Decertification Helpline: (216) 694-0240

By Dennis R. Pierce, BLET National President  

(BLET Editor’s Note: The following message from President Pierce has been excepted from the January-March 2022 issue of the Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen News.)

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, March 28 — In the piece that I wrote for the January/February 2021 edition of the Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen News, I closed with the following statement:

“BLET and SMART-TD are also negotiating in this round as part of the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition, the largest rail labor coalition assembled for national rail bargaining in recent history. Our Coalition is exactly what I described earlier, “Labor Unions that have all committed to a common cause.”

“These things combined are why the rail carriers will do everything in their power to try and undermine our solidarity. . . .  Do not fall for the gaslighting. Do not assume that the anti-Union propaganda that you see on social media is true, especially when it is clearly designed to pit Union Brother against Union Brother, or one Union against another. Do your own fact-checking, but most importantly, be involved in your Union. As I said in my opening quote, “anyone who attacks your Union is attacking you and your livelihood.” Never forget that.”

Recent events have proven that my comments in 2021 are even more relevant today.  For example, our proud Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (“TCRC”) Brothers and Sisters, who are autonomous from BLET, reached the point in their contract negotiations with Canadian Pacific Railway (“CP”) under Canadian Law that allowed each side of the dispute to exercise self-help in the form of a strike by the Union, or a lockout by the railroad.  In a showing of solidarity, TCRC’s membership voted overwhelmingly to strike.   But it was CP that exercised its self-help rights first by serving a notice to lock its employees out of work.  While TCRC then served a  strike notice to protect the existing collective bargaining agreements, it is clear it was CP that initiated the actions that lead to their own shutdown.  Rail carriers in the US are quick to go to the courts when someone else’s actions might impact their operations, but CP showed that they freely shut themselves down without any care for the consequences.

Then the gaslighting began. CP and its operatives advanced the story in the media that it was the Union that shut the railroad down and interrupted the supply chain by striking, all in an effort to undermine public support for the Union.  The same rail carriers’ CEO, who has seen over a 900% increase in his salary, called our TCRC Brothers and Sisters greedy for asking for a raise.  We routinely see rail carriers spin their actions in an effort to transfer responsibility for their actions to others, but this one was over the top; the CP narrative was not true on any front.

In the States, we see the same thing.  BNSF recently adopted one of the harshest and most draconian attendance policies in the nation, but then blamed their action on the need to compete with Union Pacific (“UP”), which had already adopted an equally egregious policy.  But their blame game false narrative gaslighting didn’t stop there.  BNSF had the nerve to publicly state that their policy would help their employees.  Their kind of “help,” as with the UP and CSX policies, is forcing engineers and trainmen to work sick and tired short of termination, and has led to upwards of 700 BNSF resignations in the weeks since the policy was adopted.

These are just a few of the many examples of rail carriers pushing false narratives to the media, as well as to Congress and the courts of our nation.  I was taught as a child that anything but the complete truth is a lie; it is time to call these false narratives for what they are, boldface lies.

The Class I rail carriers’ claim that they cannot afford to give their employees a contract raise when they continue to report record annual profits to the tune of $6 billion annually in two cases, while forcing fewer employees to do more work during a pandemic, is just not true.

The carrier story that two crew members on a train is not safer and more efficient than a one-person operation is just not true.

The carrier story that their attendance policies are necessary to compete with trucks, ignoring that one train with two crew members carries over 300 containers that would otherwise require a single truck driver per container, is just not true.

These are just a few of the false narratives from the rail carriers that we endure daily.  We all know that they are not true.  But it is becoming evident that carrier moles and trolls, as well as other non-member employers, have found their way into our internal Union discussions.  As I said a year ago, “[d]o not assume that the anti-Union propaganda that you see on social media is true, especially when it is clearly designed to pit Union Brother against Union Brother, or one Union against another.”

As with the rail carriers’ false narratives about our workplace issues, attacks on our Union in social media by these carrier moles, trolls and others, using patently untrue information is designed to accomplish only one thing.  They seek to pit Union Brother against Union Brother and one Union against another.  As I said before, anything but the truth is a lie.  To take it a step further, those that will lie to you are not doing so to help you, or to help our Union succeed.

Newsletters like this one are good communications tools for countering anti-union/pro-carrier falsehoods, but direct face to face communications amongst members in the privacy of a Union hall is where the Union’s work is best accomplished.  We cannot share our strategies in social media as confidentiality is breached the moment you hit the send key.

With the return of in-person Union meetings, I have returned to what I have done since I took this office; spending more time in the field meeting with the membership than I do behind a desk.  Membership meetings are the lifeblood of our Union movement, and that is true no matter how well any meeting goes.  One thing has been clear at these meetings; BLET’s members, as well as all rail employees, are mad as hell about the way the railroads are treating them, and they have every right to be.  They want a more militant fight taken to the rail carriers and that is exactly what our Union is doing.

But to succeed, we must not allow the railroads to transfer responsibility for their actions onto our Union.  We must sort through the options and find the strongest and most effective way to fight the rail carriers.  The truth may not always be popular, but true trade unionists do not lie to the membership or misrepresent the challenges we face.  Misleading the membership about any of our options or strategies, especially when it could harm their employment, has never been in the best interest of the membership, who all officers serve.

Sorting out the truth from the lies is even more important as we close in on the final steps of the bargaining process under the Railway Labor Act in this round of national contract negotiations.  Our bargaining coalition has invoked mediation with our intent to take our contract dispute to the final steps of the Act.  While our laws are not identical, we are approaching the same situation in our national negotiations as occurred in Canada.  As happened in Canada, the rail carriers will do everything in their power to fracture our solidarity.  Their moles and trolls will do everything in their power to divide our Union, and to divide our bargaining coalition.  Don’t take the bait with their false narratives about their actions, or their false narratives about your Union; seek out the truth.  In the end, our solidarity is our strength.