SMART-TD, BLET suits seek immediate halt to BNSF and Metra vaccine mandates

Published: December 3, 2021

CLEVELAND, Ohio (Dec. 3, 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) have filed motions for preliminary injunctions, seeking to immediately halt unilaterally implemented vaccine mandates imposed by Metra commuter rail and BNSF Railway and require the carriers to negotiate over the issue.

Through the motions, SMART-TD and the BLET seek to restore and preserve the status quo that was in place prior to the implementation of the mandates.

These suits are in addition to the counterclaims SMART-TD and BLET filed against the carriers last month. As background, BNSF on November 7, 2021, and Metra on November 8, 2021, filed suits against the SMART-TD and the BLET, among other unions, seeking a declaration from the courts that their unilaterally implemented vaccine mandates concerned a so-called “minor dispute” subject to arbitration on the grounds that it involves a matter of interpretation of the parties’ existing collective bargaining agreements. The carriers also sought orders prohibiting SMART-TD and the BLET from striking, picketing, and taking other job actions in protest of the mandate.

SMART-TD and BLET answered and counterclaimed on November 12, 2021, alleging, among other things, that the carriers’ unilaterally implemented vaccine mandates are a direct violation of the Railway Labor Act. The carriers made no effort to bargain with the unions over their vaccine mandates, or the effects of those mandates, despite the fact that the parties have long been engaged in negotiations for successor agreements, and that all parties have a duty to maintain the status quo in working conditions during such negotiations.

The SMART-TD and BLET are actively embroiled in similar lawsuits with three other rail carriers: Amtrak, Norfolk Southern (NS), and Union Pacific (UP). The litigation is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said two federal judges recently blocked enforcement of vaccine mandates.

In related activity, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove in Frankfort, Kentucky, blocked enforcement of the regulation that new government contracts must include clauses requiring that contractors’ employees get vaccinated. SMART-TD and BLET will continue to monitor the case to determine if there is any impact on rail carriers.

President Ferguson and President Pierce issued the following joint statement: “The language contained in the Railway Labor Act is clear cut, and the carriers’ unilateral implementation of their vaccine mandates without negotiating with the union is a direct violation of the Railway Labor Act. We will continue to stand up for the rights of our members.”

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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.