Going Grassroots To Get the Job Done by Becky Schneider, 1st Vice President/National Legislative Rep. GIA to BLE

In any fight, the only way to gain support for a cause is from the bottom up.  The more people who know about and support an issue, the broader the base becomes to support a growing cause.

Locomotive engineers are faced with a number of issues that are important:  van safety standards, cab conditions, fatigue and rest issues, accuracy of information provided to engineers, safety and training for hazardous materials transport and – the current hot topic – remote control operations (RCO), which not only rob our engineers of the jobs they are the most qualified to perform, but also endanger the safety of our communities where these remotes are operated.

There are many ways we can help in getting information about our issues to the public.  Already there have been numerous outcroppings of returning to the basics.  For instance, RCO information is being not only brought to the forefront of our communities through protests, but also through information tables at grocery stores, shopping malls, and community functions.  Working in neighborhoods directly affected by the railroad and encouraging contact with elected city representatives is a good way to broaden the basis of support on this issue.

Especially in the area of RCO, a grassroots effort is a valuable tool to inform the public regarding the dangers of this new technology.  The facts are there and information is easy to circulate.

Railroad retirees also provide a good forum to get our message across.  They have been there and know what it is like to work for “Uncle John.”  Friends and neighbors out watering their lawns (grass roots?) are additional ways to share the word of mouth message.

Once the word starts spreading, then the media tends to take more notice because their viewers and/or listeners are already in the know.  The efforts go up the ladder from there.

I firmly believe that we should start a grassroots campaign, en masse, to thank Congressman Oberstar for all of his efforts relating to rail safety reform.  His bill, introduced in May of last year, did not go as far as we would have liked, but it did address many of the safety issues engineers face.  We also need to encourage him to keep reintroducing his bill and offer our help in getting it out of committee and on to the floor where the rest of the House can show their support.  RCOs can be addressed in the same manner.  We need a well-written bill introduced by a friend of labor, then we must rally with all that we have to keep the issue in the forefront of our legislators’ minds.  It is true that the squeaky wheel gets the oil, and in a time of war and a sluggish economy, railroads should not be making obscene profits on the backs of their workers.

With enough organization and perseverance, we can get those important issues in the hands of those that can put real pressure on the railroads to roll back their “bottom line” mentality and truly work with those who make their profits possible.

We must push ahead to get our issues to the table, but in our zeal to correct the injustices of our engineers, we must also be mindful of the current climate in our country.  In war time, we must respect that there are many issues on America’s plate, including the men and women of our armed forces who have been deployed around the world and are in harm’s way.  We must remember our soldiers and their families during these uncertain times, and keep them in our thoughts and prayers.

The GIA to BLE is a great vehicle to help organize our grassroots efforts.  Anyone interested in joining or starting an auxiliary in your area, please contact Mrs. Onita Wayland, GIA International President at: (254) 8976-2509 or email: ocwayland@aol.com.