To: All Grand Lodge Officers Elected at the 43rd and 44th Quadrennial Conventions and all System Officers in the United States and Canada
From: Paul Swanson
Re: My Dismissal As a Grand Lodge Appointee
Date: August 10, 2002
Dear Sirs and Brothers:
I am writing this letter requesting your assistance to correct a substantial injustice done to me by President Fleming. The injustice is not that he dismissed me as Director of Organizing approximately one month prior to the expiration of my term or that he failed to reappoint me to that position for his next term. He has the arguable right to take both actions. I am asking your assistance because he failed to give me any indication that there was any problems with my performance of my duties, carrying out his instructions or even any philosophical differences between us. In fact just the opposite was the case. Prior to, during and immediately after the convention the only discussions I had with President Fleming were the operations of the Organizing Department. We discussed the setting up of the structure of the newly organized Wisconsin Central membership, the pending IBB merger vote and an organizing plan of action to present to the IBB in the event the merger vote is successful. During all of these discussions President Fleming strongly indicated that I was going to continue in my assignment and be involved in their implementation. In fact the last discussion I had with him at 2:00 P. M. EST on July 26th was about the IBB merger vote campaign and the implementation of a campaign plan that I prepared at his urging immediately after the convention.
Additionally he lied to some of you prior to Convention and after Convention regarding his intention to retain me and never informed any of us that he would simply remove me from service prior to the beginning of his next term. I have been advised by many trusted friends in BMWE leadership position that President Fleming assured them that if he was reelected he would continue the programs and operate the BMWE just as he had in his previous administrations. That included retaining the staff that he relied on to carry out those programs and operations.
I served the International loyally and I and most of you believe, skillfully, since April 1994 and believe that I was owed honesty if he felt we should part ways. Simply because President Fleming has the right to treat loyal and dedicated members/employees in the most cavalier and dishonest manner possible under the law, a manner that we would be up-in-arms about if the carrier treated our members in such a way, does not mean he has the right to treat us in that manner under basic principles of unionism or under the Constitution and By-laws.
On July 29, 2002 , I received a letter from BMWE President Mac Fleming informing me that I will not be reappointed to my position as Director of Organizing. The letter directed me to immediately vacate my office and turn in all BMWE property in my possession and talk to Administrative Assistant to the President William Hildenbrand regarding anything owed me by the BMWE. The letter was dated July 26, 2002 , the same day as my conversation with President Fleming about implementation of the IBB merger campaign plan that I drafted. I was actually terminated while in Washington , D.C. serving the union as the InternationalÕs representative at the Second Constitutional Convention of the Labor Party that ran through July 28th. On July 22nd, the Monday prior to my dismissal, I faxed President Fleming a memo, giving him my itinerary through August 6th so that he could reach me. I did that in the event something needed to be handled to get the IBB merger vote campaign underway. He knew I was representing the BMWE International for two days after the dismissal date yet did not notify me. I heard of the possible action when I spoke to Sister Creswell on Saturday morning, July 27th. She said she was dismissed and learned of it when she discovered her cell phone had been cancelled. I called Brother Hildenbrand the morning of July 29th after being unsuccessful in reaching President Fleming over the weekend. That is when I received confirmation.
As he has not talked to me, he has never returned my phone calls, I have no clue why he took this action. I have been told by others that they were told that it was because I supported a dues increase for funding the Organizing Department. I did support and campaign for that dues increase because I believe the future of the BMWE requires an Organizing Department funded at a level that could provide for real growth of the BMWE (or the BMWE Division of the IBB). If my support for that dues increase is the reason for my dismissal I had no instructions to not pursue that dues increase. President Fleming and I spoke about that dues increase about three weeks prior to the convention, he said ÒIf I were you I would keep my head down at the convention. There are a lot of people opposing any dues increase and they may not appreciate my support for one.Ó I told him it was important and that if it was all right with him I would pursue it. He never told me he would take my support for the dues increase as insubordination.
It could not be because I opposed the IBB merger, I strongly supported it the first time and I support it now. I traveled thousands of miles and worked several weekends informing members at meetings of the benefits of that merger. I gave President Fleming advice early in the campaign that was ignored. I suggested in the first merger campaign that we concentrate on getting out the vote where our support by the leadership was strongest, to not waste time where we did not have good day in day out contact with the members. I urged him not to send it out too early, before the System Leadership had time to mobilize their supporters.
It should not be because I did not publicly campaign for President Fleming at the convention. I do not believe appointees jobs are to publicly campaign for candidates for elected office. Only two of the more than dozen International staffers publicly displayed their support for any candidate. Only two of those at the convention that did not publicly campaign were dismissed, Sister Creswell and I.
I think most of you know the work I have done for the International. My involvement in the internal organizing in the struggles for PEB 229, saving Railroad Retirement Occupational Disability, attempting to get a better Railroad Retirement Deal, saving Amtrak , trying to stop the Conrail Carve up and many other international issues. I also assisted many of you in local disputes, such as the SOO Line strike in 1994, CNÕs attempt to gut the GT Agreement and many others. With the limited resources the Organizing Department successfully organized nearly 700 new members into the BMWE. The FEC with more than 130 new members, a railroad that had a long anti-union history, the Alabama, Georgia & Florida with nearly twenty members, the Delaware & Lackawana a small railroad organized wall to wall, the Iowa Interstate with more than twenty workers and finally the Wisconsin Central with nearly 500 new members where we overcame years of bitter feelings about unions in general and the BMWE in particular. I cannot take all the credit, Brothers, Time McCall, Carl Stark, Mark Barbour, Gary Hart and Sister Sue Creswell were vital to those organizing victories along with countless local activists. But I certainly was and have been a major contributor in all of those organizing victories and struggles with the carriers.
Perhaps the most disappointing (no pun intended) part of all this is I see a real opportunity for the BMWE to secure resources for organizing from the IBB. I had begun putting together an analysis of employers that would fit within the BMWE Division of the IBB and a plan to organize them. If the merger is voted in, I was going to ask President Fleming to present it to IBB President Jones and request funding for it. Now if such a plan is implemented, I will not be a part of the opportunity to grow the BMWE.
Again I have no idea why President Fleming fired me. Whatever his reason I still didnÕt deserve the callous and vicious immediate dismissal by mail. Having performed dedicated service to the BMWE receiving this outrageous treatment is simply being punished for serving him and the BMWE loyally. Do you really believe I deserve to have been treated in this manner, even if he had the legal right to do so?
What I say for me regarding this cavalier treatment goes for Brother Myron and Sister Creswell also. They, too, were dismissed by letter, finding out about their dismissals when their credit cards or phone cards no longer worked. People who have provided dedicated and loyal services to the BMWE over a long period of time do not deserve to be notified by mail and simply put out in the street with no consideration. One of the main reasons BMWE was organized was to stop such treatment by employers. Even if he has the legal right to act in such a manner, he should not base upon some legal mumbo jumbo. ItÕs as simple as that and itÕs a major infringement of basic principles of unionism and how our union treats its own. He evidently believes he has the right to lie to me and to some of you and to then act in a manner that would embarrass some of the carriers our members work for. He believes he can act in violation of basic principles of unionism and the BMWE Constitution and By-laws. How do you think he is going to act when he confronts things he doesnÕt like during his term of office?
As an appointee I have tried to avoid the political infighting and internal disputes, those close to me know that has not always been easy. Now that I am no longer an appointee, I can say that we must move forward, sticking to the principles of trade unionism. President FlemingÕs actions do not reflect those principles, more like the carrier officials we must deal with far too often. Running our union based upon intimidation and fear will simply lead us to destruction. Each of you will be facing some tough decisions in the near future. I ask each of you to think like a trade unionist and not allow this union to be lead through deceit, fear and broken promises.
I am going to go back to the ranks on the BNSF, hopefully in the Denver area. Our daughters are settled here and KathyÕs family lives in the area. I will always be a Nebraskan, but its climate sucks compared to Denver Õs. I plan on staying involved in the BMWE. The labor movement is too important to me to let President FlemingÕs actions sour me on the union, it is more important than any personal feelings I have for the way I, my Brother and Sister (my good friends) were treated. I will miss working with all of you. I hope that we will work together again to battle the carriers and their allies for a better future for our members who deserve the very best.
I fear that I will not be able to maintain close contact with many of you. I do ask you that you contact me for my side of the story if President Fleming starts putting out his version of why he took the actions that he did. I would really like to know what reason he puts out. My home phone number is (303) 457-3960.