Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Initial Steps Taken as U.S. Government Works to Invigorate Labor

A recently released report from the Economic Policy Institute finds that decades of attacks on collective bargaining have been a driving factor behind depressed wage growth for working Americans over the last four decades, regardless of their union affiliation. The inability for workers to join or form a union at work, due to roadblocks enacted by a series of conservative courts and hostile Congresses, has only exacerbated this issue.

According to the report, the decades-long erosion in union membership has lowered the median hourly wage by $1.56, a 7.9% decline since 1979. When applied to a year’s wages, this comes to $3,250 annually for a full-time worker. Another study from the same group found that workers would be making $10 more an hour if their wages had kept up with increases in productivity during the same 40-year period.

The truth is that the results of the last presidential election gave labor a seat at the table, where for years working family issues had been sidelined.

The good news is this trend can be reversed, and there are serious efforts now underway by pro-labor elected officials to do exactly this. If you are reading or watching the news, you would imagine that what matters to your financial wellbeing is the last thing anyone on Capitol Hill is thinking about. The truth is that the results of the last Presidential election gave labor a seat at the table, where for years working family issues had been sidelined. With the focus in the media on sensational and divisive topics, one important story missing has been the renewed focus on rebuilding the American middle class.

Americans already saw the passage of the American Rescue Plan back in March. This legislation brought new job opportunities, now and into the future, for our SMART union families. It not only boosted jobs but retirement security as well, with $86 billion in funding for multiemployer pension plans. New child tax credits for working families and elements of the pending infrastructure package will not only increase funding for registered apprenticeship programs, apply labor standards and put members to work building schools and ensuring the quality of the air that our school children breathe, but will also add elements of badly needed labor law reform that will level the playing field for working families. This includes actual sanctions for companies that interfere with their employees’ rights to organize, from $50,000 per offense to $100,000 and punitive penalties for executives that encourage this unlawful behavior. Additionally, via the infrastructure package, Congress would reinstate the tax deduction for union dues with a $250 cap—an important provision for union workers that the Trump administration removed in 2017. These are significant steps forward and why SMART is fighting hard for Congress to pass the infrastructure package.

These important changes will play a big part in turning the tide for workers and collective bargaining. They will strengthen our unionized presence, enforce the fact that it is the workers’ right to organize and close the gap between where America’s wages are and where they should be.

It took decades of attacks from anti-labor legislators and courts to get us to where we are today. It will take some time to improve the state of collective bargaining to where we can rebuild America’s middle class and make sure opportunity is available to all who seek to achieve it. The responsibility continues with each of us.

Fraternally and in unity,

Joseph Sellers, Jr.
General President

SMART Capital: Expanding Work Opportunities in the Sheet Metal Industry

SMART Capital Program was launched in 2018 with the intent to help signatory companies expand into new markets to create more work opportunities for our members. The program creates a partnership between SMART International, Local Unions and signatory companies.

This program is one that allows Local Unions to partner with their signatory contractors to take on larger projects and modernize their operations to stay ahead of the competition as the industry evolves due to technological change. It also assists contractors with resources allocated to the acquisition of union and non-union competitors in order to expand our share of an increasingly diverse market while solidifying our hold on market segments we currently have a presence in.

This unique program partners with the local union and international funds to provide loan guarantees, additional bonding and assistance with equipment purchases.

This unique program partners with the local union and international funds to provide loan guarantees, additional bonding and assistance with equipment purchases. We have also expanded into a program to help start up I Want SMART as a pilot program in two local unions. This leverage secures an overall gain for both members and contractors alike as the expanded market presence strengthens our collective bargaining agreements while tapping into new pools of work opportunities.

The program is already in place across the United States at places such as SM Locals 10, 16, 24, 33, 67, 104, 105.

At Local 105, the SMART Capital program was used to assist a contractor with its acquisition of a non-union firm that saw the company not only establish a presence in the service side of the industry but bring in new positions to fill for current Local 105 members, with staffing levels of up to 80 members — up from 40 prior to when they secured the loan. Another signatory firm utilized a line of credit it secured through the SMART Capital program to establish a solid footing in more complex and larger projects that require the expertise of existing Local 105 sheet metal workers. The growth of the program saw this firm alone expand from six to forty-four Union sheet metal workers.

In the coming months and years ahead, the SMART Capital program is only going to continue to grow as we look to prudently push to expand our reach within the sheet metal industry to create new good paying union jobs. Like all good investments, the relationship does not end with the culmination of the initial transaction. An analysis and review of the company’s financials are made, first ensuring that all trust fund obligations are met. It is only once this step has been achieved that the SMART Capital program begins working with commercial banks to provide underwriting and loan servicing — to ensure the stability of the investment in work hours is made in the best interest of the membership.

This type of innovative thinking is and will continue to be needed as we navigate a transitioning and competitive sheet metal industry while ensuring we continue to set the standard for decades to come.

At the end of the day, all stakeholders in the union side of the industry — the members, contractors and the end users who see their projects secured — come out ahead. This type of innovative thinking is and will continue to be needed as we navigate a transitioning and competitive sheet metal industry while ensuring we continue to set the standard for decades to come.

As my friend and brother Luther Medina, Local 105 Business Manager and SMART GEC member has said: “We told contractors we are here to help. This is a partnership and we have to work together. When a contractor grows, our membership grows.”

I could not agree more.

Fraternally,

Joseph Powell
General Secretary-Treasurer

Your Commitment Pushes Us Forward

Brothers and sisters:

It’s hard to believe that we’re three-quarters of the way through 2021. With the changing of the seasons into autumn, it seems like an opportune time to outline a few of the positive changes we’re making to better serve you.

Responsiveness to members’ safety concerns is something my administration prioritizes as the most important function of our union. We were founded on safety. Both our TD Safety Condition Report and Technology Event Report are fully integrated and go directly from members to officers. If you find that there is a safety risk, COVID-related or otherwise on your property, remember to fill out a confidential Safety Condition Report on our website or through the SMART app. No time is lost when routing these reports directly from members — once it’s submitted, it will be acted upon by the officers of jurisdiction. Truly, there is no time to waste when it comes to serving the membership, especially when it comes to safety.

Responsiveness to members’ safety concerns is something my administration prioritizes as the most important function of our union.

I myself am trying to make up for time lost with the initial COVID lockdowns, travel restrictions and everything else that limited our ability to safely gather. The pandemic was declared in March 2020, about five and a half months into my presidency. All the plans we’d made for local visits, regional meetings and other events got put on hold right then and there. We began to formulate ways to 1) Ensure that our membership was as safe as possible in the evolving situation of the pandemic; and 2) Try to transform the operations of a national labor union in such a way to ensure that we could continue to meet the needs and serve members with minimal disruption.

Much of the union’s focus was drawn to those challenges. But these missions eventually were accomplished thanks to the tremendous efforts and collaboration of our members, our officers and the capable staff at the Cleveland office.

I agree with the statement made by Minnesota SLD Nick Katich regarding the mini regional meeting he recently held, there really is no substitute for getting out and engaging face-to-face (even with masks and social distancing).

My opinion is that the job of being president of a proud national transportation union is not done properly from behind a desk. I enjoy nothing more than getting to meet and know my fellow brothers and sisters of SMART from coast to coast and craft to craft, hearing firsthand their triumphs as well as their issues and concerns so that we can work together on the solutions.

Merriam-Webster defines a labor union as: an organization of workers formed for the purpose of advancing its members’ interests in respect to wages, benefits and working conditions.
SMART is a labor union and the union at its core is you. A union, as defined, is all about banding together for common well-being— united. So as TD President, visiting you where you are is a great priority of mine. COVID slowed that down, but just recently I have made numerous visits in several states attending meetings both big and small to get input from you about the goals and direction that SMART-TD should take in safety, contract and organizational matters all the while providing factual answers and updates to questions asked. I find these discussions energizing and enlightening as we develop new ideas to make SMART-TD the best transportation union it can be for all members now and into the future.

Looking ahead, there will be more member-focused improvements. A long-planned revamp of the union website coming next year will not only offer a new look and added content, but enhanced features so that the information members need can be attained faster. While we recently made another update on the SMART App, we continue to look into additional membership suggestions in our continuing efforts of making it a vital tool for members.
We are also past the design and developmental stages of the new SMART University. We are currently finalizing the educational materials and content that will be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. SMART U will be an online learning and resource center focused on improving our members’ and officers’ knowledge and skills, bringing information and workshops that in the past have only been accessible by attending an annual in-person meeting.

Member input is the lifeblood of a dynamic, ever-improving union, and I encourage you all to speak out and be the change that you would like to see at every level of the organization.

I’m excited to present these initiatives to you, and your union leadership is always open to hearing about how it can improve. Member input is the lifeblood of a dynamic, ever-improving union, and I encourage you all to speak out and be the change that you would like to see at every level of the organization. The first step can be just as easy as attending your local meeting and encouraging others to use the tools your union provides for the benefit of the whole.
For those of you who want to become more involved, running for an elected local position is a great way to start. Next year, 2022 local committee elections (local chairperson, vice local chairperson and LCA secretary) are held while 2023 brings elections for local officers (president, VP, secretary, treasurer, legislative representative, ALR, trustee and delegate) Both provide members an opportunity to get more involved. If there is a vacancy at your local, perhaps you may wish to step up and fill the position.

Every union officer, including myself, did not step into the job knowing everything. Some of us were lucky enough to have mentors like Herm Boruta, while others learned as they went. While there is not a substitute for experience, it starts with asking for help when it is needed. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask a question, but rather of strength. Someone somewhere in SMART-TD will have an answer as they most likely experienced or dealt with the same thing. Mentoring the next generation of officers is yet another important function that we need to focus on and is something that we are working diligently on improving, starting with the aforementioned initiatives.

The power we can exert when we as a group of fraternal brothers and sisters are united, engaged and all working toward the same goals can be so powerful yet is often underutilized. Let’s tap into that power and energy of unity at all levels. We all must remember, even when in disagreement, there are things that bind us together as SMART-TD that we must work hand-in-hand on: wages, benefits and working conditions for the benefit of us all.

Please stay safe and God bless!

Fraternally,

Jeremy Ferguson
President, Transportation Division

Moving Forward With a Minority — Power to the Workers!

Canada’s unions are calling on all levels of government to provide adequate support for workers and their families as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic reverberate in communities throughout the nation. As the dust settles on an unnecessary and uncalled-for federal election, the message couldn’t be any clearer. Canadians have sent a concise message to get to work on the issues that matter. As we know, minority governments only last if they have the confidence of the House. This election demonstrated that Canadians want the government to work together.

During this election we asked our members to get involved in the Let’s Build Canada campaign. Your participation in the surveys and letter-writing campaigns enabled our issues to be heard and placed into the party platforms. Issues such as labour mobility tax credit, building green and a stronger workforce were our main focus. As the Canadian Building Trade Unions (CBTU), we were able to get commitments from the parties on issues that matter to our members during this election.

Due to your activism, the CBTU was able to get commitments from the Liberals, Conservatives and the NDP on the workers’ mobility tax credit.

Over 70% of those in the skilled trades identified travelling for work as a common necessity. 75% said there isn’t always work available where they live, and shortages are common. 70% have taken a job outside of their region in the last five years. Due to your activism, the CBTU was able to get commitments from the Liberals, Conservatives and the NDP on the workers’ mobility tax credit. Now it is up to us to make sure that we get this legislation introduced, and by getting members involved we can push the issue over the finish line. The trade mobility tax credit will be beneficial to all members as they travel across their provinces and the country for work.

On the question of building Canada’s green future, two-thirds of respondents have given some thought to what that transition to a green economy means for them. They have some idea of what that will mean and whether they’ll need to be re-skilled. Retraining will be a key concern as job opportunities transition towards those in the green economy and renewables. 47% say that there have been a growing number of opportunities for the current skill sets in renewable green infrastructure and retrofitting industries. Concerns about the financial impact of the transition outweigh the concerns about retraining itself. 76% are concerned that jobs in the renewable green sector will not pay as well, whereas 71% are concerned about the cost they will have to incur regarding retraining. We must ensure that the government prioritizes a “just transition” for workers in affected industries as we move forward.

When it comes to building a stronger workforce, we must push for Employment Insurance (EI) reform and representation on federal EI working groups, boards and committees.

When it comes to building a stronger workforce, we must push for Employment Insurance (EI) reform and representation on federal EI working groups, boards and committees. 93% surveyed agreed that there should be a dedicated skills trade representative or advisor on the federal employment insurance working group when it comes to reforms. 92% agree that EI should have a greater flexibility, for example, removing age limits and being able to receive EI when retraining and upskilling and to permanently remove the clawback on separation monies. A majority demonstrated a desire for more government support on apprenticeships and a transition to a green economy, and 92% preferred to see more government support for oil and gas workers during the transition to a green economy. 84% would like Community Benefit Agreements (CBA’s) to increase the opportunities for unrepresented groups on federal infrastructure and projects.

So, as we move forward with this minority government, it is up to all of us to stay actively involved. We must continue to push this government and our elected representatives on the need to support our initiatives. To see progress, we need to continue these discussions and stay involved. By scanning the QR code on the previous page, you can stay involved and up to date on the issues that affect SMART members across Canada. Your say and vote matters! Workers are the recovery. Power to the Workers!!

In solidarity,

I remain, fraternally yours,

Chris Paswisty
Director of Canadian Affairs

SMART-TD responds to carrier vaccine mandates

Ferguson

Recently, Amtrak, Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern announced that they will require their employees, including those represented by SMART Transportation Division, to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. It is anticipated that many of the remaining, if not all Class I rail carriers, will eventually implement similar policies, citing their status as government contractors and federal mandates as their reasons. In accordance with current guidelines, the deadline for Amtrak employees to be fully vaccinated is November 22, while the deadline for Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern employees is set for December 8. In order to be considered fully vaccinated, a 14-day period must transpire following the administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Under certain circumstances, some carriers are allowing regular testing as an alternative to vaccination, although federal law, guidelines and most collective bargaining agreements do not require them to do so. SMART-TD has taken the position that beyond the applicable deadlines, all carriers should allow unvaccinated employees to provide proof of regular testing as an acceptable alternative.

In every instance to date, the carriers implemented their policies without first meeting with SMART-TD to bargain over the provisions of their mandates. In attempts to correct and address these exclusions, SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson advised all SMART-TD general committees of adjustment to schedule meetings with the carriers to discuss the implementation of any new, planned or existing policies. In his letter, he also noted that federal law provides exemptions for certain circumstances where individuals have religious objections or medical conditions that prevent them from being vaccinated. Based on initial conversations, it was determined that additional methods of appeal would be required.

Due to the unilateral actions of Union Pacific, on October 15, 2021, SMART-TD filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, challenging the carrier’s attempt to avoid its obligation under the Railway Labor Act to bargain over terms and conditions of employment. While this action at Union Pacific is likely to set precedent for other carriers, it does not prevent SMART-TD from taking similar action against other like-minded carriers, including Amtrak and Norfolk Southern. While each policy will have nuances that the affected organizations will have to navigate, respond to, and appeal on an individual basis, SMART-TD has made it clear that any attempt by the carriers to circumvent their obligations under the Railway Labor Act will be met with strong resistance.

“While vaccinations are not a collective bargaining issue, as they have not been negotiated into our agreements, we still believe that the carriers must engage with us about these policies prior to any implementation and we, in an effort of good faith, will continue our attempts to do so. We believe this is the best approach,” said President Ferguson. “We are going to let the outcome of those meetings and the advice of our general chairpersons guide our next steps. However, when these conversations with the carriers prove to be unsuccessful, then we must appeal our issues to the courts.”

President Ferguson also stated “SMART-TD is a very diversified union, encompassing members of different ethnicity, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation and viewpoints. We are proud of that diversity and represent all members regardless of these distinctions. We lead from the front, keeping emotions in check while evaluating every issue and concern along the way. We also must research the potential outcome of these actions prior to making any formal decisions. With that being said, I will continue to encourage our members to get vaccinated, however, I respect those who have pointed out that it is a personal choice. Whatever your beliefs or vaccine status is, I want to make it clear to our members that you will be represented to the fullest extent of our authority.”

As additional information becomes available and this situation continues to evolve, SMART-TD will continue to evaluate and assess its position on these issues. Updates will continue to be posted to the SMART-TD website at www.smart-union.org/td.

Unions join to fight Union Pacific on COVID orders

CLEVELAND, October 15, 2021 — The Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) are jointly taking on Union Pacific Railroad (UP) over a series of unilateral and unlawful actions taken by the carrier recently.

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET National President Dennis Pierce issued the following joint statement regarding their action:

“Over the past two weeks, the Union Pacific Railroad seems to have forgotten that it is not Walmart. The railroad has unilaterally changed pay provisions for vaccinated employees who experience a breakthrough COVID infection due to workplace exposure. It has ordered all UP employees to report that they are fully vaccinated by December 8th, or risk being medically disqualified from work. And, instead of negotiating with us as the law requires, the Carrier is directly dealing with its employees by offering a ‘financial incentive’ for compliance with its unilateral mandate.

“We generally support our members getting the vaccine. However, we have several objections to UP’s unilateral implementation of their policies mandating them and illegally dealing directly with its represented employees. The members of our Unions — including members who already are vaccinated — are irate over UP’s outrageous conduct.

“We have been in contract negotiations with UP since November of 2019, and federal law absolutely bars railroads from changing rates of pay, rules and working conditions while negotiations are ongoing. Not only is UP in violation of the law, it has explicitly spurned our demands that these matters be bargained. We have filed suit today in the United States District Court for Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, in an effort to stop UP’s lawlessness in its tracks.”

 

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The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of crafts in the transportation industry.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 57,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Mourns the passing of Richard Trumka

Statement from SMART on the passing of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

On this hard and difficult day, our thoughts are with the family, friends and colleagues of Richard Trumka. President of the AFL-CIO since 2009, Trumka brought with him his immense reserve of experience, grit and know-how from his time as secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO and as president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).

A third-generation coal miner from western Pennsylvania, he began working in the mines at age 19 and supported himself while studying for his law degree at Villanova University. In 1982, he became president of the UMWA, where he fought tirelessly for mine workers.

He dedicated his life’s work to creating a nation that would leave no worker behind and serve as a society that rewards hard work. Richard Trumka never forgot who he was working for, nor did he forget the working-class principals for which he was fighting.

SMART joins our brothers and sisters across the labor movement and working people across the United States — and around the world — in mourning his loss.  His life’s work will continue, as we all continue the fight to ensure the hard work and sacrifices made by America’s working families are rewarded.

Trumka was a keynote speaker at the 2019 SMART General Convention. Click below to view a highlight from his address to more than 1200 convention delegates.

I Got Your Back: We Support and Look Out for Each Other

At our last convention in 2019, SMART took a hard look at how our fellow brothers and sisters are treated at the worksite and the impact that treatment has on all of us and the industries we work in.

We changed the language of our Constitution to make it more inclusive of all our sisters and brothers. For the first time, we added conduct that is harassing, hazing, bullying or discriminating as chargeable offenses under Article 17 of our Constitution, which shows our determination to ensure our union provides a safe and welcoming environment for each and every member.

We have been mentoring each other for generations, and many of us have had the good fortune to have a mentor help us along the way, whether it be a journeyperson you were assigned to during your apprenticeship, or a seasoned conductor who ensured that you started off at work safe and free from injury.

This month, we launch the “I Got Your Back” campaign, which asks each and every one of us to stand up and look out for our sisters and brothers under the banner of union solidarity. This solidarity strikes at the very core of our roots and was the reason our union and the labor movement came together in the first place. In our early years, we served as a safe haven for generations of workers seeking to be free from exploitation. This union is where our members preserved their sense of dignity, and today we will continue that tradition by reaffirming those values.

This campaign, detailed in the “Special Focus” section of this issue of the Members’ Journal, is based on an awareness that workplace discrimination and harassment happens, and it is up to each of us to prevent it from occurring in all its forms to our sisters and brothers – those whom we joined together with to promote a better life for ourselves and our families.

The idea of mentorship, and one member helping another, harkens back to the earliest days of the labor movement and to the apprenticeship programs that differentiate union trades from all others. This is nothing new. We have been mentoring each other for generations, and many of us have had the good fortune to have a mentor help us along the way, whether it be a journeyperson you were assigned to during your apprenticeship, or a seasoned conductor who ensured that you started off at work safe and free from injury.

Do you have a mentor who has stood up and had your back in the past? Someone who was there for you during tough times or when you were learning on the job? This is an opportunity to recognize them for their support and pay it forward. This is the time to live up to the example they set for us by doing the same for other members. Let’s make and be the difference that keeps our union standing up for the ideals and values we represent.

Fraternally,

Joseph Sellers, Jr.
General President

Growing Support for Unions Offers New Opportunities to Grow Our Movement

Now is the time to capitalize on growth in the union sector. For the first time in my lifetime, we have a true champion in the White House who is pushing for the labor movement. In only his first 100 days in office, President Biden mentioned unions in his speeches 62 times. This compares to President Obama talking about unions 89 times in his first full term.

In only his first 100 days in office, President Biden mentioned unions in his speeches 62 times. This compares to President Obama talking about unions 89 times in his first full term.

I make this comparison because now is the time to step up efforts to build and expand the union movement. We are seeing the rebirth of the middle class, which was built on union wages. This can’t be done with politics alone. We need to take advantage of the current public sentiment that is in favor of unions. Not since the 1930’s have unions had an approval rating this high. In 1936, the approval rating for unions was 72% and now we are at 68%. Today, we have prime-time television showcasing construction workers. America is fascinated with real people with real jobs and that is what we do. From freight and passenger rail workers, to bus drivers, to production shops, to construction — we build and run America.

So, how do we capitalize on this sentiment?

The current infrastructure bill would be a good start. This legislation would create thousands of jobs for union members. As stated in my last Journal article, these jobs are not just roads and bridges. The infrastructure bill would also fund retrofitting of public buildings, including schools and colleges. It would include modernizing our nation’s rail systems for both freight and passenger rail. We have already seen new funding for public schools to upgrade HVAC systems and modernize old and outdated buildings.

Now is the time to regain the rightful place that unions — and the priorities of working families — should and will have in our countries.

We need to take action now at the local level to make sure that we have the needed skilled crafts-people to fill these jobs. We have seen an increasing number of job bank calls across the country. These are the areas that we need to focus on to gain membership. We need to organize in these areas, not only so we can fill the call for workers on these large projects, but also for all the other contractors and ancillary work that will come with each large project.

We need to open up our apprenticeship programs to train more workers. We need to get out in the public and advertise who we are and what we do. We need to work with our schools to get high school kids interested in the trades. We need to work with our contractors to make sure they have the skilled workforce to go into new markets.

Now is the time to regain the rightful place that unions — and the priorities of working families — should and will have in our countries.

The future is bright, but only if we continue to work to make it so. I look forward to what we will forge together for our children and future generations of workers.

Fraternally,

Joseph Powell
General Secretary-Treasurer

National Contract Negotiations Ongoing

2017 Agreement Remains in Effect

IIn recent months, some have asked, “Why am I working without a contract?” The simple answer is: “You are not working without a contract.” Under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), a contract never expires, it is only amended or changed. This means all working rules, conditions and pay rates must remain in place (status quo) until such time rail labor ratifies a new, or should I say, an amended agreement.

Sometimes this can be a long process under the Act — if you still have your copy of the January/February TD News (it’s also available as a PDF on our website), there were two pages devoted to explaining the ins-and-outs of the national negotiation process. It is not uncommon for the negotiations to take time, and it should come as no surprise that the carriers are not beating down our doors to ensure you get a well-deserved pay raise as soon as possible.

Some have also asked, why don’t we have a contract yet? COVID-19 has definitely played a role in delays as it made it impossible to put 100-plus people from both our 10-union Coordinated Bargaining Coalition (CBC) and the carriers in one room to negotiate in our traditional methods. Additionally, our coalition previously notified the membership of our respective organizations that thus far, no proposals from the carriers have warranted anything worthy of putting forward to the membership for ratification.

Thus far, no proposals from the carriers have warranted anything worthy of putting forward to the membership for ratification.

As of this date, nothing has changed. As COVID restrictions are now being lifted, your negotiating committee looks forward to being able to once again meet face to face at the bargaining table with the carriers where we hope it will be much more productive than video meetings.

Negotiations are complex and involve a number of consultants and working groups that are reviewing economic data, health and welfare issues, and in some instances impacts and/or costs to either side of the equation.

We must keep in mind that an agreement by its very nature requires both sides to actually agree. How often do you agree with what your railroad does?

Now put all the railroads in one room with most of labor sitting on the other side of the table — it becomes a laborious process, to say the least. But the RLA will serve its purpose, and the parties will eventually hash out a deal. In the meantime, everything in your agreements that are currently in effect must remain fully intact — your contract hasn’t expired. Please note the bold language below from your 2017 National Agreement:

This Agreement shall be construed as a separate agreement by and on behalf of each of said carriers and their employees represented by the organization signatory hereto, and shall remain in effect through December 31, 2019 and thereafter until changed or modified in accordance with the provisions of the Railway Labor Act, as amended.

The “term of this agreement” was defined to run from Jan. 1, 2015, through Dec. 31, 2019. The framers of the agreement were simply establishing the dates and time period for purposes of pay raises, and nothing is construed to leave anyone under the RLA and our agreements “without a contract.”

It is worth noting that negotiations for the 2017 agreement began with the filing of Section 6 notices in December 2014, and it then took 34 months before a tentative agreement was reached in October 2017 — that’s a period of nearly three years and there wasn’t a global pandemic to work through. The process does take time!

Another thing to note — only railroaders and airline employees fall under the Railway Labor Act. Airline pilots and flight attendants feel your frustrations when wanting to exercise a strike action against a carrier, the same as some of you probably do. We are a very specialized group and are governed under a very different set of rules than most other union workers.

The National Rail Contract negotiations are not the only thing on the agenda at this point in time, either. We have two other major national issues that are contract-related going at the same time, with the same railroads with whom we have to negotiate a national agreement.

One is the crew-consist moratorium dispute, which was arbitrated this month in Sacramento, Calif., on June 15th and 16th and was one of the largest groups I have ever seen in one arbitration session. Another major issue is our current health and welfare dispute, scheduled to be arbitrated Aug. 31 in Washington D.C. As I am sure you would agree, it is not easy to negotiate the direction of a new national agreement going forward into the future when we are having serious difficulties even agreeing with the carriers on what is in our previously agreed to contracts.

Your union is pushing ahead in these negotiations with all your best interests in mind, fighting to protect what you have and setting the stage to thrive in the future.

Some have asked why don’t I update them more frequently about the status of negotiations? First of all, we, the 10-union coalition, won’t negotiate via the media and will keep our game plans private within the union negotiating team. Football coaches do not go to the media talking about what plays they are going to run and what their strategies are before a game or as it is being played out. We cannot do that here either. I would also love to notify everybody anytime it looked like something positive was going to happen regarding a contract, but it would wear you out emotionally, especially if those positive possibilities never came to fruition. Furthermore, all the union presidents in this coalition have agreed that we will only update the membership collectively as one voice through joint updates so there is no confusion that we stand together in solidarity.

Your union is pushing ahead in these negotiations with all your best interests in mind, fighting to protect what you now have and setting the stage to thrive in the future. We are proving every day that solidarity is the only way to accomplish our goals in all issues, contractual or safety-related, on behalf of the membership.

We have accomplished a lot in a very short time, battled through a pandemic and an economic downturn, and are poised to set the stage for the future of the nation’s freight rail industry in these negotiations. The updates will come in due time.

Until the CBC releases our next joint report, remain assured that your negotiators and leaders will remain as stong and proud as each and every one of you who has stepped up to the plate to make our union that much stronger in the name of safety, solidarity or both.

Jeremy Ferguson
President, Transportation Division

Moving Forward Together

Brothers and sisters,

As lockdowns are lifted and pandemic restrictions are eased across Canada, we must continue to remain vigilant. With this in mind, Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU) have joined together with the broader labour movement and businesses to launch “Faster Together,” a campaign to encourage Canadians to get vaccinated. The goal is to work together to promote COVID-19 vaccine acceptance and help accelerate the recovery from this pandemic.

The recent discoveries of human remains at or near Indigenous residential schools for children in British Columbia and Saskatchewan have shaken the country. These horrific discoveries call out for a full reckoning with Canada’s colonial history.

We are closer to the end than we are to the beginning. The faster we get vaccinated, the faster we can get back together. As vaccines are distributed across the country, we will be encouraging our members to get whatever vaccine may be available in their areas. We all want to resume the gatherings we took for granted prior to the pandemic. The resumption of some semblance of normalcy cannot come too soon.

We need to move forward in other ways as well. The recent discoveries of human remains at or near Indigenous residential schools for children in British Columbia and Saskatchewan have shaken the country. These horrific discoveries call out for a full reckoning with Canada’s colonial history. The residential schools and the crimes that were committed there are a stain on our collective conscience.

We must come to terms with our past in an honest and compassionate way, and we must seek justice for those who have suffered. We must call on our federal, provincial and territorial governments to prioritize their commitment to truth and reconciliation for Indigenous peoples and to complete a full investigation into all Indigenous residential schools in Canada. Committing to reconciliation means confronting the atrocities of the past so that they are never allowed to happen again.

The CBTU has taken its own first steps down the path to reconciliation. As part of the CBTU’s “Building Together” program, Virtual Indigenous Training has been developed to help increase awareness of Indigenous peoples and their culture. Since its launch, hundreds of union leaders across the country have taken the training. SMART’s leadership is committed to promoting this training, as well as honouring the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports. We remain steadfast in our commitment to building a better Canada with our Indigenous brothers and sisters.

The truth about our nation’s history needs to be fully acknowledged and addressed. The time for action is now. We must move forward together!

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the Indian Residential School Survivors Society for counselling support available at 1-800-721-0066, or the National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line available 24/7 at 1-866-925-4419.

In solidarity, I remain, fraternally yours,

Chris Paswisty
Director of Canadian Affairs

Now is the time to build back union

The Biden-Harris Administration’s new infrastructure proposal may be the most significant investment in new American jobs since FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s. The nation’s infrastructure has been left in shambles for far too long due to years of gridlock in Washington, D.C. With a new administration and Congress turning its focus to rebuilding America, now is the time for real action that addresses these needs and helps working families.

The Biden-Harris infrastructure proposal, called the American Jobs Plan, focuses on more than roads and bridges, which may be the first words that come to mind when the term “infrastructure” is mentioned. It also includes modernizing the nation’s rail system to meet passenger rail capacity taken for granted by nations in Europe, and to better compete with China’s ultramodern freight rail system. In addition, the plan would fund the retrofitting of public buildings, including schools and colleges, so that air systems are up-to-date, efficient and safe for occupants in a world where the next pandemic could be right around the corner.

The American Jobs Plan will provide critical investments needed to modernize the nation’s energy delivery systems, including power generation facilities that will employ thousands of sheet metal workers working to ensure the availability of affordable energy for all Americans.

The energy sector is another area that has significant infrastructure needs, as well as pent-up and growing demand for the safe delivery of energy to cities, businesses and homes. America’s current energy infrastructure — including the generation, storage, transmission and distribution of energy — is inadequate to meet our current needs, let alone future demands. The American Jobs Plan will provide critical investments needed to modernize the nation’s energy delivery systems, including power generation facilities that will employ thousands of sheet metal workers working to ensure the availability of affordable energy for all Americans.

Overall, our infrastructure needs are vast and will only continue to grow without decisive action from Washington,D.C.

Due to the Biden-Harris Administration’s support for high labor standards, the American Jobs Plan will also secure a broad pathway to the middle class for hundreds of thousands of Americans, through new union jobs in all sectors of the trades, and by putting existing members to work. It will also ensure that the next generation of American construction workers remain among the best-trained, safest and well-equipped in the world.

This support for strong labor standards shows the Biden-Harris Administration understands that the labor movement is the best avenue to easing pandemic-related job and financial insecurity that has placed a heavy burden on so many working families. For union members, this will be a major employment shot in the arm, with a plethora of new work opportunities in the immediate future — and the kind of jobs that keep members busy for years to come.

The time is now to take action. Contact your Senators and Congresspersons about this important pending infrastructure legislation. What we do today will lay the groundwork for future generations of Americans to compete in a rapidly changing world.

Fraternally,

Joseph Powell
General Secretary-Treasurer