Sunday, July 27, 2014
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
The Tentative Agreement
SMART –TD General Committee of Adjustment GO 001
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
Friday, July 11, 2014
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: www.railroadworkersunited.org