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With 85 percent of eligible ballots returned, SMART Transportation Division conductors and assistant conductors on the Northern Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp. (known as Metra) have approved a seven-year mediation agreement governing wages and working conditions, through calendar year 2018.
Included in the agreement are lump-sum signing bonuses, general wage increases each year of the contract, retroactive pay, enhanced deferred compensation, conductor certification pay for assignments paying the conductor rate of pay, a new training/qualifying understanding, a modified short term disability plan and seniority retention provisions.
SMART Transportation Division Vice President John E. Lesniewski and SMART International Representative John Babler, who assisted with negotiations, commended GO 721 General Chairperson Barry Abbott for his “persistent and systematic attentiveness to the needs of our membership on his property.” In turn, Abbott offered his thanks to Lesniewski and Babler for “bringing a wealth of experience and an enduring commitment to the bargaining table. This was truly a team effort,” he said.
Metra is the commuter rail division of the Illinois Regional Transportation Authority. The system serves Chicago and its metropolitan area through 241 stations on 11 different rail lines.
Former International President Tom DuBose (1991-1995)
Having served as a member and as chairperson of UTU national negotiating committees, and as a UTU International officer for 28 years, I found that the failure to reach an agreement on the national level carries the risk of having third party recommendations placed in effect by Congress.
In my 36 years of service, those decisions by Congress never were in favor of the worker – even when Democrats controlled both the House and Senate.
In today’s increasingly conservative and anti-labor political climate, allowing a presidential emergency board and Congress to determine our contract terms would be the same as our adopting the Section 6 notices of the carriers.
No national agreement has ever been perfect. This agreement is extraordinary in terms of what other labor unions have been able to achieve. A failure to ratify this agreement could be devastating to our membership.
Assistant President Arty Martin
Without the negotiated $200 monthly cap on employee health care contributions, they could rise to $355 monthly by 2015 under the formula in the existing contract.
That cap alone is worth more than $5,000 over the life of this agreement. In fact, not a penny of the wage increases negotiated is to be offset through higher health care insurance contributions for 6½ years, which is 1½ years beyond the term of this agreement. For many members, there could be a reduction in out-of-pocket costs for doctor visits and prescription drugs.
In addition to the 17-percent wage increase, which is actually 18.24 percent when compounded, we have negotiated additional pay for every FRA-certified job, a faster process for new hires to reach full pay, cash payments to those still under the five-year service scale, no work rules concessions and a process for local negotiations on alternative compensation, compensation enhancement and electronic bidding and bumping.
General Chairperson (NS GO 680) Pate King
I’m still feeling the devastating effects of PEB 219 in 1991, which were imposed by a Congress where Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), both longtime friends of labor, chaired the key Senate and House transportation committees.
I shudder to imagine what the current anti-labor chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, John Mica (R-Fla.), might have in store for us if we vote down this agreement and turn our fates over to third parties.
This agreement deserves to be ratified on its merits. It is the very best agreement we could gain in this difficult economic and political environment.
International Vice President Delbert Strunk
This is the best deal out there by far: The wage increases, the cap on monthly employee health care contributions, significant savings that can be realized with decreases in generic drug co-pays and added coverage such as personalized medicine, improved entry rates for new hires, certification pay, and no work-rules concessions.
Additionally, general chairpersons have the opportunity to negotiate issues on the property relative to electronic bidding and bumping, as well as enhanced benefits. This is especially important for NS and CSX committees.
Every cent that could be gained at the negotiating table was squeezed from the carriers. No other organization has done better, period! This agreement should be ratified by our members.
International Vice President Robert Kerley
In a time of unprecedented global economic uncertainty, high unemployment rates and stagnating or retreating wages for most working Americans, this agreement provides for wage increases that far exceed anticipated increases in the Consumer Price Index, plus affordable and superior health care benefits that include the addition of state-of-the-art services and enhancements never before available to UTU members.
All this is without any work rule concessions that have historically accompanied such gains. I wholeheartedly endorse this proposal for ratification.
General Chairperson (CSX GO 049) John Lesniewski
It would be irrational for our UTU membership to forsake a 17 percent general wage increase (18.24 percent when compounded), certification pay and a condensed new-hire service scale for the alternative of an imposed settlement decided by a third party. Historically, having a third party-imposed settlement has fared poorly for labor.
Entering these negotiations, I didn’t anticipate we could roll back our members’ health care contributions to $200 monthly and freeze them for 6½ years. The health care cost issue isn’t going away, and we met it head on, minimizing the impact on UTU members in a responsible way.
We cannot simply bury our heads in the sand and ignore the current state of the economy, escalating health care costs, the high unemployment rate, and recent wage and health care settlements made by other organizations that are well below what we have negotiated.
Alternate International Vice President Doyle Turner
Our members need to consider today’s double digit increases in health care costs.
The proposed UTU national rail contract maintains your health care insurance contribution at $200 while improving coverage.
The agreement also provides a 17-percent increase in wages (which is more than 10 percent in excess of projected inflation over the life of the agreement), plus service-scale enhancements, FRA certification pay, a special wage adjustment for yardmasters of 12.5 cents per hour, and a supplemental sickness benefit increased to $3,333 per month.
I fully support this proposed agreement and urge a “yes” vote.
National Legislative Director James Stem
This is a very good agreement, regardless of economic conditions; but it is especially good given its increase over price inflation. No previous agreement provided wage increases so far above the Consumer Price Index without significant rules changes, as does this agreement.
Also to be considered is how the U.S. House of Representatives, controlled by political extremists, is attempting to reduce Railroad Retirement, Social Security and Medicare benefits, eliminate Amtrak and slash transit subsidies.
It would not be wise for us to ask Congress, already in gridlock over economic issues, to legislate an agreement based on recommendations of a presidential emergency board.
Workers are under sustained attack. This agreement provides significant financial improvement and economic stability for our families. Any other option would be a big gamble we cannot afford to take.
WASHINGTON — The Federal Railroad Administration will soon publish final rules instituting conductor certification and imposing new hours-of-service limitations on intercity passenger-train and commuter employees in safety sensitive positions.
FRA Associate Administrator for Safety Jo Strang made the announcement at the UTU’s regional meeting June 21 in San Antonio, Texas.
She observed that since former UTU Illinois State Legislative Director Joe Szabo became FRA administrator, the partnership between the UTU and the FRA in seeking improved workplace safety “has certainly been strengthened.”
Conductor certification, which becomes effective Jan. 1, 2012, “recognizes the level of professionalism required by our conductors today,” Strang said.
A notice of proposed rulemaking on conductor certification was published in November and is the product of a collaborative effort through the FRA’s Rail Safety Advisory Committee, which includes carriers, rail labor and the FRA.
UTU members serving on the RSAC Conductor Certification Working Group include Local 1470 Chairperson David Brooks, General Chairperson (CSX, GO 049) John Lesniewski, Local 538 Legislative Rep Ron Parsons, Local 645 Local Chairperson Vinnie Tessitore, National Legislative Director James Stem, Alternate National Legislative Director John Risch, and UTU safety consultant Larry Mann.
Strang said the passenger hours-of-service regulation will apply sleep science and fatigue management to railroad hours-of-service, “which is the first time in our industry’s history that this has been done. It recognizes the inherent differences between freight and passenger service.”
For example, intercity passenger and commuter railroads operate on fixed schedules. Commuter railroads operate primarily during daylight hours, and most commuter employees return to their home terminals every night.
The passenger hours-of-service regulation will “balance the need to manage fatigue with the need to maximize income,” Strang said. “The rule also recognizes the significant safety contribution that a defined start time has for the employees involved. When the employee knows when they must report for service, they can manage the necessary lifestyle adjustments. The outstanding safety record of our passenger and commuter rail operations is an excellent example of just what it means to have a regular start time.”
Strang also mentioned risk reduction programs, acknowledging that their FRA-sponsored implementation on some railroads “have earned a bad reputation. Let me be clear about FRA’s viewpoint,” Strang said. “Building strong safety cultures can only be accomplished through the establishment and nurturing of voluntary risk mitigation policies and procedures — setting realistic benchmarks and milestones, and favoring constructive corrective behavior over punitive discipline. To be clear, both railroads and labor have to define boundaries since compliance with the rules is at the heart of safety.
“Railroads have had the same culture for 180 years,” Strang said. “We have been trying to change it for five years.”
Two executive vacancies have been filled by the UTU Board of Directors. General Chairperson John Lesniewski (CSX, GO 049) was elected second alternate vice president – east, to fill a vacancy created by the retirement of now former General Chairperson Jim Huston (BNSF, GO 009). Also, UTU Local 1422 (Los Angeles) Chairperson Robert Resendez was elected an alternate on the executive board, filling a vacancy created by the resignation of General Chairperson Troy Johnson (Union Pacific, GO 927).