Members approve IBT merger


CLEVELAND, December 5 -- Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers have overwhelmingly approved a merger with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, joining the largest and most powerful transportation union in North America.

Ballots were counted today and election results certified by the American Arbitration Association. The vote in the United States was 81 percent in favor of merging and 19 percent against with 47 percent of eligible members voting, and the vote in Canada was 62.4 percent in favor and 37.6 percent opposed with 56 percent of eligible members voting.

BLE members in Canada will now be members of Teamsters Canada and will be a part of the Canadian Rail Conference.

"The membership has spoken and we are pleased with their decision to merge with the Teamsters," BLE International President Don M. Hahs said. "Our members will soon see the benefits of belonging to the largest, most powerful, and politically influential transportation union in North America."

The merger will become effective on January 1, 2004, and the BLE will become the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), a division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Rail Conference.

"Today, two great unions begin a partnership to strengthen our ability to represent workers across the transportation spectrum," said Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa. "The Teamsters have always had a vision for a seamless transportation union giving workers real power on the job and in the political arena. This historic merger brings us closer to our union's vision."

The addition of "Trainmen" to the name of the new organization is a significant step, BLE President Hahs said.

"The doors are now open and the structure in place," he said. "Throughout negotiations, it was our intent and the Teamsters' intent to allow the new organization to represent trainmen under the umbrella of the IBT Rail Conference. We welcome trainmen with open arms."

The structure of the current BLE will basically remain intact, but some changes will be made as the BLET expands to incorporate additional trainmen members.

"The IBT's current Locals and Joint Councils are pretty much autonomous under the International IBT, and the BLET will also have autonomy," President Hahs said. "We will continue to elect our own officers and have our own conventions."

Current members and any new members who join the BLET will be able to utilize the immense resources of the IBT, President Hahs said.

"There are a number of member services, which the BLE presently purchases from outside sources, that will now be available through IBT departments," President Hahs said. "It's a win-win for both organizations."

The BLE and IBT have already enjoyed a great deal of success in organizing shortline railroads throughout the United States. Over the past year, the two organizations have worked jointly as the IBT-BLE Rail Operating Employees' Council. The group has successfully organized seven different shortline properties since July of 2002, bringing nearly 700 new members into the House of Labor.

The victories include the New York & Atlantic Railway; the Great Western Railway of Colorado; St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad; Utah Railway; the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern Railroad; the Indiana Southern Railroad; and the Texas-Mexican Railway.

BLE would be the first railroad union under the new IBT Rail Conference, and others may follow. Other AFL-CIO affiliated rail unions have contacted the IBT regarding possible mergers, and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes is currently in merger discussions with the IBT.

It is expected that rail workers will be able to negotiate stronger contracts by presenting a united front under the IBT Rail Conference.

On February 26, 2002, the BLE Advisory Board unanimously approved a motion that allowed the BLE Executive Committee to explore a possible merger with the Teamsters. On September 6, 2002, the BLE and IBT announced the appointment of four joint committees charged with the task of drafting a Merger Agreement for the two organizations, and formal discussions began on October 3.

"I thank all members of the joint committees for their diligent work in preparing the merger documents," President Hahs said. "None of this would have been possible without their hard work to create documents that were acceptable to the membership."

The four committees were Constitution & Bylaws, Legislative, Finance and Canada.

The Constitution & Bylaws members were: Ed Rodzwicz, First Vice-President & Alternate President (Committee Co-Chairman); Leo McCann, President, American Train Dispatchers Department, BLE; Paul T. Sorrow, Vice President; Dale McPherson, Vice President; Larry Sykes, General Chairman, Norfolk Southern; Tony Smith, General Chairman, CSXT; Gil Gore, General Chairman, Union Pacific; Rick Gibbons, General Chairman, BNSF; Mark Kenny, General Chairman, Amtrak; and Bob Evers, General Chairman, Long Island Rail Road.

The Legislative Committee members were: Raymond Holmes, BLE Vice-President & U.S. National Legislative Representative (Committee Co-Chairman); Jim Keele, Kansas State Legislative Board Chairman; George Newman, Massachusetts State Legislative Board Chairman; and Tim Smith, California State Legislative Board Chairman.

The Finance Committee members were: Bill Walpert, General Secretary-Treasurer (Committee Co-Chairman); Paul Wingo, International Vice-President; Jim Nelson, Secretary-Treasurer BNSF-Northern Lines General Committee of Adjustment; and Steve L. Christian, Secretary-Treasurer, Arkansas State Legislative Board.

The Canada Committee members were: Gilles Hallé, BLE Vice-President & Canadian Director (Committee Co-Chairman); and George Hucker, BLE Vice-President & National Legislative Representative-Canada.

The BLE conducted a poll of its membership in the spring of 2003, which revealed that a 78 percent majority of the membership favored a merger with the IBT.

On July 10, 2003, the BLE Advisory Board unanimously approved the merger documents. Ballots were mailed on October 20.

Founded on May 8, 1863, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers is the senior rail labor organization in North America.


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