Rail engineers oust their union president for supporting rail deal | Jobs Vox


In a shocking upset, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), a 28,000-member union of railway workers, has elected a new president. Eddie Hall, a local official out of Division 28 in Tucson, Arizona, won against incumbent Dennis Pierce with 53 percent of the membership-wide vote. Hall will take office in January, pending official certification of the results, and will lead the larger of the two unions that make up the Teamsters Railroad Conference.

The surprise victory is the latest result of a national freight rail showdown in which some sixty thousand rail workers were awarded a contract. In BLET, the second largest union involved in the talks, members confirmed a deal, but many members were unhappy with the outcome.

In an interview, Hall said that his election spoke to rank-and-file frustrations that the leadership had failed to listen to the membership during negotiations. “We have a union, but [members] are not included,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting out and hearing the subscription.”

BLET was one of three unions that came within hours of a strike in September before reaching a last-minute tentative agreement with heavy participation from the Biden White House and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.

In June, the BLET held a strike vote, its first such national vote in more than a decade. Members who returned ballots voted 99.5 percent in favor of the strike.

For months, BLET and other unions had pushed for fifteen paid sick days for railroad workers. At present, rail passengers do not get any. In those final hours before their strike deadline of September 15, the union agreed instead to accept three unpaid sick days on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays with thirty days’ notice.

With Dennis Pierce standing next to him in the Oval Office, Joe Biden told the press, “He’s feeling good. These people, by the way, they are still standing but they should be in bed at home. twenty straight hours [of negotiations], I want to thank business and labor.

Pierce advocated for his membership to support the deal. “There was never sick time in the contracts between the railroads and their employees,” he said in a separate interview. “There are a lot of industries that don’t have that in their contract.” When asked if he would support the deal, Pierce replied, “Probably I would.”

Pierce was in fact able to ratify the contract, but it could have cost him his job.

Eddie Hall is an engineer working for the Union Pacific Railroad based in Tucson, Arizona. He has worked on the railroads for twenty-eight years, and has been a local union official for the past twelve. He says that until last fall he never considered trying to move up in the ranks of the union.

As members grew frustrated with the stalled negotiating process, the Hall’s District 28 held a meeting where they voted to send a letter to Dennis Pierce “asking him to come down and for lack of a better word , explain yourself.” Pierce went to Tucson in February, and the members were not satisfied with his responses. Only then did the district designate the running hall for the BLET president.

What began as frustration over the length of negotiations — which began in late 2019 and meant, among other things, deferred raises — soon became about taking time off the job. In 2020, just before the start of the pandemic, Union Pacific implemented a new attendance policy that harshly penalized workers for taking time off—time that was already unpaid. In early 2022, BNSF also announced a new policy, dubbed “Hi-Viz”, which similarly put railroad workers’ jobs at risk if they didn’t keep up with the grueling work schedules. These policies were part of a wider precision scheduled railroading regime that railroad companies implemented throughout the industry, cutting jobs and increasing the pressure on those workers who remained.

Pierce spoke publicly about the appearance policies, calling Hi-Viz “the worst and most egregious appearance policy ever adopted by any rail carrier”. In May, BNSF made some changes, which Pierce dismissed as “little more than fluff”. Pressure mounted on leadership to win something in the negotiations for “quality of life,” and time off from the job.

The unions pushed through the Railway Labor Act process, through mediation, and into a Biden-appointed Presidential Emergency Board (PEB). The PEB’s recommendation, which traditionally forms the basis for a temporary agreement, did not include any sick time.

Pierce said his priority is to pass the deal despite the outcry among members. “It doesn’t mean that a lot of our workers didn’t want to strike, because they are angry,” Pearce said. Bloomberg in September. “Now it’s our job to get out there and explain to them what we were able to accomplish that can help improve their lives, help families, and validate that.”

Hall was able to win his spot on the ballot at the October nominating convention by securing 5 percent of the convention delegates. This got him access to the subscription email list, and he started making his case straight away. Members had already spoken for that.

Hall wrote, “It is clear to me that the national membership is dissatisfied with the decisions they have made when it comes to our leadership and the national settlement.” “As a result of the elections more than 99 per cent people directed our leaders to withdraw from service if the issues of quality of our lives could not be compromised. . . . However, once all the provisions under the Railway Labor Act expire and a legal strike was needed, our leaders decided to bury their heads in the sand.

“Now you will hear what a great job they have done and now it is time for the membership to decide. I believe the membership made its decision long ago. Dennis R. Pierce just didn’t listen!

Pierce has chaired the BLET since 2010, and, according to Hall, has never faced an election. This is despite a successful campaign within the union in 2006 to win direct election of national officers, a minority member of national unions.

Although the vote of the BLET tentative agreement passed with 55 percent approval, Hall says it was less about the merits of the agreement, and more about scrapping it. “The members are definitely not happy with the leadership,” says Hall. “The process of settlement, it has taken too long, many people wanted to end the process, so they voted for it. A third of the members did not even vote.

Members we spoke to agreed. “We knew the result with the Congress. Some people thought that PEB would be implemented. , , Many people wanted their backpay soon,” said a twenty-year-old engineer, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “There was also a push by the unions to vote yes. They always sold contracts ‘It’s the best we’ll get.’ That’s what the union says with every contract.

Ross Groeters, a BLET member and coach of the cross-union Railroad Workers United, is optimistic about the results. “People wanted to see change within our union. People are ready to fight, and we have to organize to make that happen. It wasn’t going to happen under Dennis Pierce.

Although the results won’t be officially certified for a few days, Hall is planning to. “I’m looking forward to getting out and listening to the subscription. I’m going to be the president who flies to San Antonio, rents a car, drives to Laredo, Corpus Christi, Austin. I want to see that’s what the membership is saying, and try to get the membership involved. We have a union but they are not involved. The leadership is not available, basically rallying our members. . . they need it out there , and not once every ten years.

“To me,” says Hall, “this is where we’re starting.”


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