Nearly 99 percent of Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) members working for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) have voted to authorize a strike when a mandatory 30-day cooling off period under the Railway Labor Act ends in less than two weeks, BLET officials announced this morning.
Locomotive engineers could walk off the job or be locked out by SEPTA at 12:01 a.m. on June 14 unless President Barack Obama intervenes and appoints a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), according to a BLET press release. A PEB would delay a strike or lockout, and would investigate and issue a report and recommendations concerning a dispute in negotiations, union officials said.
BREWSTER, Ohio – The more than 100 locomotive engineers and trainmen who went on strike Friday have been ordered by a federal judge to return to work.
U.S. District Court Judge John R. Adams issued a temporary restraining order late Friday afternoon that ended the daylong strike by the members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, which included pickets in front of the terminal on Wabash Avenue. The workers had cited safety violations as the reason for the protest against the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway.
HERMON, Maine — The runaway Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train that plowed through a small Quebec town killing 50 people on July 6 had one engineer assigned to it.
The American union of railway workers representing most of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway workers thinks the practice is dangerous, and has fought that work condition unsuccessfully since it began several years ago, its representatives say.
WASHINGTON — In the face of bipartisan get-tough-with-labor legislation introduced in the House and Senate, two of the remaining unions without national rail contracts agreed to a tentative settlement Dec. 1, and a third reached agreement with the carriers Dec. 1 to extend a cooling-off period into February.
With these agreements, the threat of a national railroad strike has been averted for now.
Previously, the Transportation Communications Union, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen and the various shopcrafts, including the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, reached tentative six-year agreements with the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC). The NCCC represents BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, Soo Line, Union Pacific and numerous smaller railroads in national handling.
UTU members earlier ratified a five-year national rail contract.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the American Train Dispatchers Association agreed Dec. 1 to a tentative six-year agreement as recommended last month by Presidential Emergency Board No. 243. References to the UTU’s ratified national rail contract are extensive in the PEB recommendations.
While the BLET is in national handling for health care, it previously reached ratified wage agreements with BNSF, CSX and Norfolk Southern for lower wage increases than the UTU and other organizations, and continues separate talks on wages with Union Pacific.
Also, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes reached agreement with the NCCC to extend into February a cooling-off period that was to expire Dec. 5.
The BLET and train dispatchers’ tentative agreements, and the cooling-off period extension agreed to by the BMWE Dec. 1, came in the face of separate House and Senate resolutions.
The House resolution, H.J. 91 and introduced by House Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), would have imposed as a final agreement on the BLET, the train dispatchers and the BMWE the PEB recommendations.
Separately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was set to introduce for immediate Senate vote an identical resolution (S.J. 31). After the BLET, train dispatchers’ and BMWE agreements were announced late Dec. 1, Sen. Reid said:
“I applaud all the stakeholders who worked to avert a work stoppage that would have hurt our nation’s economy just as the holiday season gets underway. It is Congress’ constitutional duty to ensure the unfettered flow of interstate commerce, and to protect the nation’s economic well-being. I am pleased with this outcome and congratulate all sides, including the White House and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, for their effort to find common ground that protects our economy and keeps it on-track.”
WASHINGTON – Senior House Republicans Nov. 29 said they would act to head off a railroad work stoppage if rail unions that so far have not settled with the carriers do not have a voluntary settlement in place by the end of a final 30-day cooling off period that expires Dec. 6.
The UTU has a ratified national rail agreement in place, while the Transportation Communications Union, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen and the various shopcrafts have reached tentative agreements. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes and the American Train Dispatchers Association have not reached a tentative agreement following recommendations for settlement by a Presidential Emergency Board.
(The BLET has ratified wage agreements in place with BNSF, CSX and Norfolk Southern — and is in separate wage negotiations with Union Pacific — but is in national handling for health care. The BMWE and the ATDA are in national handling for wage and health care agreements. Carriers in national handling include BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, Soo Line, Union Pacific and many smaller railroads. The carriers are represented by the National Carriers Conference Committee.)
If a national agreement between the BLET, the BMWE, the ATDA and the carriers is not reached by Dec. 6, the Railway Labor Act has run its course and the parties not yet in accord will be free to engage in self-help – a strike by labor or lockout by railroads.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said if tentative agreements involving the BLET, the BMWE and the ATDA are not reached by Dec. 6, they would act to prevent a work stoppage.
Typically, Congress intervenes with a back-to-work order almost immediately following a work stoppage, but there is nothing to prevent Congress from acting in advance to head off a strike by, for example, legislating the PEB recommendations or even its own settlement terms.
The three senior House Republicans told The Hill newspaper Nov. 29, “We are following with concern the situation involving our nation’s railways, and we are troubled by the possibility of a national railway strike that would jeopardize American jobs and cost our nation’s economy an estimated $2 billion per day.
“While our hope is that the parties involved will find common ground and resolve the situation without congressional involvement, the House is prepared to take legislative action in the days ahead to avert a job-destroying shutdown of our nation’s railroads, in the event such legislation proves necessary,” Boehner, Cantor and McCarthy said.
“A shutdown of our nation’s railways, which would harm our economy and endanger many American jobs, is unacceptable,” they said. “We are confident President Obama and the leaders of the Senate agree.”
The National Carriers Conference Committee earlier agreed to extend the cooling off period until at least February if all three of the remaining unions that have not yet settled agreed to the extension. The BLET declined Nov. 29 to agree to an extension of the cooling off period.
The nation’s largest shipper organization, the National Industrial Transportation League, as well as the Retail Federation of America and numerous other shippers have made pleas to Congress to head off a railroad work stoppage.
“For retailers, a strike during the busy holiday shopping season could be devastating,” the National Retail Federation said in a letter to Congress. “It is imperative that Congress recognize the severe economic harm threatened by the failure to reach agreement with the remaining rail unions and move quickly to prevent a rail strike that would prove devastating to both businesses and consumers.”
LOS ANGELES — A lawsuit brought by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen against Los Angeles Metrolink to eliminate inward-facing video cameras in the cab has been dismissed by a judge here.
Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin said the inward-facing cameras, which monitor crew activities in the cab, do not violate privacy rights, reports the Associated Press.
Metrolink ordered that inward-facing cameras be installed in commuter-train cabs following a September 2008 catastrophic accident in Chatsworth, Calif., in which a Metrolink train ran a red signal and collided with a freight train, killing 25 and injuring more than 100 on the Metrolink train. The Metrolink engineer, who died in the crash, was found to have been texting repeatedly.
Following that accident, the Federal Railroad Administration banned the use by train crews, nationwide, of most electronic devices.
BOSTON — UTU-represented conductors and assistant conductors on Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad (MBCR) have ratified a four-year agreement covering wages, benefits and working conditions.
The agreement is retroactive to July 2009, and may be reopened for amendment in July 2013 under provisions of the Railway Labor Act.
BLET-represented engineers on MBCR also ratified a new four-year agreement. The UTU and the BLET negotiated jointly to reach those separate craft agreements, with the expectation that a better agreement for each craft would result if negotiations were held jointly.
Included in the UTU amended agreement with MBCR are retroactive pay, a signing bonus, a 13.7 percent overall increase in wages by July 2013, certification pay for conductors, a cap on health care cost-sharing, and a provision that discipline records will not be retained beyond a maximum of 36 months (other than substance abuse violations, which are subject to record-keeping under federal law).
The agreement also includes an increase in compensation for release-time — from the decades-old 50 percent of the full-time rate to 62.5 percent.
UTU International Vice President John Previsich, who assisted with the negotiations, commended General Chairperson Roger Lenfest and Assistant General Chairperson Dirk Sampson (both, Amtrak, GO 769), along with Local 898 Chairperson Don Wheaton “for their participation in securing substantial improvements to wages and working conditions in today’s difficult economic environment.
“It is through their extraordinary efforts that the negotiating team was able to add groundbreaking enhancements such as conductor certification pay and increased pay for release time,” Previsich said.
The Transportation Communications Union and shopcrafts previously were released from mediation with MBCR by the National Mediation Board, but the sides have returned to the bargaining table.
MBCR, operated under contract by Veolia Transportation, transports more than 131,000 riders daily between Boston and outlying areas.
A BLET special representative was charged by the U.S. Justice Department March 8 in a continuing investigation into alleged corruption involving bribery.
Thomas E. Miller, 64, of Dunlap, Tenn., was charged in a “criminal information” with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in federally funded programs, according to Steven M Dettelbach, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
The “criminal information” filed by Dettelbach charges that Miller, while serving as a special representative of the BLET, “took bribes from an attorney seeking to represent injured union members.”
Said Dettelbach in a press release:
“The information charges that Robert L “Pete” McKinney, 59, a Houston plaintiff’s personal injury attorney specializing in representing injured railroad workers, paid the bribes to Miller and Edward W Rodzwicz, [former] national president of the BLET. Labor union corruption will not be tolerated and should be a thing of the past,” Dettelbach said.
In January, Dettelbach charged McKinney with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in federally funded programs. Dettelbach alleged at the time that “McKinney delivered large cash payments” to a BLET official then identified as “Official No. 1.” Dettelbach alleged that Rodzwicz and BLET Official No. 1 “would then split the cash payments.”
Rodzwicz, formerly of Avon, Ohio, is currently in federal prison for his role in an unrelated crime.
A “criminal information” is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt, Dettelbach said. “A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Said James Vanderberg, special agent in charge for the Chicago Regional Office of the U.S. Labor Department:
“Today’s action highlights the efforts of the Office Inspector General to identify and bring to justice a union official who allegedly solicited and accepted bribes from an attorney seeking access to the union. The union official’s actions represent a betrayal of the trust placed in him by the union members.
“As national president, Rodzwicz had authority over the designation status of designated legal counsel attorneys.
“From in or about June 2006, and continuing until in or about October 2009, Miller conspired with McKinney and Rodzwicz to unjustly enrich himself and Edward W Rodzwicz by receiving cash bribes in exchange for placing McKinney on the designated legal counsel list for BLET workers and to have BLET workers directed to his firm, according to the information. The conspirators referred to these payments as ‘campaign contributions’ in an effort to conceal the true nature of the payments.”
BOSTON — A coalition of Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad (MBCR) unions, including those representing clerks, carmen, supervisors, signalmen and shopcraft workers, have been released by the National Mediation Board (NMB) from mediation.
The release paves the way for appointment of a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to make settlement recommendations for a wage, benefits and work-rules contract settlement under provisions of the Railway Labor Act.
The coalition unions rejected an NMB offer of binding arbitration.
The UTU and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen are negotiating separately with the MBCR and are not included in the release. BLET members previously failed to ratify a tentative agreement, and the BLET and MBCR returned to the bargaining table.
Under special commuter railroad provisions of the RLA, a second PEB is possible if the sides cannot accept the recommendations of the first PEB. Self-help is not permitted until 30 days after a second PEB (should it be appointed) has made its recommendations.
(Note that Amtrak and freight railroads are governed by another provision of the RLA that provides for just a single PEB.)
An educational website focusing on sleep, sleep disorders and fatigue management is being created in a collaborative effort among the UTU, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the Federal Railroad Administration, sleep medicine experts at Harvard Medical School, and Boston Public Radio station WGBH, which is Public Broadcasting’s largest producer of education web and television content.
Input from UTU rail members, nationwide, is essential to the project.
UTU members are encouraged to complete an anonymous, online survey that should take no more than 15 minutes.
To respond to the question and complete the survey, click on the following link:
A Norfolk Southern sought lease of trackage to a newly created short line railroad in Michigan is being opposed by the UTU and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, which represent affected train and engine workers.
The U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) is being asked by the UTU and the BLET to revoke an exemption from regulatory review previously provided a proposed transaction of NS and Adrian & Blissfield Rail Road, a holding company intending to create a new shortline to lease and operate almost 45 miles of NS track near Lansing.
The new short line, to be called Jackson & Lansing, is expected — as is the case with virtually all upstart shortlines — to hire a new workforce that will be paid lower wages and benefits than NS now pays the five trainmen, three engineers and three other employees now assigned to that trackage by NS.
The UTU and the BLET are asking the STB to revoke a previously granted STB exemption that would permit the transaction to move to completion without regulatory scrutiny. Such exemptions are permitted if the STB is satisfied that neither competition, continued rail service, safety nor other so-called public interest considerations will be jeopardized as a result of the transaction.
In fact, STB Vice Chairman Frank Mulvey filed a dissent in the previous 2-1 decision granting the exemption, saying that the outward written commitments imposed by the parties require more information, “particularly when they contain outright bans on interchange with third party carriers or, as here, economic incentives that can only be evaluated with the provision of additional information.”
Specially, the UTU and the BLET ask the STB to reconsider its granting of the exemption for the following reasons:
Competition and reasonable rates: The transaction, as proposed, would exclude third party carriers (other than NS) from operating over the line, and limit interchange to and from other carriers. Also, the transaction, as proposed, appears to limit competition in order that Jackson & Lansing be able to increase freight rates to fund upgrades to the leased track and facilities. This would be in violation of congressionally imposed national rail transportation policy that supports rail-to-rail competition and fair and reasonable freight rates.
Safety: The so-far known facts of the transaction suggest it is highly unlikely either the holding company or its shortline, Jackson & Lansing, currently have sufficient funds and cash flow to upgrade the leased track and facilities to provide safe and reasonably timely operations. As expected carloadings will contain industrial waste, track and rail operating safety must be of significant concern.
Fair wages and working conditions: In the current economy — especially in Michigan, where unemployment is twice the national average — the affected employees and their families, and the State of Michigan, will suffer significant economic harm. By granting an exemption from regulatory scrutiny, the STB is permitting the transaction to move forward without imposing labor protection.
This also would violate national rail transportation policy, as it requires “fair wages and suitable working conditions.” The STB is obligated to consider (which can only be done by revoking the exemption and investigating the transaction) whether the new entity will impose substandard wages and working conditions, thereby significantly circumventing the terms and conditions of current collective bargaining agreements under which the affected employees are now covered.
The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 made the first significant amendments to hours-of-service laws in nearly 40 years.
In response, the FRA issued an interim statement of agency policy and interpretation, which poses significant problems for train- and engine-service employees with regard to employee safety and earnings.
The UTU and the BLET now have jointly asked the FRA to reconsider portions of their interim statement of agency policy and interpretation. The new rules would impact more than 85,000 train- and engine-service employees who are members of the UTU and BLET.
Significantly, the UTU and BLET are asking the FRA to revisit its interpretation of how to determine whether an employee has received the statutorily required amount of off-duty time as prescribed by the Rail Service Improvement Act (RSIA).
The RSIA amended the statutory off-duty period by eliminating the option of eight consecutive off-duty hours, and required that the minimum statutory off-duty period be 10 consecutive hours in all cases (except in intercity passenger and commuter service).
The UTU and BLET assert that, “on its face, this change did nothing to force FRA to change its longstanding interpretation of how sufficient off-duty time is determined.”
Under the existing FRA method, a railroad is required to look back 24 hours at the employee’s on-duty time and determine if the employee had 10 hours of undisturbed rest in that window. If the answer is ‘yes,’ then the employee can work a full 12 hours. That approach is called the “fresh start look back” analysis.
But the FRA, in its interim statement of agency policy and interpretation, proposes to scrap the “fresh start look back” analysis and substitute what is called a “continuous look back” analysis.
A “continuous look back” analysis would require the railroads to look back at every moment during a duty tour to determine if the employee has had 10 consecutive hours of undisturbed rest in the 24 hours prior to that particular moment.
This new “continuous look back” approach would prohibit an employee from working the full 12 hours that are permitted by the law if they were to have more than a two-hour call.
The FRA’s proposed “continuous look back” approach not only adversely impacts an employee’s earnings, but interferes with a railroad’s need to maximize employee productivity.
In fact, the “continuous look back” approach also could result in more employees being forced to remain at away-terminal locations rather than returning home, which adversely impacts family life and imposes greater costs on a railroad.
For example, if an employee has a three-hour call — and this is generally of necessity in large metropolitan areas where commute times are long — the employee could only work 11 hours, because when the first minute of the 12th hour arrives, the railroad could not look back 24 hours and find 10 consecutive hours undisturbed hours off duty. (11 work + 3 hour call + 10 hours rest = 24 hours) Thus, the longer the call time, the less work the employee can legally perform.
For assignments with an interim period of rest, the most an employee could ever work is 10 hours. For an unassigned (extra board) employee who is working on call, the call time further reduces the amount of work time proportionally. If they get the typical two-hour call, the interim period of release is rendered moot.
10-hour call is best
The better solution would be to require a 10-hour call, which would permit 12-hour on-duty shifts, the UTU and BLET told the FRA. “It is obvious that an employee who is aware that they will be required to report for work in 10 hours is best able to schedule their rest so that they arrive at work in the most alert condition possible.
“The best medical evidence available establishes what the labor organizations have known for years: that employees will be most alert just after they wake up,” the UTU and BLET told the FRA. “We contend that an employee who sleeps or naps as close to their reporting time as possible, within reason, is the best rested employee and therefore the safest.”
In the joint statement signed by UTU International President Mike Futhey and BLET Acting National President Paul Sorrow, the FRA is asked to “reaffirm the long-standing ‘look back fresh start’ interpretation, which has served both safety and the industry well, and decline to adopt the proposed ‘continuous look back.'”
Click here to read the joint UTU/BLET submission to the FRA.