|ONLINE VERSION||VOLUME 107 - NUMBER 7 - OCTOBER 1998|
|VOTE and Make Your Voice Heard|
It's that time again. Time to pick the people who will decide how much money goes in your pocket, how often you'll see your kids, and when and where you work -- and whether you work at all. Yep, its Congressional election time. And the entire U.S. House of Representatives is up for grabs.
Like it or not, if you work for a railroad and if you care about your wallet or your kids, you have to be political. You don't have to like politics, you just have to do politics -- and do smart politics. That's the lesson of PEB 219 in '91.
Why? Your contract, your safety, and your pension depend on being political.
Contract. '91 taught us we can't strike. The Railway Labor Act (RLA), passed by a Republican Congress in 1926, lets the U.S. President appoint a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) if rail labor and rail management can't reach an agreement. A PEB is three arbitrators appointed by a politician. Their report sets your wages and tells you where, when, and if you work. The report of the PEB is not binding, but if BMWE doesn't accept the gist of it, Congress can pass a law imposing the PEB report as your contract -- without your consent.
Since 1980, major railroads have de facto refused to bargain, dragging out negotiations the RLA requires, but eventually creating an impasse. Rail management's strategy relies on getting a PEB report which helps them and hurts you. If management doesn't like the PEB report, it asks Congress for a new panel of arbitrators to make the report management wants. The process is repeated until a pro-management report is produced. But if BMWE's friends run the Congressional Committees, we can get fair arbitrators, a reasonable report, and prevent a new board. This is the lesson of PEB 229 in '96.
Safety. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) come from Acts of Congress. Neither helps us workers as much as it should, but can you imagine a railroad workplace with no federally enforceable safety rules? How long could you work unhurt? And would your bosses care?
Congress also created the Federal Employees Liability Act (FELA) to force your boss to care about keeping you safe. Unlike Worker's Comp, FELA can make injuries to railroaders very expensive -- potential lost profits being the only incentive your boss has to provide you a safe place to work. Congress created FELA for your safety. Congress can take it away.
Pension. Your pension comes for the Railroad Retirement Act, another creation of Congress. Social Security is modeled on Railroad Retirement and since 1974 linked to it. You pay in nearly twice as much as people on social security, but you expect a much better pension. Because Congress created it, Congress can change Railroad Retirement -- with or without your consent -- unless BMWE has friends on the appropriate Congressional Committees.
It's easier to influence Congress if you pick the Congressman. With your wages, your work location, your safety, and your pension depending on Congress, doesn't it make sense to make the effort to VOTE for a Representative in Congress who will help you?
Register. VOTE. The paycheck and the family you save may be your own.
So you're going to vote. But who's your Congressman? And where do you vote? Call 1-888-VOTE-SMART. Give them your home address. VOTE SMART will identify your Congressional District and tell you which local election official to call to find your voting place. Call that local election official. Give them your address. This local election official will tell you where to vote.
Isn't your paycheck and the chance to see your family worth two phone calls and a quick stop on election day?
Registration. In all states, you can't vote unless you're registered at your current home address. Some enlightened states now allow registration on election day, but most still require registration several weeks in advance. When you read this, time will be short. If you know or you're not sure you're registered, run, don't walk, to the nearest telephone, call your local election official, and register! If your state allows election-day registration, check what proof of residence you need.
Time Off to Vote. Each state is different, but the general rule is that if you're working near home, your boss must give you enough time off on election day to get to your voting location. Some states, like Minnesota, require the railroad to provide paid time off to vote. Check with your local election official, your local lodge legislative representative, or your BMWE state legislative director, or the political party of your choice for the rules on voting in your state.
Weekend Voting. Some states allow voting on the Saturday before election day. If you work on the road but get home each weekend, this may be an option for you. Check with your local election official several weeks before election day to see whether weekend voting is available to you.
Absentee Ballot. You're on the road. No way can you get home election day. You read the piece in the September Journal about absentee ballots, but didn't write to get one. You may still be able to vote absentee!
Call your local election official. Ask him to FAX you an absentee ballot application. FAX the completed application back. If you act when you get this Journal, you should still have time to receive and return an absentee ballot. But call now! The ballot must be mailed to your and be mailed back -- and it must get to your voting location near your home by election day, November 3, 1998.
Some states have absentee ballot applications on-line, usually with your state's Secretary of State. Check with your local election official or use the search engine to find the appropriate site for your state. If you're on the road, many public libraries or other similar facilities provide public Internet access. Don't know how to use the net? The library staff can help you.
If deer season or another semi-sacred holiday will keep you away from home on election day, use this same procedure to get an absentee ballot and vote. Hunting is a legit reason for getting an absentee ballot but not for missing an election.
You're going to vote. And you know where, when and how. But WHO do you vote for?
Two things to consider: who has helped you and who will help you.
This Journal lists each Congressman's vote on a number of issues BMWE and labor consider important. Check out how your Representative voted. If you like your incumbent Congressman's voting record, vote for him or her. If you don't, vote for his or her opponent.
Voting records don't tell the whole story. Congressmen can count votes. If a Congressman introducing a bill (the author) can't count on enough votes to ensure its passage in Committee or in the whole Congress, usually he or she will drop it. The author talks to other Congressmen privately before any vote is taken, asking for a commitment to vote for the bill. Some Congressmen have helped BMWE by declaring that they will vote against bills which would hurt you, effectively stopping the bill. But because no vote was taken, no voting record exists to show how these Representatives helped you.
But BMWE's legislative people know which Congressmen helped you -- and who hurt you -- both openly and quietly. This information is the basis of BMWE's endorsement of incumbent Congressmen, some of which are printed in this Journal to help you make your decision. BMWE's "endorsement" of an incumbent is simply a recommendation that you help with your vote the Congressmen who helped you. A vote against the ones who tried to hurt you.
When an incumbent doesn't run, a seat is "open." You have no voting record to check. Do you have time or access to examine all the new candidates for the seat?
To help you, BMWE, with other unions, checks each candidate's background, positions, and attitude toward rail labor issues. BMWE then chooses the one most likely to help you and help BMWE help you and endorses -- recommends that you vote for -- that candidate.
Congressional Committee Chairs decide which bills get heard. The party with the most Congressmen -- the majority -- picks the Committee Chairs.
Historically when Democrats have the majority in the House, Committee Chairs are willing to hear bills (like reduction in retirement age) which BMWE supports. When Republicans are in the majority, these pro-worker bills are never heard and bills designed to reduce your job security and your standard of living are frequent (ICCTA in 1995, AMTRAK funding in 1997). PEB 219 notwithstanding, a Democratic majority in the House makes passage of pro-worker railroad bills possible.
HOW IT WORKS
Any Congressman can introduce a bill, but before the whole House can consider it, a House Committee must hear and pass each bill. The Chair of each Committee controls which bills the Committee will hear and which will die. Each Committee Chair, usually the senior Congressman on the Committee who belongs to the party in the majority, is appointed by the Speaker of the House in conjunction with the majority party caucus. The Speaker is elected by the whole House on a straight party line vote.
Because Republicans hold a slim majority in the House, hard-line, right-wing, anti-labor Newt Gingrich is Speaker. Committee Chairs, his appointees, tend to reflect his views. Therefore, no bill rail labor promotes will be heard in Committee. However, bills which will hurt you and BMWE easily get hearings, can be recommended by the Committee, and can be passed by the whole House.
Whether Democrats or Republicans are in the majority in the House is the difference between BMWE trying to get what you want (like reduction in age of retirement) or fighting hard to keep what you've got (like existing Railroad Retirement). Democrats screwed up on PEB 219 in 1991, but by 1998 they've seen the light (BMWE helped re-educate them). A Democratic majority puts BMWE's friends, not your enemies, in charge of the House Committees.
Changing 11 House seats out of 436 from Republican to Democratic hands will make someone who understands and sympathizes with rail labor, Jim Oberstar (D-8, MN), Chair of the House Transportation Committee. No bill which affects railroaders can be passed without clearing this committee. Eleven seats is the difference between a pro-labor and anti-labor Congress. Eleven between a Congress which helps you or hurts you.
Your vote for a Democrat in you District can change the majority in Congress to help, not hurt, you.