Archive for the ‘Legal updates’ Category

Ninth Circuit Ruling Favors Unions and States, Rejects FRA’s Attempt to Preempt State Crew Law

CLEVELAND, Ohio (Feb. 23, 2021) — Two of the country’s largest freight railroad unions achieved a favorable decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday regarding an attempt by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to preempt legislation passed by a number of states that established a minimum of two-person operating crews on freight trains.

The case, brought by the states of California, Washington and Nevada and by the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), challenged former FRA Administrator Ron Batory’s attempt to cancel the laws of those and other states while at the same time attempting to authorize nationwide one-person crews. The unions and states argued that Batory’s May 2019 order violated the comment-and-notice procedures of Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and that his agency could not implicitly preempt the state safety rules.

The Court of Appeals ruled that FRA’s order was “arbitrary and capricious,” taking particular note that the assertions by FRA and the rail carriers that reducing the number of crew members in the cab to one person could improve safety “did not withstand scrutiny” and “was lacking.” The court also criticized the order as not being a “logical outgrowth” of the two-person crew proposal, because “[t]here was nothing in the [proposed regulation] to put a person on notice that the FRA might adopt a national one-person crew limit.”

The court chided FRA for basing its negative preemption decision on “an economic rationale” instead of what is its main obligation — safety.

The court also found the order’s “real and intended effect is to authorize nationwide one-person train crews and to bar any contrary state regulations.” In that it utterly failed to address the safety concerns raised by nearly 1,550 commenters who support two-person crews, the court found the order’s rationale was arbitrary and capricious, thus violating the APA.

Likewise, the court eviscerated the lack of a sound factual basis in the order, which merely cited a study funded by the Association of American Railroads, holding that “a single study suggesting that one-person crew operations ‘appear as safe’ as two-person crews seems a thin reed on which to base a national rule.”

“First, we thank the more than 1,500 BLET and SMART–TD members who took the time to comment on the need for two-person crews, because you have made a difference,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson and BLET President Dennis R. Pierce. “We also congratulate the judges in this case for recognizing the former Administrator overstepped his bounds, and we look ahead to working with the FRA when crew size is again considered on a national level by the agency as a matter of public and operational safety.”

“We assert, and will continue to assert, that having two sets of eyes and two people working in concert together with any improvements in technology, will be the best way to serve public safety and to continue the effective and efficient movement of our nation’s railroads,” the union presidents said.

The court ruling, in vacating and remanding the FRA order, sends the matter of a potential rulemaking for freight railroad crew size back to FRA for the agency’s consideration. It also means that two-person crew legislation in the states that had been targeted by FRA’s order remain in effect.

A copy of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling is available here (PDF).

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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 58,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

SMART-TD Wins Another Victory in the Crew Consist Battle

On January 8, 2021, Arbitrator Wendell Bell issued his arbitration award regarding the process and procedure in arbitrating the Carriers’ (UP, BNSF, NS & KCS) attack on the Crew Consist Moratoria.

The arbitration, known as a “Procedural Public Law Board,” had the purpose of determining the terms of how any primary arbitration should proceed. Procedural PLBs 7959, 7960, 7961 & 7962 were a result of SMART-TD’s efforts disputing the improper action of the Railroads to prematurely re-open crew consist negotiations before the appropriate moratorium expired.

SMART-TD argued the Carriers improperly served their Notice to Arbitrate and failed to properly conference their suddenly new-found interpretations of the moratoria. SMART-TD not only prevailed in these arguments, it also secured a ruling ensuring the terms of the next round of arbitration will be conducted properly.

In a fairly dense 35-page award, which cited U.S. Supreme Court and numerous lower-court decisions along with several arbitration awards, the Procedural Arbitrator set May 1, 2021, for the next round of arbitration, dependent upon funding approvals by the National Mediation Board. As currently constructed, the National Mediation Board consists of two Republican members appointed by President Donald Trump and one Democrat member. It is expected the make-up of the Board will change shortly once the nominations by President-elect Biden are confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Whether those changes will be able to take place prior to the selection of the next arbitrator or May 1st is unknown.

The railroads’ efforts to swiftly force a change to crew consist while still under the railroad-friendly Trump Administration is now unlikely due to the unwavering effort of SMART-TD. Since October 2019, when the railroads first ignited this fight, SMART-TD has defended our agreements against this attempted subversion by the carriers. We have and continue to tirelessly fight for our members’ livelihoods.

SMART-TD members can rest assured that their union will continue to fight to protect your crew consist agreements and livelihood, while seeking to secure the opportunities of the future in the rapidly changing and technology-laden railroad industry.

President Ferguson: Setting record straight on anti-labor articles

Brothers and Sisters,

It’s time to set the record straight. I am certain many of you have seen the recent anti-labor articles that have been published regarding our recent win in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. That win has apparently struck a raw nerve with the carriers and the minions who eagerly await their master’s call. Make no mistake, that decision struck a fatal blow to the carriers’ plans to put you on the unemployment line. Rather than accept defeat, their apologists are trying to spin this loss into something that it is not. The long history of crew consist cannot be denied. For decades, we have battled with the carriers over their fevered attempts to cut costs and put your life at risk by down-sizing crews. This current round of negotiations is no different. They sought to eliminate your job and operate trains in perhaps the most dangerous way possible. Standing up for you, that’s what this case was about.

They have severely underestimated the fight in each and every one of us; the sheer grit and determination that we have to defend our families, our jobs, and the overall welfare of our co-workers and the general public alike. The truth that these apologists fear to admit is that in this Union, the dues-paying members are the Union — period. There is no divide between the “Union” and the “dues-paying members.” There is only a “Union.” We stand together now more than ever.

To salve their masters’ wounds, those “commentators” try to spin this as union officers protecting their own jobs. They know not of what they speak and their ignorance is evident in the web that they weave. They used nameless sources in an attempt to add credibility to a tall tale that anyone with true insight would know is far from factual. The fact remains that all officers in this newly elected SMART-TD administration are firmly united.

The Railway Labor Act protects agreements from being changed except through the processes provided for in Section 6 of the Act. The carriers had agreed to crew consist provisions years ago. Not only that, but to end the constant battle over crew consist, the carriers also agreed to moratoria provisions that barred any Section 6 Notice over crew consist until the last protected employee voluntarily left service. That event has not yet happened. These are the facts, but they are nowhere to be found in any recounting in the carriers’ favored publications. Rather, what you are treated to is the old worn song of the anti-unionist. The apologist who says trust the carriers, they only want what was best for you. Right. The carriers want to give you lifetime protections? At what cost? And when they decide they don’t like that deal any more, will they ignore it just like they have tried to ignore our moratoria provisions and put you on the street? These apologists assert that they have some inside scoop, yet I have never witnessed any “commentator” at the bargaining table. They are outsiders.

What else is missing? Acknowledgement of the only thing the carriers care about — their bottom line. Money comes before all else. That is evidenced by the unbelievable lengths they will go to argue that you are paid too much, that your insurance is too expensive, and that they are going broke as a result of the costs of our Agreements. You are the target in their zeal to improve their stock price. That is a sad fact that you will not find in any of those articles.

Another fallacy that is being sold — technology will do everything more safely. That simply is not true. Their technology is fallible. It doesn’t work like they wish it would nor as advertised. In fact, it’s not a matter of if it will break down, but when. We have collected thousands of Failure Reports across all Class Is and the data is terrifying. Never has the human element been more important in railroad operations. Engineers spend more time with their faces in multiple screens trying to manipulate and interpret the ambiguous systems than they do focusing on the territory ahead. Conductors are relied upon now more than ever, as they are the eyes and ears of the train crew, and we have the stories to prove it.

The articles also attempt to scare you by asserting that the carriers will unilaterally reduce crews at the end of the last-person-standing moratorium. That is not how the Act works. The expiration of the moratoria does not sunset crew consist. Rather, moratoria bar either party from serving a Section 6 notice to amend or change the current Crew Consist Agreements until the last protected employee leaves. Once that happens, then a Section 6 Notice can be served and the long and drawn-out process of the RLA engaged to negotiate the next generation of agreements.

Railroad workers have all been lied to long enough by management, and we can smell lies coming from a mile away.

As a word of advice to Railway Age, I would caution them against living in the past and trying to play SMART-TD against the BLET. We are working closely together in the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition (CBC) in national handling and on the various other disputes that the carriers have forced us into.

Brothers and Sisters, do not be discouraged, and do not be swayed by those with ulterior motives. We are in this fight together, and we are moving forward.

 

 

 

 

Jeremy Ferguson
President — Transportation Division

Fifth Circuit vacates injunction in crew-consist case

Today, Aug. 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued its decision in BNSF et al v. SMART-TD (Case No. 20-10162) concerning crew consist.

This decision is a long-awaited victory for the Union. The appellate court vacated the injunction that forced SMART-TD General Committees to bargain over crew consist, despite the existence of moratoria which bar such negotiation.

SMART-TD has always read those moratoria clauses to bar the service of Section 6 Notices to negotiate over crew consist until the last protected employee voluntarily separated from service. Indeed, that is the very reason for their existence.

But despite the long-standing nature of these clauses, the carriers presented a new and novel theory that the moratoria did not actually bar crew-consist negotiations.

The carriers tested this theory out by filing suit against SMART-TD in October 2019 and moving for a preliminary injunction in December 2019. In their request for an injunction, the carriers asked a district court in Texas to force SMART-TD to bargain now in spite of the moratoria. That court issued its decision on February 11, 2020, finding that even though the dispute over the moratoria was minor, and no arbitral determination had been made, SMART-TD was required to bargain now.

Under the RLA, minor disputes must be resolved through arbitration, not Section 6 bargaining. In the 22-page opinion, the appellate court walked through the various bases on which an injunction can be issued in Railway Labor Act (RLA) disputes. The 5th Circuit Court found that none existed here.

Rather, it concluded that the carriers had failed to exhaust the administrative remedy provided under the the RLA arbitration regarding the moratoria clauses.