Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Railroad Workers United Steve Klak speaks to Pullman, IL Labor Day 2014

Chicago - Labor Day 2014 - Pullman 

120 years ago Eugene Victor Debs stood six blocks from here at Langley Park and pledged the support of his brand new union, the American Railway Union to the struggle of the Pullman car builders. The ARU had just decisively defeated the Great Northern Railway in 18 days preventing a 10% wage cut. Now, this same company the Burlington Northern Sante Fe, is demanding concessions just as drastic. I came here today to ask you to help these present day rail workers in this fight.

Take a look at those tracks west of this building. You see that the freight trains are as long as 2 miles, with more than a hundred cars, including oil, explosive chemicals, even radioactive materials. But if the BNSF RR gets its way, in just 4 months, there won't be 5 crew members as there was 25 years ago, nor 4 or 3 or even the present day 2 crew members-an engineer and a conductor but only one lone employee in the engine! That’s right, on July 16, The BNSF and Warren Buffet along with the SMART (sheet metal and transportation Union General Chairman’s committee), behind the backs of the membership, sprang a tentative agreement on them which would eliminate all conductors from the locomotives, putting them in a van somewhere on the ground and leaving the engineer alone to run the train! If this passes in 7 days, that will be the result.

I ask you, how will you like it when you hear the hundreds of cars rumbling through Pullman (and you may hear one before I finish this speech), past your houses, your children s schools and your parks operated by one person forced to work 12 hour days, on call 7 days a week, 365 days a year, sometimes 28 days a month! Up to ninety per cent of the conductors will be eliminated and forced to train as engineers so they too can work alone. The company claims that a GPS type satellite system, not yet implemented, which doesn't work yet, will keep you and your family safe.

But the workers have not been taken in by promises of bonuses and job security or frightened by the defeatist union leadership. These workers are seeing for themselves, thinking for themselves and organizing each other. They have built a network including RWU and other groups such as spouces and families against single person crews and have argued for a no vote across the country. From Seattle to Spokane, Kansas city to Lincoln to Creston Iowa and
Cicero, here near Chicago, in informational meetings, they are campaigning for a no vote. The bureaucrats have gone so far as to cancel meetings, call hotel security on us supporters and even call the cops on their own members! I hope next week, this attempt will be defeated, but you can bet Warren and his boys will be back for another try.

On the railroads in 2014, we are slaves as we were when Gene Debs was here in Pullman. How can we be anything else when it has been established by both democrats and republicans that congress will pass a law each time to prevent us from using what should be our sacred right to strike?

I appeal to you now to build a coalition of community members, environmentalists who want a safe planet and the rest of labor to support these modern day Pullman workers in their fight!

What a more fitting tribute to the legacy of A Philip Randolph, Eugene V Debs, and the generations of brave fighters from right here in the Pullman neighborhood, would it be, to continue the struggle for goals long sought but not yet achieved, for respect, pride and a decent life for railroad and all working people everywhere we live.

Thank You

Steve Klak
Railroad Workers United

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The "Battle has just begun!

I have been numb for a couple of days about "our" and "their" victory on the BNSF against a contract that would have allowed for one person trains. I feel like David has hit Goliath squarely on the face and yes... he is hit, and.... Railroad Workers United played a very serious roll in this campaign, but I am reluctant for our organization to take credit for the "action." While I do know that many of our activist, some who put their jobs on the line, were seriously helping to fan a flame that has long been smoldering, analysis and strategy is needed.

Who is Goliath?

Is it Warren Buffet, the Berkshire-Hathaway hedge fund owner of the BNSF railroad? Is it the "Business" union structure that created the environment that allowed this contract to come about? Is it a membership that has become very apathetic and reluctant to "get involved." Is it a Federal Railroad Administration that has historically been very reluctant to make strong regulations. Is it a "robber barron" industry that has long controlled Washington?

All of the above and more, is Goliath. Who is David? that is the question!

The motive of the railroad industry for decades has been a reduction of crew size. You can bet that the strategy sessions are going on at the labor relations level. There is a union political environment that is also at work here. This is a "war on workers" and there will be a "last man standing." The wheel of history is turning and there will be massive changes to work rules. There will be more battles to wage. There is a fire burning and we must keep it lit.
I am inspired, and i can feel it in my blood. There is a power that comes from a victory, but the forces we are up against are very,very powerful. The BNSF conceded, and said they will respect the workers mandate. But fellow railroaders don't be fooled. Remember from where this attack came. The union and the company, think about that.
It would be SMART to remember that the Brotherhood is at an impasse on the W&LE out in Ohio. Goliath has been on a rampage against 100 Teamster represented fellow railroad workers there for may years now. Now that the front has quieted in the west, shouldn't we turn our slingshots in that direction? If an arbi "traitor" settles that fight.. We are in serious trouble. The W&LE has not conceded.
Brothers and Sisters, Fellow Railroaders.. the fight ain't over.. it has just begun. In our hands is placed a power and there is no greater power than the union. Are you ready David? Goliath will be back.

JP Wright
Railroad Workers United

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The BNSF Single Crew Initiative Defeated

The BNSF Single Crew Initiative Defeated

The members of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail & Transportation Workers (SMART) General Committee GO—001 have spoken. In a loud and clear mandate, they have told the BNSF railway, their union leaders, and the world, that they do not support single employee train crews. By 2-to-1, the rank and file voted down a tentative agreement, that – had it been ratified – would have resulted in conductorless train operations over more than half of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), the second largest rail carrier in the U.S.

The major rail carriers have been seeking to run trains with a single employee for nearly a decade now. This latest attempt was by far the most blatant and confrontational effort to date. Railroad workers know that there are grave dangers and inefficiencies should such practice be implemented. According to Railroad Workers United General Secretary Ron Kaminkow, “Single employee train operations – with or without Positive Train Control (PTC) – would compromise the safety and security of train crews, motorists, pedestrians, trackside communities, the environment and the general public. Railroad workers are ready, willing and able to fight this concept with everything we have.”

In voting down this contract, the SMART GO-001 rank and file have won a decisive victory, not just for the trainmen and engineers on the BNSF, but for every railroad worker in North America. While the victory belongs to them, it is of course shared by all those who assisted – engineers (both UTU and BLET); union brothers and sisters from other crafts and carriers who rose to the occasion and helped out; family members who took part in pickets, rallies and demonstrations; fellow unionists and citizens who grasped the importance of the struggle and pitched in to help.

Since its founding in 2008, RWU has pledged to resist the carriers drive for single employee operation of trains. The organization had significantly ramped up that effort in 2012 with a full-blown campaign to raise awareness and understanding of the issue among both railroaders and members of the general public. Upon learning of the BNSF TA, RWU convened an “emergency meeting” of the Steering Committee and instantly mobilized the network. Thousands of buttons and sticker, flyers and leaflets, “Talking Points” and more were disseminated to BNSF railroad workers in the following weeks. A press release was issued that was picked up by a number of newspapers. RWU members spoke out on radio and TV stations, and organized rallies, pickets and demonstrations at numerous terminals, from large cities like Chicago and Seattle to small towns like Creston, Iowa. RWU members intervened in the debate at the SMART Convention in August, and held a series of telephone conference calls open to all railroad workers to voice their concerns, ask questions, and devise strategies and tactics. A regular e-newsletter with the latest flyers, leaflets, stickers, articles, songs, graffiti and cartoons were issued weekly.

Public opinion polls show that upwards of 80% of the population in the U.S. support a minimum of a two-person train crew. Citizens groups are aroused and organizing across the country for rail safety in the face of Lac Megantic. There are two-person train crew bills at the federal and state levels. And the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is considering a two-person crew regulation.

Railroad workers across North America are celebrating this victory today as the news gets out. And they ready themselves for the next round in the fight.

Join us in the Rank and File Rebellion! 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Labor Day message from Railroad Workers United

Labor Day 2014:

Railroad Workers are on the Move!

Dear Railroad Sisters & Brothers:

Whether you are off work or on the job on Monday, please take the time to honor, remember and celebrate Labor Day. This is our day! 

So much of what we workers take for granted today -- overtime pay, holiday pay, vacations, sick leave, workers’ comp and FELA, railroad retirement, safer working conditions, the basic 8-hour day, seniority and more – only came about because workers came together, organized and fought for these things collectively. If it were not for our solidarity, we would have none of the above, and there certainly would be no such thing as Labor Day itself.

But Labor Day has mostly become a day for picnics and barbeques, political stumping and speech making, posturing and "remembering" our heritage. 

But what if we were to put some life into Labor Day? 

What if we were to take joint actions with our allies who understand that single employee crews are a danger to all? What if we were to show the corporations, their politicians and union leaders that we are not simply going to "honor and remember" on Labor Day? What if we were to show our power, and picket, demonstrate, strike and occupy?

The last few weeks have witnessed the awakening of rail labor.

 In response to the suicidal tentative agreement on the BNSF, railroaders have mobilized like we haven’t in years. Many have found their voice, and have expressed themselves loud and clear that they will not accept single employee operations of trains. Engineers and trainmen – together with other crafts – have come together and staged raucous meetings, pickets, rallies and demonstrations all designed to defeat the tentative agreement that would open the door to single employee train operations.

Given the breadth and scope of this extraordinary fight back movement, we expect the BNSF tentative agreement to be soundly defeated. But whether it is adopted or rejected, the cat is out of the bag. The cards are now squarely on the table. The Class I rail carriers have made clear their desire and intent to run road trains with a single employee … and our unions have shown themselves to be hopelessly divided and ill-equipped to wage the battle necessary to defend our safety and our jobs.

So while we rank and file workers continue to fight with everything we have to defeat this attack, we understand that this fight is simply but one battle in the war. Once the votes are counted – win or lose – railroad workers must go on the offensive. We are under a vicious attack brothers and sisters! We can no longer hide our heads in the sand and pretend that everything will be OK.

So let’s stop crying and whining about our jobs. Let’s no longer sit on our hands and hopelessly wait for some politician, government agency or union official to solve our problems for us. Let’s take the bull by the horns, speak out and act together, make our demands known, and let our power be realized. If we are to defeat the single employee crew initiative, it is going to be us – the rank and file railroad workers – who do it.

On this Labor Day, you will see lots of American flags flying. You will hear lots of politicians bucking for your vote. And you will see lots of hot dogs frying on the grill. But please remember, all this has little to do with the true spirit of Labor Day. This day is really about working people and our struggle – through strikes, boycotts, picket lines, sit-ins, occupations and more – to further the cause of rank-and-file workers. RWU is proud to be part of that great tradition of working people fighting back against corporate power. We invite you to join us in the fight. The future is now.

Solidarity forever!

Ron Kaminkow
RWU General Secretary

Monday, August 25, 2014

We Railroad Workers Must Set the Terms of Engagement

We Railroad Workers Must Set the Terms of Engagement

Do we settle for what the carriers are willing to give us when it comes to our safety, dignity and quality of life; or do we organize ourselves, to empower ourselves to demand that which we as workers, much less human beings, are entitled to? This is the question that I posed at the end of my commentary in the previous issue of The Highball (see Spring 2014, "The Rail Carriers' Attacks; the Unions' Response; and RWU").

I submit that in the forty years that I've been railroading, we have essentially been reduced to settling for whatever the carriers are gracious enough to give us. In this series of commentaries that began with the Fall 2012 issue of this newsletter, I have attempted to tell the story of the decline and degeneration of our working conditions over the last thirty plus years, as well as to analyze how and why this has been accomplished. (For those new to The Highball, past issues are available at our website 

"What can we do now?" has become a common question among a growing layer of railworkers around the country. RWU does not claim to have all the answers. There is no quick fix to the state we are in. We are up against powerful adversaries in the carriers and the government. Both Democratic and Republican politicians alike virtually rubber stamp the corporate agenda when we, through our unions, refuse to bow down.

The concept of one national agreement for rail workers has been obliterated with more and more "On Property" agreements. When the leadership of the rail unions allowed the unions to be busted at the Florida East Coast Railway in the mid 1960's, that crushing blow laid the groundwork for the state of fragmentation that exists today along with the proliferation of non-union "short lines".

Speaking of fragmentation, to the vast majority of railworkers, it is obvious that being split up into thirteen different craft unions instead of all rail workers being organized into one industrial union, severely weakens our ability to resist the carriers' attacks. Rail workers are the poster children for the concept of "divide and conquer".

To their credit, the BLE-T home page prominently features a link to the Teamster Nation blog: "Get the latest update in the War on Workers". By logical extension those waging "war" on us can fairly be qualified as the "enemy". With that in mind, the Railway Labor Act (RLA) gives the carriers the right to flagrantly violate our contracts and agreements, then dictate to us how we can defend ourselves. "Do as your told, file your grievance later." They attempt to
dictate how we fight for safety with the union backed Behavior Based Safety Committees. In essence, the
“enemy” dictates to us what "weapons" we are allowed to use to defend ourselves from their "assault" on us. Establishing these exponentially disproportionate lopsided terms of engagement would not have been such a walk in the park without the unconditional acceptance of these terms by the national leadership of our unions over the preceding decades up to the present.

At Canadian Pacific, the management has made tremendous progress in virtually imposing a significant portion of Canadian National style (U.S.) working conditions in advance of the negotiations in an attempt to "sell" the agreement they are determined to ram down our throats.

The atmosphere feels like a combination of a slave plantation and an industrial prison camp. 

There is already a rumbling of, "How can we fight this when they are already having their way with us? We might as well take the big payoff  when it officially is on the table." The more prominent discussion is, "How can the unions allow this to happen?" My answer to that is simple. When you unconditionally allow the "enemy" to dictate the terms of engagement, what do you expect?

From the box at the bottom of page two of this issue of The Highball, where we summarize what Railroad Workers United is about: "We are carrying on a tradition of rank- and-file activity which dates back to the 1890's and the time of Eugene v. Debs." Our website has more on the legacy of Debs, his significance and relevance for us today. A quick reference can be found in two articles in the Summer 2013 issue of The Highball, "Rail Labor and Management: Our Interests are Diametrically Opposed" and "The Crisis of Leadership in Our Rail Unions - Part 1". Not only did Debs attempt to educate and inspire the working class, but most importantly he challenged the workers to study, learn and think for themselves about the relations between big business, the government and labor.

So what can we do now? The situation cries for some kind of  defensive response. Conquering an understanding of what drives the carriers' agenda and how they effortlessly impose it, combined with collectively empowering ourselves with the concept of entitlement, is necessary before we can successfully organize resistance. RWU strives to contribute to this long overdue process.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Solidarity Message from SUD RAIL France

Fédération des Syndicats de Travailleurs du Rail

Réseau Rail Sans Frontières

17 boulevard de la libération – 93200 – Saint DenisTel 01 42 43 35 75 - Fax 01 42 43 36


The SUD-Rail Unions Federation (France) with Rails Without Borders want to express their solidarity with RWU comrades and their demand for No Single Employee Crews.

In France, for many years, SNCF employees underwent several new  work managment that deteriorates their working conditions.
SNCF management, with the support of some local politicians, is trying to impose Single Employee Crews on passenger trains suppressing train conductors jobs.
We believe that this decision is dangerous for railroaders and passengers. Train conductors are essentials for the passengers safety.

In the USA, the Warren BUFFET billionaire owned BNSF freight carrier is trying to obtain an agreement to reduce Freight train crews from two to only one railroader, cutting conductors jobs.
The Single Employee Crews, combined with the 12 hours wordays would be dangerous for railroaders and communities, something that was unfortunately demonstrated by recent fatal accidents in North America.

We are expressing our support to the campaign you are leading for employees and communities safety respect by calling BNSF railroaders to vote against this dangerous agreement.

Pour la fédération des syndicats SUD-Rail et le Réseau Rails Sans Frontières :
Kaourantin Lamprière
Animateur de la commission Internationale SUD-rail
Nathalie Bonnet
Secrétaire fédérale.

St Denis le 13 août  2014

Fédération des Syndicats de Travailleurs du Rail
Réseau Rail Sans Frontières
17 boulevard de la libération – 93200 – Saint Denis
Tel 01 42 43 35 75 - Fax 01 42 43 36 67

Non aux trains à agents seuls :
Ni en Amérique du Nord        ni en France

La Fédération des syndicats SUD-Rail (de France) avec le Réseau Rails Sans Frontières souhaite témoigner de sa solidarité avec la juste revendication des camarades du RWU (Travailleurs du Rail Unis d'Amérique du Nord) : pas de trains à agents seuls.

En France, les agents de la SNCF subissent déjà depuis plusieurs années des réorganisations qui dégradent toujours plus leurs conditions de travail.
La direction de la SNCF, avec le soutien des élu-es politiques dans plusieurs régions tente de mettre en place depuis plusieurs années les trains « équipés » d’un seul agent en supprimant le contrôleur qui assure la sécurité et à la sûreté à bord des trains.
Nous considérons que cette décision met en danger les salarié-es et les voyageurs. La direction met en place ces réorganisations sans tenir compte des revendications des organisations syndicales, donc au mépris des salarié-es…

Aux Etats-Unis, l'entreprise ferroviaire BNSF possédée par le milliardaire Warren BUFFET tente d'obtenir un accord d'entreprise permettant de diminuer les équipes conduisant les trains de Fret de 2 à un seul cheminot soit la suppression de l'agent de manœuvre systématique accompagnant le conducteur.
Cette évolution couplée à des journées de conduites toujours très longues mettrait en danger les cheminots mais aussi la population comme l'ont malheureusement déjà démontré les récents accidents mortels en Amérique du Nord.

Aussi, nous vous exprimons notre soutien et apportons tous nos encouragements à cette campagne que vous menez pour le respect de la sécurité des salarié-es et de la population en appelant les cheminots de BNSF à voter NON à cet accord dangereux.

Pour la fédération des syndicats SUD-Rail et le Réseau Rails Sans Frontières :
Kaourantin Lamprière
Animateur de la commission Internationale SUD-rail
Nathalie Bonnet
Secrétaire fédérale.

St Denis le 13 août  2014

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Buttons are in. NO!

Get Your "Vote NO!" Stickers:
Order Today!

RWU has taken delivery of thousands of stickers to help you to display your thoughts about the Tentative Agreement on the BNSF property. Help build the movement to stop this TA, a contract that would destroy the road conductor, and result in single employee train crews. ORDER TODAY! They are on sale for just $1.00 each for a sheet of 12 stickers.

See the RWU Store and order your stickers today. Want buttons? We got them too. Click HERE. They also are on sale for just $1.00 each.

If you work for BNSF, you may elect to get your buttons and stickers for FREE. Make sure to select the correct item from the Store. And be sure to leave us a note at the Checkout with your phone number.

Thanks. And solidarity forever!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Vote NO! BNSF SMART Talking Points

Vote No!

On the
The Tentative Agreement
SMART –TD General Committee of Adjustment GO 001
and the

Talking Points

It is up to each and every one of us to talk to our brothers and sisters on the BNSF about the tentative agreement made with the SMART TD General Committee representing trainmen on roughly 60% of the BNSF system. We must carefully and patiently explain why this tentative contract is not in their best interest, nor is it in the interest of trainmen, engineers, and rail labor across North America. In fact, it would have devastating consequences.

Here are twelve talking points that you may find helpful:

1) The Wholesale Elimination of the Road Conductor from North America.

If approved, this contract would pave the way for the wholesaled elimination of all road conductors from every railroad property in North American in the coming years. Single employee run trains are a bad idea. Trains with just one crew member (“engineer-only”) are dangerous, inefficient and unsafe for not just railroad workers, but for motorists, pedestrians, trackside communities, the environment and the public at large. See the attached article for the truth about single employee trains ... and Vote NO!

2) Many, if Not Most SMART Members on BNSF Will Never Work Under the Terms of this Contract.

If approved, many currently existing trainmen would never work under the agreement. Young trainmen would be surplus. The carrier has no intention of placing them in furlough status and allowing them to collect the promised full guarantee. These surplus trainmen will simply be sent off to engine school ASAP, trained to be engineers and be paid a low “training” wage. Once certified, they would then assume positions as low senior engineers (under a BLET contract, not this one), to work all alone in the cab of locomotives in through freight service. For more than a year now, BNSF has been forcing trainmen to the engineer program immediately after training. Don’t be tricked … Vote No!

3) The “Master Conductor” Provision Will Come into Play Only When and Where PTC Is In Effect.

Currently PTC is not operative on most territories. The rail carriers have until the end of 2015 to install PTC and they are currently seeking an extension that could delay its implementation for a number of years into the future. It could be years before PTC is actually functional on your territory. Therefore, the promise of “buyouts” for some and full pay for others in “reserve status” may well be just window dressing, an illusion created to “sweeten” the pot and get trainmen to vote for the contract.
Don’t fall for smoke and mirrors … Vote NO!

4) “ Master Conductors “ Will Mean Massive Job Loss.

The number of “master conductors” for each territory would be at the sole discretion of the rail carrier. On primary mainlines, the job loss would be devastating. Where through freight train density is high (e.g. Lincoln- Chicago, Wyoming, The Highline, The River Line) the ratio of new “master conductors” to the current road conductors could approach 1-to-30! That is, for every new “master conductor” position created, some 30 road conductor positions would be eliminated! Therefore the chances are, that most young trainmen will never have an opportunity to work one of these “master conductor” positions. Before they ever gain the “whiskers” to do so, they will have long since been shipped off to engine school.
Don’t be fooled … Vote No!

5) Crew Consist Issues – The Company Wins, We Lose.

Yard Service - Once again, it would be enshrined in the agreement that the carrier has the sole prerogative to set crew size minimums. Some, most, or all of the RCO jobs could quickly become single operator at the sole discretion of the carrier … Vote No!
Through Freight - PTC “operative” is not defined. Does “operative” mean when PTC is fully implemented? Does this mean when PTC is working correctly, when all of the bugs have been worked out? Just when is PTC “operative”? None of this is addressed in the contract language. Demand definition … and Vote No!
Hybrid Service - The contract states that at least one of the two crew members must be qualified to operate the locomotive conventionally, and that s/he will not be required to establish engine service seniority. This is an outright attack on the craft of engineer and would certainly undercut existing yard engineers with years of seniority at the throttle, handing the jobs to much younger workers. While previous agreement appears to allow for such “hybrid” service, its actual implementation under this agreement would no doubt create hostilities between the members of the respective labor organizations of the operating crafts, resulting in a loss of solidarity and union power.
Build unity between the operating crafts … and Vote No!

6) Do the Math!

The cost savings to the rail carrier from the implementation of this agreement are staggering. Currently, most trainmen on the BNSF – like on most Class One carriers -- work in through freight service. Those jobs would stand to be completely eliminated. The handful of “master conductor” positions that would replace them would probably not equal even 10% of the formerly existing through freight positions, resulting in huge savings in labor costs. (And remember, overtime pay is not generated until after 10 hours on duty). In addition to labor cost savings here, the carrier stands to save millions in other ways. For example, the “master conductor” will replace the need to contract with crew van services such as Renzenberger, saving the carrier millions in crew hauler subcontracts. And while there are costs to the carrier associated with the TA -- including relatively higher wages for the “master conductors”, the onetime signing bonus of $5,000, and any supposed $100,00 buyouts that may occur -- together these costs amount to peanuts. As for the immediate elimination of the pay progression, it is largely irrelevant. BNSF trainmen working as conductors are already paid at 100%. Additionally, this would only apply to the currently employed trainmen on
December 31st, 2014. The cost to the company on this score is practically nothing. All in all, we would be selling our jobs for a pittance, and the corporation will laugh all the way to the bank.
Don’t sell yourself short … Vote No!

7) Déjà Vu All Over Again! The Two-Tier System and the Dual Basis of Pay.

If implemented, this contact would establish a two-tier system and a dual basis of pay, dividing old and new trainmen from one another. No new hires under this agreement would be “protected.” As new trainmen are hired in future years, they will find themselves working for the same railroad, belonging to the same union, working the same job and paying the same union dues, yet they would be “second class citizens.” This contract would create huge divisions in our ranks - resulting in hostilities, paranoia, envy, strife and fratricide. Two-tier agreements always do. Protected employees would see the newer employees as a threat, while newer employees would see the union as an instrument that only benefits the old heads. This division will erode solidarity, create disharmony and reduce our power and effectiveness as a union. In the end this will reduce our ability to negotiate good union contracts and hurt all of us as union workers.
It was just in the last decade that the UTU promoted a crusade to eliminate entry level rates and the basis of pay, and yet here is the union just a few years later actually endorsing the whole sordid concept in the form of the tentative agreement. Strike a blow for solidarity. Don’t sell-out the future generation … Vote No!

8) The Signing “Bonus” is Peanuts

The $5,000 signing bonus offer is simply a bribe. It is being dangled in front of you as the one tangible perk you can be sure of, one strictly designed to “buy” you -- the member who is too ignorant, oblivious, busy, preoccupied, overworked, cynical and pessimistic – to approve a contract that offers very little else to most members. Once again, do the math. That little lump some may cost the company $10 million or so, but they will make that money back in lost wages within weeks of eliminating hundreds of through freight positions. And remember, that signing bonus is not wage base building, it is one-time only. After tax, you might see $3000. In actuality, this silly bonus only amounts to a few weeks pay for a road conductor. Do not sell yourself so cheap … Vote No!

9) This Tentative Agreement Appeared Out of the Blue!

Without any input or feedback from the rank and file, without any consultation with the local unions, without issuing one single update or bulletin, the general committee goes and offers us up – completely out of the blue – a tentative agreement. And not just any old TA, this one aims to change the course of railroad history. For 175 years, the position of conductor was stationed aboard the train. This contract would completely alter the historic craft of conductor. S/he would now become a “groundsperson” riding in a van, not on a train. As significant as this would be, the union did not see fit to discuss this critically important event with the members in advance or at any time during the bargaining process. Why is that? Additionally, when it is released for a vote (mandated by constitution) it happens to be released smack dab in the middle of summer, when railroaders are on vacation, at the beach or otherwise distracted and preoccupied. Do you smell a rat here? Is this democratic? Would you like to send a message to your union leadership that this is not OK? Then strike a blow for democracy, and ... Vote No!

10) Other SMART General Committees, Even the SMART-TD President Support Two-Person Crews!

The President of the SMART-TD supports two person crews, and vehemently opposes trains without a
road conductor. As recently as July 18th -- just hours after the TA was announced -- President John Previsich issued an official communiqué to the general membership, stating the following: “ … Simply stated, the only safe and secure operation of any train includes a minimum of two people on each and every crew.
Issues of predictability, fatigue, task saturation, operating requirements, crossing separation for emergency reasons, security and other issues remain at the forefront of any discussion regarding crew size, and to date, all such concerns remain unresolved … It is imprudent for anyone to assert that technology can replace the safety and security of a two-person train crew … No one would permit an airliner to fly with just one pilot, even though they can fly themselves. Trains, which cannot operate themselves, should be no different. The check, double check, extra set of eyes and ears watching both sides of the train and division of tasks are safety measures that cannot be duplicated by written rule or technology. Every safety professional knows this and to remove the second person is to compromise safety.” In addition to the SMART President, the Officers of General Committee 009 that represents the other 40% of trainmen (Santa Fe Property) on the BNSF penned a letter on July 18th. GC Rex Pence, VLC Don Dutton and ST Joe Lopez wrote: “This office believes the safest train operation is at least one engineer and one conductor on every train… To agree to otherwise is to endanger … employees … and the general public … To do so now is … destructive to our union.”
If implemented, the TA would sabotage the union strategy to preserve the two-person train crew … Vote No!

11) Just Who is this John Babler Anyway?

At the UTU National Convention in Florida in 2011, the delegates present spoke with one voice – in opposition to the SMART “merger” … except for a few. John Babler was one of them. Relieved of his post as a result, Babler has once again re-emerged to haunt the union. “VP” Babler wrote the cover letter/introduction to the tentative agreement, explaining why “change” is inevitable, that you must embrace the new, reject the old, and vote for this contract. Babler is NOT an elected union official. He was appointed as an "International Representative" by the SMWIA leadership after being soundly rejected by the UTU delegates at the 2011 convention for his SMART merger activism. As a result, his UTU Vice-Presidency ended on December 31, 2011. He is a traitor to the union cause and should be ignored.
Stand tall …Vote No!

12) This TA Undermines The National Strategy of the Union to Combat Single Employee Trains

In the wake of the tragic wreck at Lac-Megantic, the unions of the operating crafts – UTU (SMART-TD) and the BLET – have stood shoulder to shoulder in a rare display of unity. Both unions have now publicly stated their opposition to single employee train crews. Both unions have backed legislation at the state and federal level (HR #3040) to outlaw the practice. Both unions have pledged to use all means at their disposal to preserve two employees in the cab of the locomotive of every train. The recent action by what appears more and more to be a rogue general committee on the BNSF threatens to undermine these efforts. Don’t stab your union in the back … Vote No!
These “Talking Points” were prepared by Railroad Workers United, with the input and feedback of many rank & file railroaders like you. If you would like further assistance in this fight, please contact us at:

Railroad Workers United

Join us for an International Conference Call!

Join us for an International Conference Call!

We will discuss the BNSF - SMART-TD Tentative Agreement that would open the door to single employee train crews.

The last week has witnessed a huge outcry and a mass upsurge in activity related to the TA negotiated on the BNSF that allows for the abolition of the road conductor. Please join us for a Telephone Conference Call to learn more about the contract, the "Vote NO! Fight-Back Movement", and how you can get involved. All railroad workers and allies are invited to attend.

Date: Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Times: Mid-Day Call at Noon Central Time; Evening Call at 7:00 PM Central Time

Dial In Phone Number: 857-216-6700

Conference Code #: 409179
Each call will last approximately one hour. Members of the RWU Steering Committee will present background information on the contract and suggest tactics to fight back with. There will be time for questions and answers.
For more Information send an email to:

Friday, July 11, 2014

Trainmen & Engineers Say “No” to Conductorless Trains

Trainmen & Engineers Say “No” to Conductorless Trains

Holding the Line on the W&LE

It's been nearly 2 ½ years now since bargaining commenced
between the Wheeling & Lake Erie (W&LE) and
the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen
(BLET) for a new contract for engineers and trainmen on
this Midwest regional carrier. Negotiations have "gone
nowhere" as the two sides are diametrically opposed on
the issue of single employee train operations.

By August of 2013, things came to a head when the W&LE
insisted upon single employee operations of trains, while
the union stated that they would never accept such conditions.
Then on September 13th and 14th, the carrier unilaterally
opted to run a pair of trains with a single manager.
The engineers and trainmen of BLET #292 went on strike
September 20th, but they were quickly ordered back to
work under a temporary restraining order (TRO) by a federal
judge. The strike by more than 100 union members
completely shut down the railroad's operations in Ohio and
Pennsylvania. Bargaining then resumed on the 23rd.
However, the company remained intransigent and refused
to negotiate the issue of single employee crews.

Since then, no negotiating sessions had been scheduled
throughout the winter and spring. For nine months the two
sides did not meet. Finally, after Local Chairman Lonnie
Swigert's efforts, including a barrage of phone calls to
Mediator Jack Kane, the NMB, the BLET national office,
numerous BLET VPs and the General Chairman, the mediator
scheduled a bargaining session for June 10-12th
in St. Louis. Predictably, the carrier remained steadfast,
and refuses to bargain on any issues unless and
until the union concedes to run trains with a single
employee. The union is holding fast, determined
to stop any effort by the W&LE to open
the door to single employee operations.

"We're willing to negotiate anything but one-man crews" says Swigert. "They won't negotiate anything without one-man crews and we will never accept single employee crews. "I feel like this is a gateway. I'm sure Class Ones are in support (of one man trains), but they don’t want to be the first ones to do it. I do see this being a bigger issue than just us. It's about greed and putting profits over personal and public safety."

Regional carrier Wheeling & Lake Erie has been
aggresively pushing single employee crews for
more than a decade, resulting in a previous contract
impasse that the union claims left workers without a raise
for eight years until a 2008 contract was finally ratified.

Unable to win single employee operations at W&LE, the
carrier then assisted the Maine, Montreal & Atlantic
(MM&A), another smaller regional railroad, to do just that in
early 2013. Just a few months after such operations commenced,
a single operator was assigned to a heavy train of
crude oil that ran away down a steep grade into the town
of Lac Megantic, Quebec where it exploded, devastating
the town and killing 47 people. CEO of the MM&A at the
time was none other than Ed Burkhardt, who just happened
to also sit on the Board of the W&LE. According to
BLET President Dennis Pierce, "The WLE bankrolled Ed
Burkhardt's failed one-person operation on the Montreal,
Maine and Atlantic to the tune of a $25 million loan." In the
1990s, Burkhardt headed up the anti-union Wisconsin
Central, where he had pushed for single crews.

Railroad Workers United stands ready to assist these
brothers and sisters in any way possible. The RWU
Executive Committee met the day after the strike to explore
ways that we could build support throughout rail labor and
the general public for the W&LE workers. RWU adopted a
resolution of support and a program of action. We have
assisted the workers to gain public exposure and build contacts
with supporters, and have provided them with buttons
stickers, flyers and bumper sticker all proclaiming "No
Single Employee Train Crews!" We have in effect adopted
them as the “advance guard” in the forefront of the struggle
against single employee crews.

It is apparent that the W&LE is determined to be the rail
carrier to pioneer single crew member train operations.

Their intransigence at the bargaining table, their willingness
to support other railroads who are making similar
attempts at such operations, and their brash statements
and actions to this effect leave no doubt they are serious.
But the union and its members are serious too. According
to LC Swigert, "On September 20th of 2013, with just 16
hours notice, we had 100% compliance (with the strike
call). The men stood on the line and were willing to strike
for days, months if necessary. And when we are “released”
we will do it again if we have to.” Swigert is adamant that
single employee train crews would be a dangerous development
at the W&LE. “One man crews are not an option
for us. In dark territory, and with the lack of safety features
on our railroad, we will never accept one-man (operations
of trains) on our property.”

BLET Division #292 is committed to taking the necessary
measures to ensure that they win this fight. The have
proven their valor and determination last September when
they went out on strike and shut down the W&LE operations
100%. But they cannot win this battle alone. They
need the support of their General Committee, the BLET
National Division and the rank and file members of their
union from around the Midwest and across the nation.
They need the rest of rail labor - particularly from the Sheet
Metal, Air, Rail & Transportation Union - Transportation
Division (SMART-TD) to come to their assistance as well.
And they need the support of environmental and citizens
groups who are concerned about public safety.

This struggle is of vital concern to all of rail labor. 

We have seen countless episodes in past decades where a single
shortline or regional railroad adopts a new technology, procedure
or practice, only to have it spread like wildfire
throughout the rail industry to all the big Class 1 carriers as
well as other smaller roads. If the W&LE succeeds in its
efforts at single employee road train crews, it would represent
a huge foot in the door for the rail industry. It could
spell the beginning of the end for the road conductor in
North America. As such, it is imperative that the SMART
recognize this fight as their fight and lend whatever assistance
they are able. After all, it is SMART who holds the
contract and represents the vast majority of the trainmen in
the U.S. Likewise, the Teamster Canada Rail Conference
(TCRC), the union that holds the contract and represents
most trainmen in Canada, should also throw their weight
behind this cause. The international border is very transparent
these days, and what happens south of it most
assuredly will take root to the north as well.

At the end of the day, the workers on the W&LE just might
have to strike or take other job actions once again to stave
off this attack. If and when they do, we need to be ready.
Throughout the last few decades, we have witnessed a
number of key strikes by workers in several industries -
meat packing, paper, corn processing, newspaper and others
- where a small local waged a heroic "David vs.
Goliath" fight against a company … and lost.

We must ensure that BLET Division #292 does not end up being
added to that list. 

RWU challenges the BLET National
Division to step up to the plate, together with the SMARTTD
and others and put the full weight of the organization
behind these brothers and sisters. To do nothing less is to
betray not just our fellow workers on the W&LE, but every
trainman and engineer in North America.

For more information: