BLE-T Division 622

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BLET Weekly News Recap, 5-31-24
May 31, 2024

The BLET exists to promote and protect the rights, interests, and safety of its members through solidarity, aggressive representation, and education.


May 31, 2024

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Explosive New York Times investigative report exposes dangers of remote control operations

The BLET questions the safety of remote control train operations and demands safety reforms in a sweeping investigative report published by the New York Times on May 27 (via Yahoo, no subscription necessary). This major news story with national implications came about after a recent rash of accidents involving remote control locomotives. The BLET worked with The Times for over a year on the article. Three BLET leaders, Mark WallaceJim Louis, and John Esterly are quoted, and many more unnamed BLET members provided background material for the piece.
Railroads are aggressively expanding their remote operations, routinely running remote trains not just inside rail yards but also between them. Many now run through residential and commercial neighborhoods, sometimes carrying hazardous cargo such as petroleum or hydrochloric acid. In addition, railroads are increasing the length of trains operated by remote control. Union Pacific has recently operated remote trains of up to 160 cars, or 1.5 miles long, which is about three times longer than FRA recommendations. It’s a cost-cutting move by the railroads, as remote control operators are lower paid and less trained than certified locomotive engineers.
This story is a must-read for BLET members and all those who are concerned about safety in the railroad industry.

Photo courtesy of Cory Rusch, BLET Division 659

BLET stands on the side of safety, others stand with management
In his remarks to The New York Times, BLET First Vice President Mark Wallace was highly critical of the Union Pacific Railroad regarding remote control train operations. “We have seen an aggressive approach by Union Pacific to take remote controls outside the protected environment, using them outside the yard environment,” Wallace said. He further noted that the expansion of remote trains compromises safety by replacing highly trained engineers with less-trained remote-control operators and creating safety hazards. “If they are going to continue to do this, there’s not going to be a sign up that says, ‘remote-control operation in use,’” he added. “Nobody would know that the engine is unoccupied.”
Contrast the BLET position with that of railroad management and, surprisingly, another rail labor union. In the Times article, a railroad manager from the Union Pacific falsely claimed that remote trains have a better safety record than traditional trains. Shockingly, Jared Cassity a top leader with SMART-TD took management’s side. “If you look at the safety data, it’s better than the traditional or conventional way of operations. To blatantly say they are more dangerous is not true,” said Cassity, the SMART-TD national safety director.
Cassity should know better, and as a rail union safety director, he should know that his remarks undermine two-person crew advocacy. Much of the Times story focused on RCLs being used outside yard environments. Relying on data from years ago, pre-PSR, when remote operations were smaller, better staffed, and in a closed environment, is no longer applicable and feeds directly into the railroads’ misinformation efforts. Not to mention the fact that this is a disservice to railroaders concerned about worker safety and safe operations in the communities where RCLs are now an everyday threat to the general public.

Illustration by Sean Joyce
BLET’s National Legislative Board Chairmen hold annual meeting with Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives among the guests
From left: Jordan Wheeler, Div. 234 and Ross County (Ohio) Clerk of Courts; John Esterly, Ohio SLB Chairman; and Jason Stephens, Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives.
Members of the BLET’s National Association of State Legislative Board Chairmen (NASLBC) held their 49th annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, on May 28 and 29. The meeting provides an opportunity for each State Chairman to share information and forge strategies related to railroad safety and health issues as well as each state’s political climate.
Two new State Legislative Board Chairmen were seated for their first NASLBC meeting: Cory Martin (Illinois) and Adam Hausman (Nebraska).
NASLBC Chairman Shane Hubbard (Indiana State Legislative Board Chairman) chaired the meeting. The in-person guest speakers were Jason Stephens, Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, Tim Burga, President of the Ohio AFL-CIO, and Ohio House Representative Justin Pizzulli (District 90), who is a conductor with Norfolk Southern and a member of BLET Division 511. Ohio House Representative Dr. Michele Grim (District 43) addressed the group via Zoom. She is the Ranking Member of the House Transportation Committee.
Among the union’s national officers and staff who addressed the meeting were Eddie Hall, National President; David Estes, National Secretary-Treasurer; Vince Verna, Vice President and National Legislative Representative; Christy Smith, BLET Director of Regulatory Affairs; Brendan Sullivan, BLET Director of Political Affairs; and Natalie Miller, BLET Auxiliary 2nd Vice President and National Legislative Representative.

See some photo highlights of the NASLBC annual meeting in the BLET photo gallery.
House of Representatives passes “Stop, Look and Listen” rail safety bill
Dr. Michele Grim (front row, fourth from right) marched with BLET members at the 2023 Toledo Labor Day parade.
The Ohio House of Representatives has passed a BLET-backed railroad safety bill. The bill’s primary sponsor — Dr. Michele Grim, Ohio House District 43, Ranking Member, House Transportation Committee, and Legislative Member of the Ohio Rail Development Commission — Grim discussed the need for this common-sense law when she addressed BLET’s National Association of State Legislative Board Chairmen.
Ohio State Legislative Board Chairman John Esterly said the BLET supported House Bill 372 in conjunction with the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (BMWED). The bill clarifies that other pieces of equipment travel on railroad tracks, and requires motorists to “Stop, Look and Listen” for on-track maintenance vehicles and construction equipment in addition to trains.
The bill will next move to the Senate next for consideration and would require a signature from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine before it could become law.
2024 Triennial Election manual now online
The 2024 edition of “On the Right Track,” the Local Division nomination and election procedure manual, is now available for download from the Members’ Area of the BLET website and in the Document Library in UnionTrack. Copies were also mailed to Division Presidents, Secretary-Treasurers, General Chairmen, and State Legislative Board Chairmen.
Triennial elections for all BLET Divisions will be held this year, beginning this fall, with nominations at each Division’s first regular meeting in September. The “On the Right Track” election manual will assist the officers who oversee the election process and members who are interested in running for office. 
If you are a Division Secretary-Treasurer, you also serve as an election official for your Division, and you will receive a packet of election-related materials from the National Division in the coming days. Updated copies of the Notice of Nominations and the Authorized Nomination Form are now available in the Document Library in UnionTrack. These forms have been updated for the 2024 triennial election cycle, so please do not make the mistake of using old forms from the 2021 election cycle.
Because determinations of eligibility to run for office may involve an interpretation of the BLET Bylaws, any eligibility questions must be submitted, in writing and via a signed letter, to National President Eddie Hall.
A username and password must be used to log into the Members’ Area of the BLET National Division website to download the 2024 edition of “On the Right Track” (PDF). It is available here:
If you are a BLET member and you do not have a username and password, you can sign up for one here: .
Members ratify new implementing agreement
BLET members have voted in favor of an implementing agreement regarding the Canadian National-Illinois Central Railway’s (CN-IC) acquisition of the Iowa Northern Railway. Ballots were tabulated on May 30, 2024.
The implementing agreement addresses changes in operations and the merging of workforces if the acquisition is approved by the federal Surface Transportation Board. Under the proposed implementing agreement, the BLET’s CN-IC contract would become the applicable collective bargaining agreement for about 20 locomotive engineers currently employed by Iowa Northern.
Collective bargaining rights for the Iowa Northern locomotive engineers now fall under the jurisdiction of the BLET’s CN-IC General Committee of Adjustment, which now represents about 550 active members. General Chairman Billy Evans described the acquisition as a “win-win,” with Iowa Northern engineers gaining more protection and better wages under the BLET contract and with the CN-IC gaining more business by adding Iowa Northern and its customers to its portfolio. In December 2023, CN announced plans to purchase the Class III railroad for $230 million. The Iowa Northern operates about 275 miles of track and is based in Waterloo, Iowa. CN said it expects the STB to rule on the merger this fall.

Photo courtesy of Cory Rusch, BLET Division 659
Don’t roll the dice on railroad safety
It’s been a year since Nevada’s governor vetoed an important rail safety bill, and the BLET is marking this anniversary by calling on Nevada legislators to put rail safety over corporate profits. A joint message from Brother Matt Parker, Chairman of the Nevada State Legislative Board, and Brother Jason Doering, BLET Division 766, reads in part: “In a state known for its high stakes, gambling with rail safety seems a perilous bet we continue to make. In addition to Amtrak trains already operating through our state, the Brightline West project will transport the most precious cargo carried by rail: people. With this fact in mind, we simply cannot continue to gamble with rail safety — the stakes are too high.”
The complete commentary published by the Nevada Current is available in its entirety here.
Your help is needed! Deadline is June 4 to vote for the daughter of BLET member in Doodle for Google national competition
Vote for Ella Grail's artwork by June 4 at the link below!
There are only a few days left to vote for Ella Grail, the daughter of BLET locomotive engineer Bryce Grail, in Google’s annual Doodle for Google competition. The contest gives K-12 students across the United States the opportunity to create their own version of the Google logo and gives one winner the opportunity to have their artwork appear on Google’s main page.
As reported last week Ella’s drawing was selected as the finalist from the state of Iowa and she is now in the running to become National Winner. In addition to sharing their artwork with hundreds of millions of people, the National Winner will also receive a $55,000 college scholarship and a $50,000 tech package for his/her high school.
Brother Grail is a Union Pacific locomotive engineer and serves as 2nd Vice Local Chairman of BLET Division 6 in Boone, Iowa. Ella is a 9th grader at Ames High School in Ames, Iowa.
Public voting will determine the contest winner, and BLET members are encouraged to vote and help propel Ella to victory. Voting will conclude on Tuesday, June 4. Please cast your vote for Ella Grail from Iowa at this link (click the link for “grades 8-9” and select the Google Doodle for Iowa):
2024 BLET Western Regional Meeting:
Kansas City, here we come!
We will be reporting to you next week from Kansas City, the site of the BLET’s Western Regional Meeting. The BLET represents nearly 1,200 members from 15 different Local Divisions in and around Kansas City. Last-minute registrations for meals and events will be accepted online or in person at the Marriott Kansas City Downtown (200 West 12th St., Kansas City, MO, 65105, telephone: (816) 421-6800) as late as Tuesday morning, June 4.
For those who have registered, a welcome reception will take place on Monday evening, June 3. Open and members-only closed meetings will take place on June 4. Training workshops for Local Chairmen, Legislative Representatives, and Secretary-Treasurers, along with a special session regarding the upcoming BLET triennial elections, will be held on June 6. When meetings are not in session, members are free to explore the City’s Power and Light District. The dynamic entertainment district is within walking distance of the Marriott Kansas City Downtown. The annual golf outing will take place on June 5 at the Tiffany Greens Golf Club, a short drive from the hotel.
More information is available at the BLET’s regional meeting website,

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen
7061 East Pleasant Valley Road, Independence, Ohio 44131

PH (216) 241-2630   |

If you are a member of the BLET, then please consider signing up for the Members’ Area of the BLET website:  
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen · 7061 East Pleasant Valley Road · Independence, OH 44131 · USA

BLE-T Division 622

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