Posts Tagged ‘National Railway Labor Conference’

United Rail Unions sue to block carriers from modifying Healthcare benefits without bargaining

Washington, D.C. (Aug. 7, 2020) — On August 5, 2020, 12 rail unions whose members and their families are covered by the NRC/UTU Plan and the Railroad Employees National Health and Welfare Plan filed suit against the nation’s Class I railroad carriers in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

The suit asks the court to force the carriers to bargain in good faith with the unions over mandatory subjects of bargaining. The involved issues have been the subject of collective bargaining for decades and are in fact part of the carriers’ bargaining notices served on November 1, 2019, pursuant to Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act (RLA). At issue are carrier attempts to restrict access to certain medications and to forcibly reconfigure health care networks.

The unions are: the American Train Dispatchers Association; the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes; the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, Mechanical Division; the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, Transportation Division; the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; the National Conference of Fireman & Oilers District, Local 32BJ, SEIU; the Transportation Communications Union/IAM; and the Transport Workers Union.

The rail carriers are: BNSF Railway Company; Kansas City Southern Railway Company; CSX Transportation; Grand Trunk Western Railroad Company; Norfolk Southern Railway Company; Soo Line Railway Company; and Union Pacific Railway Company. Also named in the suit is the National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC), whose National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) is the designated bargaining agent of the railroads.

The unions have asked the court to:

  • issue a declaratory judgment that the carriers are obligated to bargain in good faith with the unions on proposed health and welfare changes in accordance with the collective bargaining procedures outlined under the RLA;
  • issue a declaratory judgment that health and welfare plan design changes are a mandatory subject of collective bargaining pursuant to the RLA;
  • issue a declaratory judgment that the NRLC may not force plan design changes upon its employees without the agreement of the unions, to be achieved through the mandatory dispute resolution process of the RLA;
  • issue an order enjoining the NRLC from trying to force these health and welfare changes via arbitration rather than addressing them in collective bargaining; and
  • issue an order requiring the NRLC to engage in good faith negotiations with the unions over their proposed health and welfare changes through the RLA’s major dispute resolution procedures.

The chief executives of the 12 unions issued the following statement concerning the lawsuit:

The railroads’ attempt to evade their legal obligation to bargain on these issues of great importance to our members has left us with no choice but to enforce these legal rights in court. If implemented without successfully negotiated application, the carriers’ proposals could be extremely harmful to our members and their families. Even more outrageous, the process they are attempting to impose would allow rail carriers to reduce employees’ access to medicines and doctors in the middle of a pandemic. When they should be rewarding the contributions of their essential employees with hazard pay, the rail carriers instead attempt to reduce medical benefits when they are needed most. Events like these are why railroad managers were labeled as “Robber Barons” over a century ago; their actions today are proof positive that the label still applies. Unfortunately for working class Americans, this is the way of many corporations across the country in Donald Trump’s America; essential employees are treated as expendable employees. We will not stand idly by while management attacks the core legal rights our members enjoy.

Updates will be provided as developments warrant.

Read this release in PDF form.
Read the case filing. (PDF)

America’s freight railroads refuse to cover out-of-pocket COVID-19 treatment costs

While America and the world struggle to combat the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, new heroes have emerged. While much of America has long celebrated its athletes and celebrities as its heroes, this pandemic has shown us who the real heroes are in our society.

At the onset of World War II, Maj. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said in a letter to a close friend:

This is a long tough road we have to travel. The men that can do things are going to be sought out just as surely as the sun rises in the morning.

Vice President Brent Leonard

America’s freight railroad workers are the men and women that “can do things.” Throughout this unfathomable crisis, they have continued to transport the critical commodities and supplies that keep this country operating. These dedicated employees work incredibly long hours, with unpredictable schedules, little rest between shifts, and relatively no time off. The nation’s freight railroads are deemed so important to the economy and our country during this pandemic that the federal government has exercised its emergency order authority, and waived crucial safety regulations designed to protect these employees and the general public, all for the sake of keeping the trains running at maximum efficiency.

It would reason that America’s railroads and our elected representatives would want to take care of these heroes if they were affected by the COVID-19 virus by ensuring these men and women would be treated under medical insurance at no cost to the employee. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In a stunningly greedy and despicable move, the nation’s railroads have denied their employees and their unions’ requests for relief from the costs of COVID-19 treatment.

In a letter dated April 15th, Chairman Brendan M. Branon of the National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC), an association of more than 30 U.S. freight and passenger railroads employing more than 145,000 workers, advised rail labor organizations that they would NOT waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment, wanting these families to pay their full portion of treatment costs if they are affected by COVID-19. This move is a slap in the face to the heroes who are working tirelessly to keep the railroads and the nation operating.

Let us put this in perspective. The nation’s railroads are not the struggling small businesses fighting to stay afloat. They are consistently reporting billions of dollars in annual profit. In addition to those billions in profits, the nation’s railroads take government (taxpayer) handouts to the tune of billions of dollars per year. These behemoths are provided billions in tax subsidies in everything from diesel fuel taxes, property taxes, to payroll taxes and infrastructure subsidies. Yes, we the taxpayers are helping fund the billions of dollars of profit that these railroads make. Yet the railroads choose to not fully cover their employees’ costs if they are infected with COVID-19. Do not forget, these are the employees who make it possible for gas stations to have gas to sell, that toilet paper can be produced, that grain and feed is supplied to livestock, that produce can be grown, that there are chemicals to purify our drinking water, and that medical supplies can reach our hospitals and healthcare professionals at a time when they need them most.

In the railroads’ refusal to fully cover these costs, they claim their “extensive measures to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak” are designed to limit employee exposure. While this pandemic is challenging for even the best-managed and -run businesses, the railroads are failing miserably in this regard. Reminiscent of the auto industry’s infamous practice of calculating the cost of lawsuits rather than recalling and fixing deadly cars, the railroads are doing precisely the same thing in regard to COVID-19.

In many instances, railroads have taken only the most basic steps to protect employees. Even with that minimal effort, unions have collected thousands of reports from rail employees indicating that no action has been taken whatsoever. The railroads are gambling that the cost of a few employees’ lives are less consequential to the bottom line than providing basic protective measures recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This leads us to the potential cost of fully covering these frontline essential workers if they contract COVID-19. While it is difficult to provide an exact estimate at this time, it is a safe bet that the total additional cost is a pittance when compared to the uninterrupted billions in employee-generated revenue and taxpayer handouts the railroads continue to receive.

Ultimately, it is greed and disdain for frontline, essential workers that drives the railroad’s refusal to fully cover their employees’ out-of-pocket costs. Is this the America we have become? Do we no longer celebrate and protect our most-critical heroes who get things done?

Brent C. Leonard is a vice president of SMART Transportation Division, a labor union comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of different crafts, including as bus and commuter rail operators, in the transportation industry.

SMART TD General Chairpersons resolve to act in solidarity in face of negotiations, lawsuit

SMART Transportation Division officers and attendees of the Association of General Chairpersons — District 1 conference stand together at the conclusion of the meeting on Oct. 3.

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Hours after a lawsuit by rail carriers targeting our union over crew consist was announced Oct. 3, the Association of General Chairpersons — District 1 unanimously resolved to act in solidarity.

The resolution states:

“In response to the Carriers’ attempts to undermine bargaining and divide us, we, the members of District 1, resolve to act in solidarity in every effort to protect our members and our rights under the Railway Labor Act.”

Every general chairperson in attendance signed the resolution as the meeting concluded.

Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson praised the leadership of the General Committees for a quick and unified response at the conclusion of the District 1 conference in the Cleveland area that also finalized the Section 6 notices that will trigger the beginning of the next round of National Rail Contract negotiations.

“As we progress forward into this negotiating period and beyond, solidarity among our membership at all levels everywhere will drive us as we overcome the challenges ahead,” Ferguson said. “This unanimous resolution shows at the outset that we stand together and will speak with one loud, clear voice.”

On Oct. 3, the National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC) filed a lawsuit in federal district court in the Northern District of Texas.

President Ferguson stated that this attempt to undermine our collective bargaining agreements was not unexpected.

“It is not the first time that carriers have attempted this tactic,” he said. “We are well prepared to respond.”

Carriers reject SMWIA dues demand

The National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC), in an April 1 letter to the Sheet Metal Workers International Association and its General President Mike Sullivan, has recognized the requirements of status quo under the Railway Labor Act and said all carriers will continue remitting UTU member dues to the UTU.

“The deduction and remittance of dues are governed by the requirements of Section 2, Eleventh of the Railway Labor Act [which] requires railroads to deduct and remit dues in accordance with union security provisions contained in collective bargaining agreements and written authorizations from individual employees authorizing the deduction of dues from their pay,” said the NRLC.

In addition, said the NRLC, the carriers recognize that there is additional merger-related litigation pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.