As an International Officer of the Grand International Auxiliary (GIA), I am frequently asked this question, especially at the annual regional conventions. Perhaps a little history will explain what today’s GIA is all about.
The Grand International Auxiliary to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers was formed back in the late 1880s when the spouses of BLE members were involved in assisting with arrangements for the Biannual Convention in October 1887 in Chicago, Illinois. It was at that time that Letitia Murdock, the wife of a North Western Railroad engineer, realized that while many of the wives were already meeting in small groups scattered throughout theU.S. and Canada, there was no established organization to bring them all together. She felt it was time to organize these groups of women whose mission would be to help elevate their husbands and families educationally, economically, and socially. Within a few years’ time, the GIA grew to more than 26,000 members, with 600 lodges (now called auxiliaries) in the U.S. and Canada. Letitia Moore served as President from 1887 until 1919.
Promoting fraternal love and sociability within the families of BLE members was the main purpose of the GIA. Over the years, these women banded together for their mutual protection and in the interest of their loved ones in the BLE. Charitable projects, such as the GIA Orphans Pension Fund and other funds to care for aged and indigent members were established.
The GIA of today continues in the tradition of charitable projects through its Care and Assistance Program and the Scholarship Fund. Care and Assistance Program funds are used to provide a monthly stipend to widowed GIA members in good standing and orphaned children of members, who are deemed to be in a state of financial hardship. The Scholarship Fund provides scholarships to the sons and daughters of GIA and BLET members (living or deceased) who have maintained membership for at least two years. A small portion of members’ annual dues is dedicated to the Scholarship Fund, but most of the monies are generated from the sale of raffle tickets and golf mulligans at the regional conventions, and from donations by various auxiliaries, designated counsel, and other entities. Eleven $1,000 scholarships were awarded to sons and daughters of BLET members for the 2004-2005 school year.
The GIA has evolved in many ways adding activism to our charitable projects and support roles. In recent years, the work of our Legislative Department, in concert with the BLET-DC office, has increased considerably. Because railroads have historically resisted fulfilling their responsibilities to workers and the public, and the current anti-labor sentiment in Washington, it is of utmost importance that we pay close attention to any bills that affect the working conditions and quality of life of our BLET members and their families. Realizing that the effectiveness of an organization depends on its ability to speak with one voice for a common cause, a Mobilization Program was established in 1997. Members are informed of current issues through legislative updates in our quarterly newsletter and on our website, and also are notified via e-mail and phone calls encouraging them to contact their elected representatives when bills are presented that impact our future. Our members actively participate in rallies and informational protests, and our organization works closely with the BLET National Division on issues affecting our families, such as health care and insurance.
Unfortunately, our membership numbers are no longer in the thousands. We currently have 20 auxiliaries in addition to the members-at-large. For the GIA to continue to provide support for our members and for all BLET spouses, we must increase our numbers. Our ability to effectively bring a strong voice against the inequities of the railroad industry can only succeed if we joint together as one. If you, or one of your family members, are interested in becoming a GIA member, please contact our International President Onita Wayland at 254-876-2509 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out an online application on our website, which can be accessed by clicking on the link under “Departments” on the homepage of the BLET website (www.ble.org). Our meetings are open to any BLET spouse, parent, or child over the age of 18, providing a forum for education and information exchange. We invite you join us soon.