A Labor of Love by Diane Shifflett, Virginia State Legislative Rep.

What started out as a project to get resolutions passed against Remote Control operations has turned into something I found out I love to do.  I have had the opportunity to lobby in our Nation’s capitol on behalf of BLET and Auxiliary members and families.  Without a doubt, it has been the greatest learning experience of my life.  Helping to inform and educate our representatives in Congress and in our State House about the working conditions and family life of railroaders is just one of the things I can do to help.

In September, I was invited by the BLET National Vice President/National Legislative Rep John Tolman to help with lobbying efforts for S. 1889, the Senate Rail Safety Bill, and H.R. 2095, the House version of the bill.  This was my second trip to Washington, DC, representing the Auxiliary.  The first time was to support Amtrak employees who had been working without a contract since 1999, and to attend a transportation labor rally.  The Auxiliary’s National Legislative Rep Sereena Hogan was unable to make this trip because she was on crutches, and these trips require a lot of walking all day long.  I hope that she will be better for the next round and we can cover even more ground on behalf of the Auxiliary.

My most recent trip allowed me the opportunity to work with BLET representatives from various aspects of the union, not just the legislative side.  For only the second time, a BLET Vice President, Stephen Speigel, helped lobby the bill.  In addition to several State Legislative Board Chairmen, we had representation from the protective side as well.  NS Vice General Chairman Bob Linsey joined in the effort.  Working in teams of at least three, we set out to cover as many offices as possible over a three-day period.  Working as a team gives a variety of perspectives to the same problems, and provides different ways the Rail Safety bill can correct those problems and why it is so important.

The great thing about the Auxiliary being invited to participate in these joint lobbying efforts is that it gives us a chance to let our legislators know about life on the railroad from a different angle than that of railroad workers. We cannot give firsthand accounts of working conditions, but we certainly have second-hand knowledge because our spouses come home and tell us about all of the things that go wrong while they are at work.  We do experience firsthand how tired they are and how worried we are every time they go to work, praying they will make it back home safely.  We are the ones who usually end up keeping the home fires burning and trying to be both a mom and a dad because our spouses are either gone, sleeping, or are just too tired.

While visiting with the legislative aide for Congressman Tom Davis (R-VA), I was asked how the time at work affected the families.  I told him that there was no time to plan activities because there is no schedule and you never know when your husband will actually be home from work because of limbo time.  Even though their shift is over, it doesn’t mean anything.  I did add that we all make the best of our time together, it’s just not enough.  I was also fortunate to be invited by John Tolman to attend a meeting with Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) about the bill.

In representing the Auxiliary, I have done my best to make sure that our representatives understand the problems families live with every day and that these Rail Safety bills go a long way in taking care of some of those problems.  I would especially like to thank Herb Harris, Buddy White, and Terry Todd, all State Legislative Board Chairmen and team members, for their help in making sure our point of view was heard by the legislators.  I would also like to thank John Tolman and Virginia State Legislative Board Chairman Tim Craver for their help in making our trip possible.

I have been very lucky and very fortunate to have had this experience, but even as rewarding as it is, our real power comes from our grassroots efforts by our members.  This is the first time in 12 years that we have a rail safety bill that begins to deal with all of the problems that exist on the railroad.  We must all do our part to let our own Congressman and Senators know that this legislation is badly needed and needs to pass without stripping out provisions.  Everything in this bill is important to safety and needs to stay.  Please make sure that your elected representatives understand that.

Diane Shifflett can be reached at (540) 652-1339 or at diane.shifflett@gmail.com, or visit www.bletauxiliary.net.