of 2018.
BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce called the meeting to order. After presentation of the flags by members of the Salinas Police Department Honor Guard, Brother Gary R. Pedigo, Chairman of the BLET’s Texas State Legislative Board, delivered the invocation. Brother Pedigo is a member of BLET Division 177 (Denison, Texas).
President Pierce then welcomed all members, families and guests to Monterey. He introduced members of the BLET Advisory Board who were in attendance, and thanked National Vice President Jim Louis, Special Representative Matt Kronyak and Special Representative Jason Wright for their work in managing and organizing the regional meeting. President Pierce also recognized and thanked the regional meeting arrangements committee members who provided local support: J. C. Boatman, retired member of Division 553 (Calwa City, Calif.); Michael J. Brogno, member of Division 664 (San Luis Obispo, Calif.); Anthony O. Langel, member of Division 664 (San Luis Obispo, Calif.); and Edward A. Trujillo, retired member of BLET Division 383 (Fort Mohave, Ariz.).
President Pierce delivered remarks regarding the benefits that BLET members enjoy thanks to their union membership, such as work rules, a seniority system, Railroad Retirement, the Occupational Disability system, Health and Welfare, and the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). He also warned that such benefits are under attack due to the anti-worker, anti-union movement in Washington, D.C.
“We face a fight like none of us have ever experienced,” President Pierce warned. “And it won’t happen in a single, winner-take-all battle. Instead, years of attacks on labor, some hidden in seemingly harmless legislation, lie ahead. That means we need all hands on deck, and we need to educate our membership exactly how stark are the risks we face if we don’t mount an historic defense.”
He challenged all BLET members to do their part to help end these attacks on working class Americans.
“I need your help to spread the word, and the help of every BLET member who is willing to pitch in and do their part,” he said. “To stop the anti-worker movement in the legislative halls across the country, we must seek out and elect politicians who will work for working class Americans. To restore this nation, we must elect politicians who are not afraid to say the word UNION and support us in our efforts. We will have a chance this fall to do just that; we must not let this opportunity pass without an all-out effort to change government from one that works for the bosses to one that works for those doing the work day in and day out.”
Sereena Hogan, National President of the BLET Auxiliary, was the day’s second speaker. She introduced the Auxiliary National officers who were in attendance: National 1st Vice President Susie Burrola, 2nd Vice President & National Legislative Representative Kathleen Bisbikis, and Alternate National Treasurer Jodi Wallace. She discussed the importance of the BLET and BLET Auxiliary working together and thanked everyone in the BLET for their support of the Auxiliary’s Scholarship Fund Program.
The next guest speaker was BLET National Vice President Cole Davis, who is retiring later this year. Vice President Davis delivered a message of solidarity and the need for members to become involved with the Brotherhood. “We are the union,” he said. “We can’t exist or function without each and every member. When I retire, the union will go on. Our union is only as good as you want it to be. We have to fight today or lose tomorrow. As coach Jim Valvano said, ‘Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.’”
After Vice President Davis’s speech, President Pierce led BLET members in a moment of silence for all BLET members who have been killed in the line of duty since 1989. All their names were shown in a solemn video presentation.
The morning’s keynote speaker was Rep. Grace F. Napolitano, who represents California’s 32nd District. Rep. Napolitano is a member of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, where she currently serves as the top Democrat on the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.
Her comments focused on railroad safety. She specifically discussed long trains, two-person train crews, Positive Train Control (PTC), rail worker fatigue, and training standards. She also touched upon infrastructure in general and the importance of organized labor and livable wages.
Rep. Napolitano is a co-sponsor of the BLET’s two-person crew bill, H.R. 233. “The Safe Freight Act” would mandate two-person train crews on freight trains — one certified locomotive engineer and one certified conductor.
Geri Clark, Assistant to U.S. Railroad Retirement Board Labor Member Walt Barrows, was the next guest speaker. She talked about the strength of the Railroad Retirement system, which is secure with an almost $27 billion Investment Trust Fund.
John Hermann, Assistant Director for Area 8 of the National Association of Retired and Veteran Railway Employees (NARVRE), was the next guest speaker. Hermann explained how NARVRE dedicates itself to protecting railroad workers’ pensions and the Railroad Retirement system.
The final guest speaker of the morning was BLET National Vice President Gil Gore, who also is retiring at the end of the year. He delivered a message of unity, and stressed the importance of educating our members to help turn the tide of anti-union sentiments in the U.S.
Today’s afternoon session included a closed meeting for BLET members and an open meeting hosted by the BLET Auxiliary. Members will take advantage of educational opportunities throughout the remainder of the week. Workshops will feature specialized training for BLET Legislative Representatives, Secretary-Treasurers and Local Chairmen.
The 2018 Monterey regional meeting will conclude with a banquet on the evening of Thursday, June 21. The BLET’s second 2018 regional meeting will be held August 13-17 in Washington, D.C. More specific information about the Washington, D.C. regional is available at: www.ble-t.org/regional/.