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!

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