Saturday, June 29, 2013

More History of the BLE... Clarence Monin vs. The Union.

What follows is an interview in the fall of 2012 with Clarence Monin a past International President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. His story really should be told as two stories. One story would be about a President with big plans to build internal networking structures that would enable the organization to mobilize and inform the members, and another story about a President who was scapegoated out of leadership by members and employees of the union for trying to unify two very similar AFL-CIO represented unions.
The organizing techniques and culture that he and some in his administration brought to the union were designed to place the members more in control. His want to connect the leadership to the Rank and File was one of his major accomplishments. He brought a more “Intelligently Militant” position, built on member involvement and Direct Action.
 Most of this story is left out of the History of the BLET book as is the Historic win of direct member elections of top officers by the BLET Members for Democracy.. This interview with President Monin is an attempt to educate and inform the members that many times there is more to the story.

John P Wright
Louisville, KY 2013
Railroad Workers United
BLET Division 78

JPW - I read that you were hired in 1964. I guess you worked the CSX Mainline, Louisville to Nashville.  You got your start in the union as a local officer in Division 78. What were the positions you held on your way to the top?

 CM - I was Local Chairman, then vice Chairman for the General Committee, then General Chairman. At the 1981 International convention, I was elected as an alternate International Vice president. A vacancy of International Vice President Position opened up in 1985 and I moved up to a full position as a Vice President. 

JP - Who were you representing as Vice President, CSX or.

CM - No, President Sytsma sent me to represent the international interests on the Burlington Northern, Soo - Line and the CNW, All the roads in the General area of the Midwest.

JP - You worked out of Louisville?

CM - I worked out of Louisville as a Locomotive Engineer. I worked there until 1981 when I moved the General Office of our General Committee to Jacksonville, FL

JP - Ah, So you moved the General Committee Office to Jacksonville. Where was it?

 CM - It was in Louisville. We started merging with the Family Lines and CSX. The management was consolidated and moved to Jacksonville, so I moved the office there.

JP - On July 16th in 1996 you became the National President of the BLE, The announcement on the Historical section of our BLET website says that you worked immediately to bring the electronic age to the organization. Does that include the BLE mobilization Network?

CM - We were centralizing so that the members would be in a position to communicate across the board, not only the United States members, but also the Canadian members.

JP - You had chat rooms?

CM - That was something we created 3 months following the convention. In the early stages, the chat room was primitive and was limited to an on-line chat with the president. We hired a young man who developed a web site. We established a forum that would let any member log on and express an opinion or comment that could be read by all those who logged in. We later separated the page to list topics of interest of the members. That way one could click on a subject of interest and offer an expression on that topic only. This was questionable as to the proper forum to have members talk outside their local division. 

There was a rule about airing information across division lines. This practice stretched that rule, but it was interesting to see topics discussed. After a couple of years, the forum had taken on a life of its own and in 1999, the year of my recall, a topic of interest was created by a member who generated a lot of information, and in many cases, miss-information. The forum had only one rule, keep the language civil. Some have said that the formation of the chat page was instrumental in my recall. I suppose they were correct. Soon after, I left office, the forum was monitored more closely by the ND and the free for all formats were changed and was soon shut down.

JP - The article also mentions that you were working on certification pay. What was that?

CM - Certification pay was a bi-product of the negotiated agreement in 1995 and it was an issue that we hadn't resolved. It was going to be arbitrated as to what the proper compensation for engineers required to be certified. So the case was arbitrated in the usual manner and we ended up with a decision that we were not happy with, however, when you end up in arbitration that's what you end up with. Whatever you get, you get.

JP - There is a mention of “Intelligent Militancy” in the article, can you talk about that?

CM - Well, through a diplomatic negotiated relationship with the counterpart, the management, we had a long history of being beaten by their technique of using federal agencies, mediators and other means to force us into agreements and conditions that we had little or no control over. We had been practicing that for eons, ever since the early seventies. We hadn't really successfully negotiated an agreement for our membership and we kept getting second placed by other unions, particularly the UTU. We were not going to do that anymore. If we were not given the opportunity to negotiate an agreement that was satisfactory to the membership, then we were going to use our mobilization technique to fight back.

That meant… whatever was necessary to do. For instance, that didn't mean just contracts; it was used for anything that we needed to be heard about. Engineers were being killed left and right and that was not going to be tolerated anymore. So, Intelligent Militancy is a phrase that we used to offset the normal means to do this under the Railway Labor Act. The RLA was made to keep the peace in the industry and if the peace in the industry can't be maintained because of the actions of our advisories, then it was an attempt to go a different route. That was to go to the street, sick outs, blue outs, interrupt traffic anyway we could, form alliances with other organizations that represented other workers in the industries that we served. Sheet metal workers, coal mine workers any workers, like the UAW. We could disrupt their production by making sure their vehicles and parts for cars didn't get to the assembly plants in the right order. That was our way to link our bargaining future with theirs. We could help them with our support and in turn we were expecting their support when our bargaining process was bogged down. There were a lot of ways we could use our strength, and we did.

JP.  How much of the leadership to organize these Direct Actions came from the upper levels of the union? I have heard some leaders, when a sick out is being talked about, act like these are members acting childish.

CM – That’s a mentality that has been keeping us down for decades. In my term, we did informational picketing. We would go to the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia to the CSX shareholder meetings and picket them. We would go to the UP and the BN and picket their boards. Just an informational picket. Picket strikes were illegal, informational pickets were doing basically the same thing because it was drawing attention to the fact that there was an issue with that individual carrier that was harmful to us. They were not giving us the respect to sit down and bargain with us. If it got to that point, we had to revert to that militant activity in order to raise the issue to a level of public knowledge.

JP – The Railway Labor Act makes it very hard to call strikes, but there are provisions that allow safety strikes. In calling these actions how much of the mobilization was being directed from the National Level to the General Committees and down to the Rank and File.

CM – The Mobilization Network was originally designed to help the bargaining committee get a fair contract. Once the mobilization teams were put into effect, then it immediately became a tool for us to communicate with the membership rank and file, all the way to the individual engineer. Most General Chairmen adopted it because in a way it was going to be beneficial to them as an organizing tool. Some General Chairmen, particularly the NS, did not want to open the door for the National Division to have a direct line to their locals. It was going to help local chairman in the same way. For instance, how many local divisions have monthly meetings that barely have enough attendees to form a quorum?  If a local chairman was organizing the division and communicating with the membership, it would be easier for them to express their views, even though we have never been able to upgrade the archaic way we communicate with our members. Even today, the National Division continues to apply the standard communication information policy that predates the media standards practiced in today’s world. That practice is consistent with the interpretations placed by previous administrations. The By-Laws itself needs to be modified.
We are acting like the Wright brothers are still putting the first plane up. How often do you realize that in the field, a certain rule that governs the whole membership is not followed by the majority rather the opposite, then when the majority went the other way and did something different, then theoretically the majority has modified that rule to where the majority works within the system that they themselves have adopted.  That is just true in any culture and when that happens, it then is left to the overseers of that rule to seek a remedy to modify the rule to reflect the wishes of the majority. That is democracy.

Recognizing this, what we did in 96’ or 97’ was to try and create a model division, we were going to identify four divisions within the regions, and let each of those four divisions come up with their own plan on how they wanted to work with their members to communicate with them. From that we would try to adopt some way to modify our system so our members could govern themselves. Like through a web site, secure log-in, the members could create an environment that mirrors the same practices and actions required in a closed union hall. However this is another thing that didn’t materialize because of the change in leadership.

JP – You were voted in with historical delegate support, but recalled by a very, very slim majority. What was the reason for the recall? Was it the opposition to the proposed merger of the UTU and BLE or the more militant, direct action style of action of your leadership that caused the recall ouster?

CM – The recall issue was of course started after we were well on our way to completing AFL-CIO President Sweeny’s request that we and the UTU make an attempt to resolve our issues that may include a merger or unification of our two unions. The opposition you mention was primarily from within our Advisory Board members.  Although the board unanimously approved the process, and the events leading up to the final stages of the process, some gave in to the pressure that some membership groups raised.

We were both members of the AFL-CIO, small numbers in comparison, but it did draw Sweeney’s attention to the fact that we needed to make peace. We were constantly filing grievances on each other for raiding and other violations of the AFL-CIO constitution, so he asked that we have a cooling off period to see if we could resolve these issues. And in good faith, that’s what we did. The membership was aware that we were following the recommendations of the AFL-CIO president to see if we could make this happen. Out of these negotiations came the recommended unification agreement based on the 26 principals. If we could meet the 26 principals; that would generate the work that was needed to draft a new constitution. We were pretty much through all of these steps until the UTU financial deadlines were not met.

In the meantime we had some in house issues with some of our board members who unanimously signed off on all the unification agreements and deadlines. Each time the advisory board unanimously supported our next move, all the way up until we drafted the merger agreement. Behind the scenes there were some people that were using this as an opportunity to inflame the people in the General Committees and other levels, mostly people in the organizations that were going to be adversely affected, in their opinion, by this consolidation.

There was going to be some very high ranking positions, with some very high paying salaries that were eventually going to be eliminated by consolidating departments. I’ll give you an Example. Like our printing department. No need to duplicate that service to the members. There were some in house people responsible for our records and they had a counterpart in the UTU. There was no reason to maintain two of those, and other departments were going to be unified under the unification guidelines, in other words, a unification of the records would be done through the merging of the UTU and BLE departments and if the BLE was going to be the department that was going to be consolidated into the UTU, then it could have been one of the record departments employees at risk and that was not popular. So information and other bits of issues were furnished to the adversaries, like that group down in Etowah and Carl James who was a general chairman on the DRGW who was effected by all these major consolidations of the railroads. They were a very small General Committee but a had a very large bank roll, so he had an interest in seeing that, ya know, it wasn’t an issue of the UTU merger, it was an issue that Clarence Monin was the problem.

We had board members elected from the delegates in attendance at the “96 convention. Some candidates were placed on a position to fill earmarked for a certain roll: such as a candidate for National Legislative Representative. Since the convention, and under the framework of the new union, that position was to be consolidated with the UTU’s National Legislative Director.  Each state had a UTU State Legislative Director and a BLE State Legislative Board Chairmen. I think you can see how this scenario will unfold. The UTU-E committees had 12 months to disband and that member would be required to join the appropriate BLE Local/Division. If for instance the UTU local legislative rep was a member of a UTU Lodge with 100 E members, and that rep was merged with a BLE Division with 40 members, the Division would then have 140 voting members because they would all be engine service employees.  Now come election time, one would assume the former UTU-E, now a unified member, would maintain his support and be the successful candidate to fill the local Legislative position.  As the chain continues, that local legislative rep would be called to a State Board Convention and could conceivably be attended with the majority of former UTU-E members, you get the picture? So theoretically, and probably so, two six figure jobs become one. UTU-E members were grouped with other UTU members in their lodges. Separating the UTU-E members out of that lodge and placing them in a BLE division would not have changed the dynamics of the balance in our locals. There would have been some numbers in the exchange that would benefit some former UTU-E committeemen and that I am sure caused some heart burn. Over all, the cream comes to the top in almost all cases. Let the membership elect a rep from all the members in the local.  And the Legislative Branch would have been under the direction and supervision of the General President, the BLE side of the aisle.

The UTU then was represented by Broken Rail in DC. Leroy Jones was the BLE officer in DC. Broken Rail was a UTU-E member. Broken Rail would have to place his membership in a BLE Represented Division. Under the unification agreement, Broken Rail and Leroy Jones would have to face off to fill the DC position at a convention.  Broken Rail had a much better influence within the DC circle than Leroy if for no other reason than that the UTU always had a lot of money to schmooze. Actually we had not had a good presence in DC since Vice President Ed McCulluck represented the BLE in 1985. The UTU always had a strong influence in DC. Just recently, that has changed with the placement of Vice Presidents John Toleman and Steve Bruno at the DC office.

As you may imagine, Leroy could see the hand writing on the wall. Could he beat Broken Rail? In my opinion, I don’t think so, neither did Leroy. So Leroy in the final stages voted against the unification and I will leave it up to you to judge if his vote was to preserve his own ass. He had the support of the State Legislative Board members as well. Many of them also would rather just depend on the then current membership for re-election. Mind you, some of these positions are 6 figure salaries also.
Another issue that was hard for some to respect centered on the internal financial structure of the two organizations. The UTU had a centralized collection and distribution center for union dues collected at the local base. The BLE had a local collection base with the dues being distributed to the entity for which the dues were collected.  That meant that all dues went to the UTU national treasury and salaries and expenses were paid from the central account back to the entity requesting those expenditures. The General Committee, Legislative arms of the UTU never handled the money and their expenses were monitored by the National office. The BLE dues were collected locally and paid directly to the General Committee office and the State Legislative Boards office and the National dues to the National office. Each BLE entity was required to audit and account for their funds. There were some who objected to the UTU method because they did not want to give up their control of the money in their trust.

I personally supported the UTU based collection and distribution of funds from a centralized location. What came in and what goes out had a check and balance that would have prevented the disaster that occurred within our own general committee that caused a general chairman and a vice general chairman to suffer the embarrassment of being forced to resign their positions midterm. While there have been other times that local funds have been misused  throughout or union, that incident was just a reference to place the credibility of one system over another.

JP – If you ask about the merger today on the railroad the number one thing you will hear for the reason that it didn’t happen is that the Vice Presidents didn’t want to lose their jobs, you don’t hear a big story about all the consolidations that were going to affect General Committees and in house Employee’s. You had told me before that according to the Unification Agreement, there was a date set way down the line for these duplicate positions to be eliminated. Many of these positions were going to be eliminated by attrition and that many of the sitting officials were not going to lose their job.

CM – In order to put something this large together, you have to make sure you build in a buffer for people who feel they will be adversely affected.  It is expensive to the members, but in the long term it is in the membership’s interest. Each time there was a vacancy, that vacancy would not be filled. We protected the individuals that were currently in office and the only way they would not be retained was if they were not reelected at the next convention. This was done at the 86 national convention, some recall people were successful at getting some of the incumbent officers out. We were also having financial problems and delegates eliminated more positions and those positions at the convention were not going to be filled.

The problem was each time you eliminated a current position, it was then not available to a Wanna-be. Somebody in the pipeline that had been serving as a General Chairman or a Local Chairman or a Legislative paid Chairman or whatever position they were looking to build their career was going to be eliminated and that was a threat

JP – Was there ever a vote of the membership for this unification by the UTU or BLE?

CM – Not during my administration.

JP – What kind of push back was happening internally with the UTU?

CM – There wasn’t any really except in the UTU-E. The engine groups in the UTU were very opposed to the merger because they had some very large committees that were representing engineers even though the BLE was representing them by contract. The problem was the 12 month period for E committees to be absorbed. They were going out of business and that was obviously a major Issue for Charlie and Byron at the convention in Miami that year, even though they were being told they were being given 12 months to disband. That was very difficult for them to swallow, so once they were consolidated, their voting rights were also going to be consolidated within the BLE. Anyone who had a requirement for a Certificate came under the jurisdiction of the BLE. That was Hostlers, Firemen and Engineers anyone required to have a certificate.

JP – But, Craft Autonomy was a big part of the conversation and built into the Merger right?

CM – Yes, that Autonomy could not be challenged until the year 2013. That’s when everything came together, when the new organization would govern itself.

JP – the complete merger was going to be completed in 2013?

CM – We would have been through three conventions and the reason I insisted on 2013 was because evaluating my age and other people in our groups age, they could succeeded themselves up to 2013. I was expected to retire just prior to the convention. I would have retired and the position would have been filled by one of our own, meaning that position was not vacant and could not be challenged by a non-certified member outside our own craft. We had much younger officers and would be able to fill the General Presidents position until 2013. At that time, if no vacancy was created, then the positions of General President and International President would be consolidated. A General President would have been the only position the delegates would elect to the completed unified union. We would still have the former UTU bus drivers, airline pilots and MofW members, but they would continue to exist within each of their departments. The BLE represented Dispatchers were opting out of the merger and would go out on their own. Charlie Little was older than me which meant that when he retired Byron Boyd was the person who was meant to fill that position. He was called the International President but in the BLE the position was called the General President, sort of like how the Teamsters are structured now. The Teamsters is run by the General President, who is Hoffa, but yet in his group there are many presidents, who represent many other crafts and other unions, but it’s all under the direction of the General President, he is in control and you know how Hoffa manages his union. It wasn’t a perfect arrangement, but we had to cover enough of the bases to make it work for the members that this new structure was going to represent. Ultimately the members were going to be voting on it so we had to make it work for them.

JP – So during all of this, was there any talk of this new technology called RCO and was it part of the conversations or agreement.

CM – That position was going to be represented by the BLE side of the new organization because it required a certificate. The UTU would have no jurisdiction over that position. Even the conductor who would later be certified would fall under this BLE side of the unification agreement. Charlie and even Byron understood this and quite frankly there were buyout options for both Charlie and Byron who would not be expected to participate in the unification because they were expected to continue to maintain their positions in the insurance association, the UTUIA. We were not going to permit anyone to be compensated dually. You could be paid by the UTUIA or you would be paid by the new union.

This was not a published issue, because how in the world could you publish an issue that the UTU was negotiating it’s self out of business. This had to happen under a natural, normal sequence of events because the UTUIA was not going to be a part of this new union. The UTUIA is an insurance company chartered in Ohio. It’s governed by the Ohio board of insurance. The top UTU officers were board members of the UTUIA. They would probably be soliciting policies of this new union’s members. The only way the UTUIA was to have a relationship with NARTU centered on the UTU records department employees. They had a contract with the UTUIA to receive a pro-rotation of their income for the record keeping time they spent on the UTUIA issues.

JP- There was going to be a full membership vote by both Organizations right?

CM – Yes. Both memberships had to vote on the agreement to merge in Unification. Our ratification procedures differed.

JP - You were very involved in the creation of the BLET Safety SENSE program. What we have now are safety representatives that sometimes seem to become company officials. How was the SENCE idea developed and why?

CM – It was after the safety strike that we called in West Virginia, after an Engineer had lost his life after he had told the superintendent, after being called for duty, that he was not qualified on the territory. The superintendent said that he had a certificate and that he had to go. He died that trip. A totally avoidable incident.  We called a Safety Strike. It was not a Legal strike actually. We had told all railroads that if they killed another one of our engineers, we were going to do something that they would not expect. 

Through the channels of mobilization, I notified all of our districts and captains that we were going to be on strike at the time the funeral services were called. The Railroad got wind of this plan, but was not able to get a timely injunction, until we were actually on strike. The president of CSX called after the strike, and asked if we could have a meeting. We met in West Virginia. Larry James was with me, one other person, I can’t remember now but the conversation was to let us manage our own safety. Let us be responsible, and in that way, if something goes wrong we will accept the blame. The president of CSX asked me if we had a plan and I said, “I do.” It was the very model of our Mobilization Network that we already had. Each of our divisions would be broken down into teams of ten. The captains of these groups would be monitoring the safety issues all the time, if they came up with an issue that needed to be reported, that team captain’s responsibility would be to bring the issue to the attention of the proper carrier officer. 

Take for instance, weeds growing up around a signal, you can’t see it, you have to sneak up on it and if you miss it, bam your nailed. Something like that is a safety issue and fixing it is just a matter of somebody doing what they should have already been doing anyway. Our captains were just bringing it to their attention. We were working with Jerry Nichols who was the Chief Operating Officer with the CSX. I told Mr. Nichols that your safety committees were nothing but a bunch of Butt boys, matter of fact most employees think these folks are company butt boys. They are not very respected by the union members anyway. So things needed to change if we were going to own our safety and the SENSE plan had to be implemented.

JP. Were these safety position paid for by CSX?

CM.  Yes. Each General Chairman was responsible to appoint one representative for the SENCE program. Their job was to monitor the written safety issues raised by one of the five or six thousand engineers. Each committee was made up of 10 people. The local chairman would try to put people together in a committee who had something in common, people from the same sub-division and shift or runs for instance. On the surface it appeared we were expanding to become something that was not manageable. This way we could try to manage something that was small and get a communication flow going. Once you made a formal complaint, it had a process to follow. If everybody had the right frame of mind, the right commitment, then it would get rectified.

JP – Behavioral Based Safety programs have been in place in various industries for decades, was the BLE SENSE program opposed to this methodology that the carriers still employ?

CM – Yes. Ours was an employee driven plan. Looking out for your brother. I am my brother’s keeper. If there is a safety issue that affects me in my group then it is probably the same issue in someone else’s group, so it was not designed to be rewarding to anyone, it was designed to bring together a much larger group and to directly deal with safety issues in a responsible localized way. SENSE is the atmosphere to recognize safety issues and a methodology of eliminating the issue by having it reported to the proper manager. This was not just a BLE issue; it actually created a buffer for the FRA to see that CSX was actually trying to clean up a culture that created multiple fines and warnings. We wanted a communication line that would extend all the way to the top of the company, if we could not locally get issues resolved ourselves. 

This really is not a “union” issue but more… A union is just a group of people that put themselves together in a position to speak with a single voice. That is the total definition of a union. If the majority of the workers are thinking in a certain way, then this program was a formula to bring those voices together.

There was a guy named Taylor who came from the NS who wanted to scrub our plans. He had a different mentality. When Taylor tried to scrub our techniques that we had put into place, I went to Mr. Nichols and said “all right, either he goes or we are leaving.” So they let him go, and from that point on we worked together. I don’t think the SENSE program has materialized to the point I had envisioned.

JP - I read in the Locomotive Journal where you gave your first presidents letter to the membership and you were talking about harassment. The railroads have to deal with OSHA and the FRSA now, what kind of harassment were you referring to then.

CM – During my term and even before I became president, the railroads were competing with each other for their safety record. In some cases the railroads were hiding their reportable FRA injuries so that they would get certain recognitions. It became so evident that some of the railroad management was warning their lower management to do whatever was necessary to keep a reportable injury from getting reported. At the end of the year there were certain awards that middle management would get for not having reportable injuries. Our members did not want to be harassed. The FRA had adopted a no harassment policy. We were recording that some of the accidents that were happening all over the country were related to issues that were unsafe. Engineers were being harassed into not reporting them so that these awards could be won.

The FRA got involved with us and told us that if there was anything that we could prove that there was a fine that they would levy. We picked our fight and selected a case on the Corbin Division. The local chairman of Division 782 pointed the finger to Superintendent Thomas Eatmon. I assigned an in-house employee, Mo Morrow, to develop the necessary facts to convince the FRA to use this case as a pilot case. Jerry Nichols did some good things for us, he eventually got nailed because some of his line managers got reported for harassing our members and CSX was fined. Superintendent Tom Eatmon was also sent home.  It didn’t go to the extent that I wanted it to because when I went away, it went away. As far as I know when I left office there were not any more issues brought to that level of attention.

The bottom line driving the carriers to squelch a reportable injury centered on potential liability claims. Each time a carrier officer was able to harass an employee from reporting an injury, then that officer eliminated the cost to the carrier that could have resulted in compensation to the employee which could have been some lost time. We had evidence that in some cases, an employee was told to stay home with pay for a few days until they felt better, but do not file a report of the incident.

JP – The way that it works now, if you are injured and you report the injury, it matters the seriousness of the injury to how much you will be harassed or in some cases made to disappear, there are some people on the railroad that feel that kind of harassment does not exist. This BLET SENSE committee, where you report and unsafe condition, and it’s documented, would strengthen the new OSHA whistleblower protections we have in the FRSA so that all these unsafe conditions could be strung together to show that the “accident” was not an accident or that the situation was not human factor, it was actually a result of..

CM – It became an incident rather than an accident.

JP – That’s a good one. Seems to me that this SENCE structure would have made it possible to get the conversations above the heads of certain managers who wanted to keep the “blame the workers culture” in place so that they would not have to admit to upper management that there is a certain failure in training or a failure to manage that might have caused the accidents.

CM – The rank and file owned the means of reporting, not the management. We had a plan at the National to create a forum for the rank and file to be able to discuss these issues, but it was criticized as being created as a political tool, in that, I might have been creating my own demise.. But that was stepping out of the box.

JP – Let’s talk about Union Democracy. Would you have supported one member one vote for National Elections?

CM – Absolutely. The President of our Union is the overseer of the membership, the General Committee is the overseer of the membership contractually, and the President is responsible for the welfare of the members at large. Democracy lets you know how the members want things to go. That’s why we spent a lot of money on that focus group to create the Mission and Vision and to take a survey of what the membership actually wanted. It was amazing; people should go back and see what the members wanted back in 97. My attempt was to see how much we could accommodate the survey’s results even to the point that I was not uncomfortable at all moving forward with the merger proposal because the membership said that was what they wanted.

One of the questions asked was who they would want to merge with, and the question listed several unions and the answer was overwhelming with the Teamsters. I had a good clear path, but the Democracy of our situation is that when the majority decides to do certain things then that becomes what you should do as a leader. Democracy is, let the majority govern. It was necessary to re-create a membership based union. Since 1986, we had one term or less presidents: Delaney, McFarther, McLaughlin and myself over a 10 year period. Divisions throughout our union sent delegate’s to the conventions to send a message that same o same o would no longer work. Had to go a different way and how could we be wrong by asking the membership to design its governing future. That is what the focus group did. We were well on our way until the UTU attack with the help of the NMB and NCCC.

JP – Would you have supported direct membership elections of General Committee positions?

CM – Yes. That is the membership speaking as plainly as it can. Apathy within the ranks would have to be addressed but in order to get the membership involved you have to have ways to know that they are. That’s why we were going to let divisions experiment to create model division that could find ways to get the members more involved. The communication technique we have now, still to this day is like operating with a pencil and pen. In my time the internet was just starting to open up new avenues of communication, now the smart phone, texting, social media, there are many ways to get the membership involved. There really is no excuse to say that the membership is not involved, there are many ways to reach out to them. Leaders have a responsibility to create that atmosphere. The financial means and the technical means are shelf ready.

JP – Do you think if there was one member one vote back in your time, you would have kept your position? I mean, do you feel you had membership support for the actions and new direction that you were steering the organization?

CM – I think if I were successful in fulfilling the focus group plan the membership had created, then it would be their plan, I mean if I was working from the membership’s communication and implementing their suggestions, why wouldn’t they want to keep that method in place.

JP – Incumbent apathy is very high?

CM –It’s a mentality that you generate to the rank and file, that’s the reason I won in 96. I was radiating back to the membership what they wanted, and using a new media that the good old boys didn’t know how to use. So as we move forward each time we have a new president the members won’t re-elect a guy that keeps on doing the same ol thing. Make a major change, or you’re gone. That’s what I was trying to do. Come out of our shell and do things different, make alliances with other unions, share bargaining tactics. Show the membership that you are a shaker and baker; rattle some cages so to speak. Get militant.

JP – We merged with the Teamsters and they say we have a Teamsters Rail Conference that would bring us power at the bargaining table, Have we utilized that merger or do you feel that we are back to the old BLE style of leadership.

CM – Back to the old BLE, I mean if merging with the Teamsters has done anything, it has given us a little more power in the legislative field. We are better off in that way but from the bargaining aspect down through the channels, I guess I am so far removed, I would say it this way, I don’t really see an internal mechanism that they are employing or have built to bargain with more strength. I think it was last contract they threatened to take a strike vote? Well, that’s a nice political tool, but they know darn well that at the end of it all they are going to end up with an arbitrated agreement anyway. I mean why threaten… do it. Put something in motion. The carriers saw what was happening in the late 90’s, there was a genuine grass roots movement to turn things around. It wasn’t just us. We were acting with other unions to get that banana theory going.

 (Banana Theory… CM and I have talked about this in between interview recordings and it is the idea that shippers use the rails to house their products. One break in on time delivery and the Cargo chain is interrupted. Working with other unions to break this chain as an organizing tool for power in the industry.)

JP – When you were organizing Operation Thasos and the safety strikes it was a safety issue, but you were also using these actions to show to the carriers the strength of the organization. The networking and the building of coordinated actions with other unions was just more power. Now there is big talk about intermodal being part of the supply chain… back then, intermodal was not as big as it is now, so this sort of organizing like the UE has done with Warehouse Workers for Justice and the UFCW and Our Wal-Mart, this is sort of like the Banana Theory on steroids…

CM – Back then it was because of what was to come. We knew intermodal was the way of the future, that’s almost like the cell phones, one of our first organizing drives after cell phones came on the scene was in I think 1986, we had a representation election on the NS. I petitioned the international to provide me cell phones so we could communicate more rapidly. That thing felt like it weighed 30 pounds. It was huge, like an old time military radio. We looked forward and like that we knew containerized freight was going to be shipped more and more by rail. The banana theory got its name from the way fruit was picked, it’s not ripe. It ripens in route and the containers are climate controlled to slow the process down. When it is shipped it comes by sea and comes into a port in these containers. Trucks and trains come to take them to the Kroger or Wal-Mart distribution center. If we have control of the movement and could delay this process, then the bananas that were supposed to arrive yellow would now be brown.

JP - Were you also working with unions in Mexico and Canada?

CM – Yes, There is a big article I think from 1997, if you go back and get some of the old Locomotive Journals that would show that we had a North American agreement between Canadians, the United States and Mexico. It was co-authored by me and Mack Fleming. We met with our counter parts in Mexico and drafted an agreement between our three countries. We worked with Mexican Engineers and Maintenance of Way workers. It was a by-product of NAFTA. NAFTA in a way was a God send to our industry, if we managed it right, we could say, ok, you want to manufacture something in Canada, or Mexico and send it through the United States to service industries, great, we represent the operating Employees who will move these goods. We would have more control over the economy and the movement of goods. This opening of the inland trade routes between the north and south would position our organization to be even more powerful, but the solidarity organizations and communication would have to be built between the workers in the countries involved. They would also need a way to be educated about the issues involved, to make the brown banana theory something that we owned and operated. The coalitions would enable us to do this work in a coordinated fashion.
JP – Did you ever feel pressure from the Railroad carriers for this new direction of Leadership?

CM – The industry targeted me more than people on the outside world know. There were some people in the recall movement that were actually funded; you know it’s expensive to run a national campaign to recall a president. The Industry, in a roundabout way, like CSX, they were not happy with the way our union was going, they were the blunt end of some of our more militant style. I knew CSX well enough that I knew where their choke points were and I challenged them. CSX had guys that were on certain committees, like safety people on some kind of paid committee. These safety people were company paid and the company pretty much had control over what they did, or did not audit their activity if used for other than service. I had my friends and I had my foes within my former General Committee.
JP – On Property Agreements or National Bargaining?

CM – The system should have been modified many, many years ago. It is good from a political perspective to say to the General Chairman, ok you made it you live with it, so don’t bother me come election time if you end up with a sub-standard agreement. Or an agreement is not as good as the committee representing a different carrier.  No harm no foul. We lost a lot of our National Presidents because they were not able to break that barrier. They had no help from the very people they needed the most, the membership. President McLaughlin yielded to demands from some of the General Committees to bargain their own agreements. Those chairmen were being pressured by their local members whose concern was the National Bargaining committees would not do them justice. The practice that has evolved over this time has produced membership accepted agreements. Should this practice change, for whatever reason, it will be because the membership demands it.

JP - What is the role of a Vice President?

CM –Their assignments are appointed by the President. Their on property assignments are to assist the General Committees in defense of the Contract. In some ways they are assigned to make the General Committees happy so that they will in turn make the Local Chairman happy so we will all get re-elected. (Laughter) I know sometimes they get credit for agreements; But the Leadership role in some cases is questionable.

JP – Did the membership or did politics and power recall you and Talk about Division 782 and the West.

CM- Well John, I have had 14 years of retirement to think about that event. I had spent over 30 years throughout my career in the membership representing business. During those years my personal life many times took a back seat and I paid the price with a broken marriage and not being with my 3 children and two of my six grandchildren. I was off doing what I thought to be the right thing to do. I truly wish I could have a do-over. Fortunately my three children have become responsible and successful adults. Each of them have or is now raising their own children, some of which have their own professional careers. These past 14 years have truly been the happiest years of my life and I am truly grateful to have my family with me now. 

In hindsight, I have no regrets in my attempt to put our industries’ employees in a collective unit to advance their interests. I knew going in and I told the Advisory Board on the outset that accepting the Sweeney Plan to attempt a merger with the UTU could be a career ending decision. 
To make a long story short, because we have been here for a long time, I cannot say that Division 742 was responsible for my recall. Nor can I say that Carl James of the DRGW was responsible for the recall. I can of course confirm they were active in the event. They were encouraged by the forces that had personal interests to see the unification fail. It was also an opportunity for the forces known to be interested in removing me from the office that some felt should have never been filled by someone in the Southeast section of our union.

Putting these forces together creates a movement that if it gains momentum, could result in an accomplished mission. Division 782 became the thread the more reserved activist needed to start that movement. I don’t blame 782 for being used by those forces because within that division were members that had personal reasons to accommodate those other forces. The controlling forces with Carl James had already begun a movement that was looking for a local division on my home road to initiate the action. If I were to pick the division on my own road that would accommodate such an outside force, it would have been Division 782. A former general chairman removed from office accepting a position on the exploratory committee to recall the International President?

The only other person who had gained recognition in Division 782 was Rick Skidmore. As I said earlier, it is expensive to run a national campaign, either to recall a president or to elect one. Does 782 have a history of finding ways to milk the carrier or their own union members to support a spending habit that exceeds their own resources? I will leave that question up to you to pursue. As far as I know, Rick is the only active person that claimed any role in the recall. He is moving on in his years and does not yet realize how wonderful a retirement life with all his family and friends around him really means. I believe the general committee is meeting soon to meet its elections obligation and I think the delegates would be justified in providing Rick that gift.
Carl James’s forces were the drafters of the 26 counts that were used to justify their ends. Carl James himself was also a thread that was used to advance the interest of those Advisory Board members who saw an opportunity to gain a position. It’s not that difficult to place the fear of not being re-elected at the convention to cause grown men to run for cover. The failure of the unification was solely due to the fear that after all the dust settled, some would not survive a role in the new union. One could only imagine where we would be today had that unification succeeded. 
The dynamics of the whole event resulted in some scores being settled and some positions gained that otherwise would have never occurred. The members of the advisory board that had a hand in the recall were they themselves recalled at the 2001 convention in Miami.
I sought legal advice to determine if I should test the event with the Appeals Board. I was encouraged to do so but later decided that to have the recall event reversed; I would have a split Advisory Board and could not imagine having the support to advance some of the aggressive policies and actions on the table at the time. A new president was now setting in that chair and in lieu of any further action to disrupt that setting, we chose to negotiate an exit settlement.

I harbor no ill will to anyone. I am grateful for the opportunity to return to my family and to my family for welcoming me back into their lives full time. 

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