|In a stunning upset, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the 28,000-member union of railroad workers, has elected a new president. Eddie Hall, a local officer out of Division 28 in Tucson, Arizona, won against incumbent Dennis Pierce with 53 percent of the membership-wide vote. |
Hall will take office on January 1st, pending official certification of the results, and will lead the larger of the two unions that make up the Teamsters Rail Conference.The surprise victory is the latest fallout from a national freight rail showdown in which some 60,000 rail workers had a contract imposed on them.
In the BLET, the second-largest union involved in negotiations, members ratified a deal, but many members were unhappy with the outcome.In an interview, Hall said his election spoke to rank-and-file frustrations that leadership failed to listen to the membership throughout the negotiations. “We have a union, but [members] are not involved,” he said. “I’m hoping to get out and listen to the membership.”
The BLET was one of three unions that came within hours of striking in September before reaching a last-minute tentative agreement with heavy involvement from the Biden White House and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. In June, the BLET took a strike vote, its first such national vote in over a decade. Members returning ballots voted 99.5 percent in favor of striking.
For months, the BLET and other unions had pushed for fifteen paid sick days for rail workers. Currently, railroaders get none. In those final hours before their strike deadline on September 15, the union agreed instead to accept three unpaid sick days, with thirty days notice, to be taken on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.With Dennis Pierce standing next to him in the oval office, Joe Biden told the press, “They feel good. These guys, by the way, they’re still standing but they should be home in bed. Twenty straight hours [of negotiations]. I want to thank business and labor.”
Pierce then advocated for his membership to support the deal. “Contracts between the railroads and their employees have never had sick time,” he said in a separate interview. “There are a lot of industries don’t have that in their contract.” Asked if he would support the deal, Pierce replied, “I probably would.”Pierce was indeed able to get the contract ratified, but it may have cost him his job.THE NEW RAIL UNION LEADEREddie Hall is a working engineer on the Union Pacific railroad, based in Tucson, Arizona. He’s worked on the rails for 28 years, and has been a local union officer for the past 12. He says he never considered trying to move up in the union ranks until last fall.
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