Saturday, February 9, 2013

UP Dispatchers Deserve a Union & the Support of All Rail Labor

UP Dispatchers Deserve a Union & the Support of All Rail Labor

The Union Pacific train dispatchers are the only Class I Rail dispatchers that are non-union. So their current efforts to organize with the American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA) comes as great news for all railroaders. The UP dispatchers will benefit greatly -- individually and collectively -- by coming together and being union. In addition, there are a number of reasons why other railroaders should be excited and should support this current organizing drive. UP dispatchers becoming union will benefit not just themselves, but also the dispatchers on other railroads. And in addition, it will benefit all railroad crafts on the UP and elsewhere.

UP dispatchers are the lowest paid on Class Is. In addition, the health & dental insurance packages that union dispatchers receive is far better than those of UP dispatchers.  The reason that the ATDA is able to deliver better pay and benefits to their members is due to the high level of union density they currently enjoy. With the UP being the largest Class I railroad in the U.S., the ATDA and its current members most assuredly will benefit from having all dispatchers in the union. This will strengthen the negotiating power of the ATDA in all future contract negotiations. Current UP dispatchers should keep this in mind as they decide on whether or not to vote for the union. Whatever the current wages and benefits that the ATDA is able to deliver to their current members, it should be even better when all Class I dispatchers are union. Labor law mandates that the employer is required to negotiate in “good faith”. The UP dispatchers can expect UP to put forth a proposal that is somewhat similar to the current ATDA contracts. And there is a good possibility that any future UP – ATDA contract could be even better due to the strength and added negotiating power the ATDA will have once all dispatchers are finally union. And the same holds true for dispatchers on other roads as well, as the poor conditions of UP dispatchers can no longer exert a “drag” on ATDA contracts.

“Union density” is a measure of the membership of trade unions, calculated as the number currently enrolled as members as a proportion of all those employees potentially eligible to be members.  Simply put, the higher the percentage of workers in a particular craft or industry that belong to the union, the more power those workers have in negotiating a better contract on behalf of its entire membership.  If there is a union density of 100% for a particular craft or industry then the negotiating power of the union is much greater than if the union density is say 25%. Dispatchers employed by other carriers should be very interested in the outcome of this current organizing drive and should actively support and show solidarity with their fellow dispatchers at UP if for no other reason than they will directly benefit during the next rounds of contract negotiations. 

So while it should be pretty easy for a non-UP dispatcher to understand why they should be interested and support the UP dispatchers, it may be a little less clear as to how having all the Class I dispatchers in the union would benefit other crafts on the railroad. Well, the railroad operates because we make it work. MofW maintains and repairs the track, signal maintainers keep the electronic equipment functioning, T&E safely operate the trains from point A to point B, and the dispatchers work with all of these fellow railroaders to coordinate the work that needs to be done for the trains to roll in a safe and efficient manner.

But UP dispatchers have no input into the dispatching process and no protections against management if and when they need to step up and question a management decision, nor do they have any protection against an unjust disciplinary action. While union T&E crews have some protection when refusing an unsafe order, a non-union dispatcher feels powerless and defenseless. Once unionized and better protected against the “dictatorship” of management, a dispatcher may then feel more empowered to stand with a train crew and likewise resist unsafe and dangerous directives.

Finally, all railroaders of every carrier should support this organizing drive for the same reason as non-UP dispatchers: union density. The stronger all of the various rail unions are individually, the stronger we are collectively. Contract negotiations are about power; the more power one side has the more beneficial the terms of the contract will be for that side. There is a lot of room for improvement for our unions because in many ways they have let us down. But there are a number of reasons why they sometimes let us down, all too commonly because we don’t have the power we need to win. And while there are many things that need to change in order for our unions to have that power, a crucial one of those changes is that all eligible workers belong to their respective union, because numbers equal power, and power equals better contracts.

Ultimately, the railroad workforce as a whole would have even greater power if we were all organized into One Big Union of all railroad workers of all carriers and all crafts, but that is a discussion for another day. In the meantime, it is up to every ATDA member -- and in fact every single railroad worker who belongs to any of the myriad craft unions -- to stand up and support the Union Pacific dispatchers in their noble effort to be union!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Railroad Worker vs. The Railroad Corporation

The Railroad Worker vs. The Railroad Corporation

We might think of ourselves as Railroaders, but don't forget, most of us rails work for multinational billion-dollar "fortune 500" corporations. And remember, the very nature of corporate thought does not take into account human factors. When it comes to communication and management, numbers are very important to the corporation. Numbers can be crunched and manipulated. Dealing with issues on a human level however, is not exactly management's forte. 

Corporations suggest that because they are made up of shareholders, that they are indeed not a simply a corporation, but a group of like-minded folks. They want the right to lobby and spend money to influence government just like an individual citizen is able to. And they won this "right" to "corporate "personhood" with the landmark case Citizens United vs. FCC. This Supreme Court decision paved the way for corporate sponsored superpacs and unlimited corporate spending to lobby congress. 

Recently, CSX took a survey on the company's internal intranet web service. Based on the survey results, CSX expanded our face-to-face rules classes by one day, as they had come to the conclusion that they needed to communicate more with us. They also determined that we needed to be cut in to the business model and this extra day of numbers and graphs would “help” us to “understand” customer service. To further remedy the problems that they discovered by asking us our opinions, they have spent thousands of dollars on "CSX TV". Large digital screens were mounted at the entrance to terminals. Is this really what we told them we needed? I am sure we didn’t tell them that that harassment is out of control. I am sure we didn't tell them to stop whittling away every pay claim we have in our so-called agreements. I am sure we asked
 them to spend thousands on silly division newsletters, the ones where the person who interviews you makes up little comments that you didn't say. I am sure we told them in the invite-only focus groups to spend thousands on all of this? Is this where our bonus money went?  

Railroaders already care about service, that's why we ask questions like: Where are my orders? Is our train ready? Why can't the bowl job throw out this shop car? Why is that signal yellow? And in the hopes of using another human trait -- common sense -- we ask many other questions that involve common decency. Common sense tells you that if a person is trying to make ends meet, take care of a family, that you don't harass, threaten and charge them for every miniscule "violation". Common sense would tell you that you can't look through someone else's eyes. The new CSX TV doesn't hear about the person who was harassed, fired or charged. The computerized communication doesn't hear about their children and lost wages. The corporate model does not have a conscience.

Hours of Service, Tour of Duty, Class of Service, On-Duty Time…you get the drift. Notice the terms "service" and "duty". These words pop up in everything from agreements to pamphlets about fatigue management. Who are we servicing and to whom is our duty? If we were military instead of railroad, our service and duty would be to uphold the constitution and serve the people. So my argument is this: If a corporation is a person, are we servicing that person with a duty to protect? Or are we servicing our communities and country with our work? As railroaders we should ask: Is it the duty of the corporation to make sure the shareholders have their dividend check?  Likewise, should it be their duty to have the decency to pay claims, abide by contracts and pay bonuses? Especially since corporations have convinced the Supreme Court that they are indeed people. 

Most workers know the sad truth: that the shareholders come first. We and our agreements are the last thing of concern to the rail corporation. If corporations were in fact people as the Supreme Court holds, then they would have compassion, grace and the ability to listen. They would care to hold their word. They would not harass their employees, the folks who dutifully perform service. Corporations do not possess human traits. Their service and duty is to provide maximum profits to the shareholders, period! And if that means cutting healthcare, breaking contracts, denying claims, harassing and disciplining the workforce, stealing bonuses and all the rest, then that is what they will do. That is the nature of the Railroad Corporation
J.P. Wright is a locomotive engineer with CSX out of Louisville, KY and a member of BLET #78.  He currently serves as the Organizer for RWU.