Pierce Out as BLET President (Updated)

Written by Frank N. Wilner, Capitol Hill Contributing Editor
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Edward A. Hall, incoming BLET President. Photo from Hall’s campaign website

Official as of Dec. 17, three days after his opponent—Edward A. Hall—declared victory, Dennis R. Pierce is out as President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) following 12 years at its helm.

Dennis Pierce, who repeatedly took no position on the Tentative Agreement he shepherded and signed.

Pierce, now 64, was first elected BLET President in December 2010 in the union’s first direct membership election, winning 57% of the vote. Unchallenged, he was reelected by acclamation in 2014 and 2018 for successive four-year terms.

Prior to 2010, BLET national officers were elected by delegates representing each of its some 500 divisions (known as local in most unions). Delegates representing more than 500 locals still determine international officers at the BLET’s rival, the Transportation Division of the Intentional Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD).

Hall’s unofficial victory margin was said by BLET sources on Dec. 14 to be fewer than 500 votes. Some 58,000 BLET members were said eligible to vote, although only about half are said to have returned ballots. Hall takes office Jan. 1.

Ballots were mailed Oct. 31 ahead of separate voting on a Tentative Agreement reached with most Class I railroads and many smaller ones on wages, benefits and work rules.

Pierce, who served as chief negotiator for 10 of the 12 rail unions—and all 12 during the final weeks of negotiations—repeatedly took no position on the Tentative Agreement he shepherded and signed. Some 54% of the more than 20,000 BLET members affected by the Tentative Agreement and eligible to cast ballots voted to ratify it. Although four rail unions failed to ratify it including SMART-TD, the Tentative Agreement was imposed on them by Congress, and signed into law Dec. 2 by President Biden, in a preemptive action to avoid a threatened national rail strike.

Hall made the Tentative Agreement the central issue in his challenge to Pierce, saying, “It is clear to me that the national membership is dissatisfied with our leadership and the decisions made by them when it comes to a National Agreement.” Responding to concerns that he had not previously held a national union leadership post, Hall said, “The question that every BLET member should be asking is not if leadership is seasoned and experienced, but rather, has our leadership effectively done their job.”

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Prior to being hired by Southern Pacific (now part of Union Pacific) in El Paso, Texas, in 1995, Hall was a corrections officer in Houston. After earning a community college degree in accounting and computer science, he partnered with his brother in real estate acquisition, rental and management. Hall was promoted to locomotive engineer in Tucson, Ariz., in 1998 and elected a BLET division officer in 2010, rising to First Vice Local Chairperson for Division 28 in Tucson. 

Pierce began his rail career in 1977 on Burlington Northern (now BNSF) in Lincoln, Neb., as a maintenance-of-way worker and then locomotive fireman, rising to locomotive engineer in 1981. He became a BLET Division 98 officer in 1991, a general chairperson in 2001 and a national officer in 2008.

After its membership voted against a merger with the United Transportation Union (now SMART-TD), the then-BLE affiliated with the Teamsters in 2004, adding “Trainmen” to its name and immediately commencing a raid on UTU members. The two unions subsequently reconciled.

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