With every election comes the call to exercise your right to vote. Once again, we are at a pivotal point in our nation’s history to restore the balance and representation our forefathers envisioned. Over the last six years, our government has been controlled by one party, and the effects of that ideology have taken their toll across a broad spectrum of our society. There seems to be no end in sight for our mounting budget deficits; record trade deficits; erosion of our middle-class standard of living, while the super rich get super richer; and erosion of worker’s rights to some of the lowest points in recent history. Many of the gains labor made over the last hundred or so years have vanished with the stroke of a pen, and if a change is not made, they will continue to disappear.
It is said that voters have short memories. We as Auxiliary and BLET members need to keep fresh the memories of those politicians who have voted to undermine issues that are important to railroad employees, retirees, and their families. If your Senator fought against Railroad Retirement or Amtrak funding, make sure you repay his or her kindness at the ballot box. If your Representative or Senator failed to allow a bill to move out of committee, tried to attach restrictions on collective bargaining or unrelated bills for the sole purpose of defeating a measure, or outright voted against bills that would provide some relief to railroad workers and their families, also remember those individuals at the ballot box.
The most important tool we have is information about the candidates. We must do our homework, especially with incumbents, to determine on which side their bread is buttered. Sometimes, it is hard to separate the candidate from the political party. If there is one issue you are particularly passionate about, find out whether the political party’s view is the same as the politician’s view.
For us to have any hope of bringing our issues before the 110th Congress, we must see a change in the leadership. A total gain of 15 seats will be needed in the House of Representatives, and 6 seats in the Senate. While daunting, these achievements are not impossible. If the majority make-up changes, then so will the leadership, the committee chairs, and our ability to have important legislation actually make it to the floor for vote. Issues such as rail safety; including fatigue and hours of service; rail security, including the issuance of federal regulations for remote control operations and positive train control systems; and other issues important to the working class of America, such as an increase in minimum wage not held hostage by a “pet” tax cut.
A good example of what looms on the horizon if the majority retains the status quo concerns national contract negotiations. The carriers have already shown their hand as to their intentions, and are just waiting until after the elections to try it again. No railroader wants Congress deciding the National Contract by way of a Presidential Emergency Board. A change in leadership would help to foil the Carriers’ plans. The Administration has already announced that if they retain the majority, efforts will be once again made to privatize social security, which will directly affect Railroad Retirement Tier I. Social security needs to be strengthened, not privatized. The only benefits from privatization would be to plan administrators and brokers, while either additionally driving up the deficit or raising the retirement age to pay for the change. For retirees, a change could mean revisiting the disaster Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, eliminating the “donut hole” that has taken so many seniors by surprise. Of course, I am certain that the Federal Employees Liability Act would once again be on the radar for termination. There are many issues that directly affect us, or our families, that would be stymied if the leadership does not change in November.
Since no substantive campaign finance reform was passed even though scandals abound, we must do our part to counter the obscene amount of funding being poured into key races this year by the RNC. There are a number of ways to accomplish this, which are relatively easy. For instance, BLET members could pick up a few voter registration cards from their Division Legislative Representative, and ask co-workers if they are registered to vote. Auxiliary members and spouses can make sure members of their family are also registered. If they are not, provide them with a registration card. Most importantly, whether your State provides absentee ballots, or early voting periods, be sure to take advantage of that access to the polls. Everyone knows railroaders can never be sure whether they will be in town on election day, so this is the easiest, surest way to make your vote count.
Bottom line, your vote counts. Please exercise your right to vote, and with a little luck and strong candidates, we can once again see a Congress that will work for all of the people, not just for corporate America or the privileged few.