Angry Locomotive Engineers oust union president
Background photos by Chris Garlock for the rail unions / Poster from the Eddie Hall campaign.

TUCSON, Ariz. (PAI)—Angry members of Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen took out their ire over the national freight rail contract agreed to by union leaders, including their longtime President Dennis Pierce, by throwing the latter out of his job. They elected little-known Union Pacific engineer Edward Hall of Tucson. He takes office Jan. 1.

It was the first-ever contested election for the union presidency since BLE&T, a Teamsters Rail Sector union, adopted one member-one vote years ago. Pierce’s slate won the 25 board seats for BLE&T, a Teamsters sector, uncontested.

The union’s elections board heard challenges to various ballots from both sides and accepted one. It would have forced a re-run. But Pierce, president since 2010, saw the handwriting on the wall—he lost the vote 52%-47% (4,331-3,822)—and withdrew, making the re-run a vote by acclamation. There were 30,614 BLE&T members eligible to vote.

“I have always put the membership and our union as an institution first and foremost,” he said in withdrawing. “For that very reason, I will not subject this brotherhood to the further division that would be caused by a rerun election.”

Pierce did not, in his long statement, acknowledge his members were upset with forced contract, its lack of sick days and—through bosses’ intransigence, their lobby, and the demands of Wall Street—its deprivation of labor’s weapon of last resort, the right to strike.

Instead, he lashed out at social media. Pierce said it caused and prompted division in BLE&T, but he was not specific. Hall was, forcefully, about Pierce’s distance and the contract.

“WE CAN DO BETTER,” his one-page platform opened, in all capital letters.

“Of all the skills of leadership, listening is one of the most valuable and least understood. I will listen first and act second.” Then, later reverting to the capital letters, he added: “Working engineers will have a say on the next contract.

“You will no longer hear the adage ‘You will get worse.’ I will fight every day for you and your families. ‘They can do that,’ If it violates your general agreement, they cannot do that!” he declared.

The vote, platform, and tweets show the election of Hall, a second-level officer of District 28 in Tucson, is a direct result of railroaders’ ire at the imposed settlement, which completely ignored quality-of-life issues. Those issues include working two straight weeks before a day off—and then being called back on that day off to work more—erratic scheduling, docking workers and eventually firing them for missing time for doctors’ appointments, and, most importantly, no sick days.

When word of the proposed contract first leaked out, District 28 leaders, including Hall, demanded Pierce come and defend it before the union’s convention. Pierce did, but they were still upset, and Hall got the needed 5% of votes at that conclave to make the presidential run.

Which he did, with little money, a one-page platform, and a vow he would listen to the BLE&T members, 99.5% of whom voted earlier this year to authorize a strike. Hall, Pierce said, was out of touch—something Pierce showed by standing next to Democratic President Joe Biden when the deal was announced, and endorsing it, without the sick days.

“It is clear to me the national membership is dissatisfied with our leadership and the decisions made by them when it comes to a National Agreement,” wrote Hall in a statement, citing the strike authorization vote. “Once all provisions under the Railway Labor Act were exhausted and a legal strike was warranted, our leaders chose to bury their heads in the sand.

“I believe the membership made their decision a long time ago. Dennis Pierce just didn’t listen!”

Rank-and-file members, on Twitter and elsewhere, agreed Pierce had lost touch with his members’ growing rage over the union leaders’ reluctance to fight for paid sick leave and other quality-of-life goals, either with the company or with Biden.

Ross Grooters, co-chair of Railroad Workers United—a grassroots cross-craft rank-and-file organization—told Labor Notes that BLE&T members, including himself, “wanted to see change within our union. People are ready to fight, and we gotta get organized in order to do that. That wasn’t going to happen under the leadership of Dennis Pierce.”

RWU led the campaign among members of all the 13 rail unions to reject the contract. A majority of those who could vote on it did just that.

“He (Pierce) was the only person running with any opposition,” tweeted a railroad worker who goes by the handle @College7277. “I feel that every one of them would have been voted out if they had all been challenged. The consensus I hear from all of my coworkers is that the higher ups in the union are out of touch with what it’s like to actually work for the railroad. My former general chairman received a promotion, and at least in my terminal he certainly has no fan club.”

“Good job. I’m sick of the status quo of keeping union officials who tell us to fall in line and are more politicians than leaders,” tweeted @Tconductor.


Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.