Fighting “Behavior Based Safety” Programs
Ed Michael, UTU #979 & BLET #724, UP, Salem, IL
We all are aware of the pitfalls and problems of behavior-based safety (BBS) programs and the damage they can do to a safe work place and to union solidarity. But finding a way of fighting them off while replacing them with an effective safety program can be difficult.
In many places we have seen the carriers establish BBS by co-opting local union members, or even officers, with generous paid time away from their regular assignments, or by promising "leniency" on discipline cases. Conversely we have seen carrier officers establish harsher discipline policies in locations, such as my service unit, where local unions have refused to participate in BBS.
Unfortunately, many locals have been forced to deal with BBS programs by themselves. General Chairmen and National and International Divisions have provided little or no guidance whatsoever, leaving local officers to fend for themselves. Even though there is an abundance of information available about how other industrial unions have dealt with BBS programs, rail labor leaders have done little to educate members about these programs.
The UTU Local and BLET Division in my terminal have been effectively refusing to participate in a BBS program. It is not an easy thing to do, but it can be accomplished. There are two important points to consider:
1. Local officers must first educate themselves about the ways in which BBS programs can damage union solidarity and make the workplace less safe. Then they must begin the process to educate their members. The BBS program makes it easy to fall into the trap of putting the fault strictly on the members, but we must always remind ourselvesthat we cannot ignore the underlying causes of accidents.
2. Secondly, we cannot just refuse to participate in BBS programs and let it go at that. Unions must always be involved in protecting the safety of their members, so we must have an alternative to BBS.
At our terminal, the UTU Local and the BLET Division each formed their own safety committee under the guidance of their respective Legislative Representatives. These safety committees offered to meet with local officers on a regular basis. Carrier officers recognize that even though we will not be involved in the BBS program, we are serious about cooperating in reducing hazards, accidents and injuries.
The BLET and UTU safety committees work together to address safety issues from a united front. We meet with the carrier once a month and work together with local officers to eliminate worksite hazards on an ongoing basis. Members submit safety issues to their Safety Committee and these are subsequently addressed with local officers. Local officials also bring safety issues to the table for the UTU and BLET to address. Solutions to problems are cooperatively discussed and referred to the proper people for disposition. Solutions to problems that cannot be enacted or approved on a local basis are put in letter form and submitted to a higher authority for action.
Here are some of the reasons our version of a workplace safety committee has been successful:
UTU and BLET members put petty differences aside and always put forward a united front.
The monthly meeting with local management is open
to all union members and they are encouraged to attend.
The meeting is open to all crafts (TE&Y, MOW, Car Dept, Signal, etc.).
The managers from all departments are invited.
Layoffs by union members are scrupulously kept to an absolute minimum. Nothing damages a safety pro-
gram more than members believing it to be nothing more than a "cush" assignment for their representative.
Monthly meeting minutes and records are kept and
posted at the yard office for all to see and read.
UTU & BLET safety reps make a full report on activities at each monthly meeting.
Fighting BBS programs and replacing them with truly effective safety programs is no easy task. It takes serious dedication on the part of the BLET, UTU and all union members to make it work. But it can, and must, be done