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CLEVELAND, Ohio (March 23, 2022) — After thoroughly examining all possible avenues to best continue the unions’ fight against the BNSF Hi-Viz attendance policy, SMART-TD and the BLET announced today that they will proceed as expeditiously as possible to arbitration over the policy.
On February 22, 2022, a U.S. District Court ruled that the unions’ dispute over the policy constituted a “minor dispute” under the terms and conditions of the Railway Labor Act. The court’s use of “minor” does not signify the importance of the issue, but is only a legal term which provides that resolution of the matter must be by arbitration. In considering a potential appeal of the District Court’s ruling, it was determined that an appeal could take another one to two years, and likely not result in a different decision. An appeal would not be the quickest, or most effective way, to stop the BNSF policy. The quickest and most direct way to challenge this policy is through a Public Law Board or Special Board of Adjustment, properly constituted under Section 3 of the Railway Labor Act. That board will have the authority to strike down either the entire policy or the most egregious parts of the policy much more quickly. The time frame will be months as opposed to years.
As a result, BLET and SMART-TD general chairpersons have notified BNSF of their intent to move the dispute forward pursuant to Section 3 of the Railway Labor Act. Additional details will be provided to all involved union officers and members as they become available.
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.
Talking SMART: TD President Jeremy Ferguson Discusses ‘Hi-Viz’ Policy, National Rail Contract
Class I railroad carriers BNSF and NS declared an impasse this week in the mandatory bargaining over crew size under Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act (RLA). In declaring an impasse, the two railroads, represented by the National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC), seek federal mediation as required by the RLA. Union Pacific Railroad is not seeking mediation at this time.
Beginning in October 2019, most Class I carriers served notice under Section 6 of the RLA to force the SMART Transportation Division to bargain over crew size. Today crew size is determined by collective bargaining agreements implemented by Presidential Emergency Board 219 under then-President George H.W. Bush.
SMART-TD and the involved General Committees intend to continue to demonstrate the significant problems with the carriers’ plans and the current technology that carriers believe allows for a redeployment of conductors to ground-based positions.
SMART-TD General Committees and union leadership will continue to fight to protect the jobs of today as well as the jobs of the future and to ensure protection for SMART-TD members.
In the current episode of Talking SMART, we sit down with SMART TD President Jeremy Ferguson to talk about a subject that is foremost on the minds of many members. In February 2022, BNSF arbitrarily changed its attendance policy and took advantage of a pro-management judge to force (as of now… this episode was recorded in early March), a draconian “Hi-Viz” attendance policy upon the very members who have kept the company operational through the pandemic – and who earned BNSF record profits in 2021. President Ferguson also provides an update on contract negotiations with the national rail carriers.
In early July 2020, just over eight months after the current round of national bargaining had begun, the carriers’ representative — the National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC) — proposed reconfiguring the National Plan’s network structure in a way that would force many railroad workers into the cheapest area medical network immediately and then on a continual 3- to 5-year schedule without formal bargaining. The Cooperating Railway Labor Organizations (CRLO), which is the rail labor umbrella group that oversees plan administration in concert with the NRLC, rejected the proposal, stating that this was an issue for negotiations and pointing out that the carriers had made an identical proposal at the bargaining table. In late July, the NRLC demanded that the unions agree to the proposal and threatened to use the binding deadlock neutral process found in the 1991 National Agreement settlement to resolve the dispute. This threat led 12 unions in the CRLO to file suit against the nation’s Class I railroad carriers in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, asking the court to force the carriers to bargain in good faith with the unions over mandatory subjects of bargaining, such as their network structure proposal. The carriers’ defense was that this was a “minor” dispute under the Railway Labor Act, as it involved an administrative matter under the National Plan and, therefore, could be resolved by the “deadlock neutral” process that was included in national agreements for all unions that were imposed by Congress — and signed into law by President George H. W. Bush — in order to stop a national strike in 1991. At an Aug. 31, 2021, hearing before a Special Board of Adjustment chaired by Arbitrator Joshua M. Javits, the unions documented the history of health care network development in the railroad industry, showing that the carriers’ proposal was anything but administrative in nature. They also showed the adverse impact the proposal would have on over a quarter-million plan participants. The carriers countered that no “right to choose” existed in any national agreement, and that the deadlock neutral had the authority to decide the matter if the parties couldn’t agree. In upholding the unions’ position on the key question of network choice, Chairman Javits’ Oct. 20 award found “that the Carriers’ proposal – in as far as it relates to the selection of network vendors – is an administrative matter. However, those elements of the Carriers’ proposal that reduce choice for Plan participants and result in only a single network vendor being available to Plan participants, constitutes a change in Plan design and, thus, is outside the deadlock neutral’s jurisdiction.” The leaders of the prevailing unions issued the following statement concerning this decision: “This is a significant victory for the men and women covered by the national plans, and for their families. The carriers have been dragging their feet at the bargaining table while this dispute wound its way through the system. All the while, our members — essential employees, one and all — have continued to keep the country moving despite the pandemic. “To the carriers, whose profits continued to flow in unabated, we say ‘The time for delay is over. Your workers have earned and deserve a new national agreement, one that reflects their true contribution to your bottom line.’ We remain ready to negotiate that agreement, and urge you to devote as much energy to that task as you invested in your failed effort to deprive your workers of their choice of medical networks.”
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The unions involved in the dispute 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. View this release in PDF form.
Local 313 (Grand Rapids, Mich.) member Chris Larson, a member of our union for seven years, wrote to the office of SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson asking the extent that members can go to support and show solidarity to an ongoing labor action by another labor union against an employer. More than 1,000 members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) union have been striking for more than a month in locations in Portland, Ore.; Richmond, Va.; Norcross, Ga., and Chicago against Nabisco/Mondelez. Brother Larson suggested in a letter that unionized train operators stop deliveries to the company’s plants in a concerted effort in support of the strikes. “Nabisco / Mondelz (sic) International will quickly notice when their raw inputs of flour, sugar, and other bulk commodities delivered by rail are no longer being delivered because SMART-TD is supporting the BCTGM strike,” Larson wrote. “I would like to encourage SMART-TD to quickly explore how our union can honor the BCTGM strike by not delivering raw inputs to Nabisco / Mondelz (sic) International by rail.” While a strong and impactful suggestion by Larson, the federal Railway Labor Act limits when, where and why rail workers can engage in a work stoppage, as the union’s response noted. “…it is important to note that the governing federal law (specifically the Railway Labor Act, as amended,) limits our ability to go on strike to very narrow and specific circumstances. Unfortunately, those circumstances do not include the secondary strike action you describe in your letter,” the TD office replied. “We absolutely support the BCTGM workers in their fight for fairness and justice with Nabisco/Mondelez,” Ferguson said. “Our members and leadership will do what we can within the law through personal boycotts and outreach initiated by local members to show support from our union. We thank Brother Larson for speaking up and asking this question, and we appreciate his desire to act in solidarity with our fellow workers at BCTGM.” Constitutionally, members can act in the interest of their personal safety in areas where a strike is taking place. According to Article 21B, Section 92 of the SMART Constitution: When a strike of any other nationally recognized labor organization is in effect and danger to the safety of our members exists in or about the area affected by the strike, and/or if there exists any substantial present or potential threat of danger to the members enroute to or from their work, and/or to the members’ families, it is the policy of SMART to support its members in declining to enter the territory directly affected. The strikes against Nabisco/Mondelez first began in August with BCTGM workers in Portland, then spread to the three additional locations during the month to protest the company’s outsourcing of U.S. jobs to plants in Mexico and the disproportionate hazard pay given to management when workers received only a $300 bonus. As of this writing, the work stoppages are ongoing, and there are multiple ways TD members and their families can assist in the effort in the spirit of solidarity suggested at the BCTGM website.
Join one of the picket lines to give supplies or offer support at the following sites: • Portland, Ore.: 100 N.E. Columbia Blvd. • Aurora, Colo.: 17775 E. 30th Ave. • Chicago, Ill.: 7300 Kedzie Ave. • Norcross, Ga.: 6300 Brook Hollow Pkwy. • Richmond, Va.: 6002 S. Laburnum Ave.
On July 28, 2021, a Neutral appointed by the National Mediation Board issued his ruling finding that on certain railroad properties, the current moratoria in those crew consist agreements do not prohibit the railroads from serving a Section 6 Notice regarding crew size. The properties affected or having no current moratorium include certain properties at BNSF, UP, NS and CN Railroads. Other properties not currently affected or involved may also be included in the future as moratoriums naturally expire. Please contact your local chairperson or general chairperson for specific details regarding your terminal or district. The ruling comes after a nearly two-year battle between SMART-TD and the National Railway Labor Conference over the moratoria provisions and their effect. The arbitration was one of the largest conducted by SMART-TD and its predecessor union, UTU, in decades. The ruling does not eliminate any current crew consist provision or requirement. The only thing it does is to open the door for bargaining to occur. The moratoria that previously prevented any mandatory bargaining on crew consist were predicated on the last remaining employees having hired on the railroad previous to the 1980’s. Today, less than 100 of these employees remain nationwide, and most are at, or near retirement age. Once a Section 6 is served, the Railway Labor Act requires both parties to engage in mandatory bargaining. The Act, however, does not mandate any particular outcome in such negotiations, it merely provides a process. In the event parties reach an impasse, the Act contains methods to avoid disruption to commerce through mandatory mediation and possibly intervention from the President of the United States and the U.S. Congress. SMART-TD remains committed to protecting the jobs of today, as well as securing the jobs of the future. While only some General Committees will be involved in bargaining, the full support and effort of the International in assisting those Committees will continue.
SMART and 18 other unions sent a letter to President Joe Biden and Democratic U.S. Senate leaders Chuck Schumer and Patty Murray reminding the president that appointing new members to the National Mediation Board (NMB) should be prioritized and endorsed the appointment of Deirdre Hamilton and reappointment of Linda Puchala to the board.
President Biden The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. Washington, DC 20500 Via US Mail and Electronic Transmission Dear President Biden: We, the undersigned unions representing hundreds of thousands of Americans working in the airline and rail industries, take pleasure in expressing our strong support of Deirdre Hamilton to serve as a Member on the National Mediation Board (NMB), and for sitting NMB member Linda Puchala’s reappointment to the board. We also urge you to make these appointments immediately. Unlike other federal agencies, the Trump-appointed NMB will remain in control until new board members are nominated and confirmed by the Senate. With each passing day, the Trump NMB is allowed more opportunity to suppress the voices of aviation and rail workers, stifle collective bargaining rights, and undermine the Biden-Harris pro-worker agenda. Created by Congress through the Railway Labor Act (RLA), the NMB plays an essential role in the facilitation of labor-management relations in the aviation and rail industries. Collectively, our unions represent mechanics, pilots, flight attendants, engineers, conductors, and maintenance of way employees, among other critical roles. These workers are best served when the NMB is reliably staffed with public servants who understand the importance of collective bargaining and who, when disputes arise, will seek fair and timely resolutions. Both Ms. Hamilton and Ms. Puchala have impeccable qualifications for positions on the board, and have proven throughout their careers to be steadfast allies of workers. With over 20 years of experience, Ms. Hamilton has represented workers before federal courts and with the NMB on a wide range of legal issues, including union elections, mediation, contract enforcement, and major and minor dispute claims, and has amassed an in-depth knowledge of the RLA and how it functions. For the past 6 years, Ms. Hamilton has served as the Staff Attorney to the Airline Division at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. She has held similar positions as a Senior Staff Attorney at the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, and Legal Fellow at the International Association of Machinists. With her experience and command of the RLA, Ms. Hamilton would be in an excellent position to foster strong labor-management relations, protect the right of workers to form and join unions, and ensure that the mediation and arbitration duties of the Board are deployed to serve all stakeholders. Ms. Puchala has served as a member of the NMB since her confirmation by the U.S. Senate in 2009. Prior to her service as a Board Member, Ms. Puchala worked as a Mediator, Sr. Mediator (ADR) and the Associate Director of Alternative Dispute Resolution Services over a 10-year career at the NMB. During her tenure, Ms. Puchala has demonstrated leadership and professionalism that has earned her the respect of both parties across the mediation table. Ms. Puchala has also pursued innovative strategies to resolve pending arbitration cases, sought to modernize the NMB’s management practices and has fought for policies that will protect the rights of workers to have a union voice. Ms. Puchala also obtained important labor relations experience as a former International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, and a Staff Director, Michigan State Employees Association, AFSCME. The rail and aviation industries support good middle-class jobs that are critical to the economy and are even more important as the country seeks to recover from COVID-19 in the coming months and years. NMB members have an important role to play in protecting these jobs and expanding workforce opportunities in sectors covered by the RLA. Sincerely, Air Line Pilots Association, International Allied Pilots Association American Train Dispatchers Association Association of Flight Attendants, CWA Association of Professional Flight Attendants Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen Communications Workers of America International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers International Brotherhood of Teamsters National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, SEIU NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots Service Employees International Union Southwest Airlines Pilots Association Transportation Communications Union/IAM Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO Transport Workers Union of America UNITE HERE International Union CC: Senator Charles Schumer Senator Patty Murray
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
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.”
ATTENTION: All SMART Transportation Division members employed by rail carriers negotiating under the umbrella of the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC). As you are likely aware, on August 16, 2019, the SMART Transportation Division began the process of formulating Section 6 notices to be served on rail carriers represented by the NCCC, which will include proposals to increase wages, benefits and improve working conditions. In our communications, all officers and members were invited to submit proposals for the Section 6 notices to the SMART TD headquarters. For those members who have already submitted proposals, we thank you for providing your invaluable input. Members who have not yet responded are reminded that proposals are being cataloged through the month of September, and in October a committee of general chairpersons from the Association of General Chairpersons, District No. 1, will review the proposals and begin to fine-tune those suggestions into the notices to be served on the carriers. In order for your proposal to be cataloged and considered by the Section 6 review committee, your proposal must be received in the Transportation Division office by September 30, 2019. As a reminder, members may submit their proposals by email (preferred), fax or U.S. Mail: Email – Section6@smart-union.org Fax – (216) 228-5755, or by writing to the attention of the SMART Transportation Division President at 24950 Country Club Blvd. Suite 340 North Olmsted OH 44070 Following this review process, the full Association of General Chairpersons, District No. 1, will be convened to review and finalize the union’s Section 6 notices. Soon thereafter, the Section 6 notices will be reproduced and mailed to all U.S. general chairpersons for serving on the affected railroads on or about Nov. 1, 2019, with changes to become effective no earlier than Jan. 1, 2020. In addition to membership submitted proposals, SMART Transportation Division will conduct a membership survey to help define the issues for prioritization during negotiations. “All affected members will be kept informed regarding the Section 6 notices and developments in negotiations, when possible, through the SMART Transportation Division News and the SMART TD website,” said Transportation Division President John Previsich. The serving of the Section 6 notices is the first step in reaching a new national agreement with railroads represented by the NCCC. The carriers represented by the NCCC also have been working on their own wage and rule notices that they will serve at or about the same time the SMART-TD notices are served. Under the Railway Labor Act, the current national agreement between SMART TD and NCCC will remain in effect until a new agreement is reached.
The SMART Transportation Division is beginning the process of formulating Section 6 notices to be served on rail carriers negotiating under the umbrella of the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), which will include proposals to increase wages, benefits and improve working conditions. As mandated by the Railway Labor Act and the current national agreement, these Section 6 notices will be served on most of the nation’s rail carriers on or about Nov. 1, 2019, with changes to become effective no earlier than Jan. 1, 2020. The serving of the Section 6 notices is the first step in reaching a new national agreement with railroads represented by the NCCC. The carriers represented by the NCCC also have been working on their own wage and rule notices that they will serve at or about the same time the SMART TD notices are served. All officers and members are invited to submit proposals for the Section 6 notices to the SMART TD headquarters. In addition, SMART Transportation Division will conduct a membership survey to help define the issues for prioritization during negotiations. Members may submit their proposals by email (preferred), fax or U.S. Mail: Email – Section6@smart-union.org Fax – (216) 228-5755 or by writing to the attention of the SMART Transportation Division President at: 24950 Country Club Blvd., Suite 340 North Olmsted OH 44070 The proposals submitted by members will be catalogued during the months of August and September. In October, a committee of general chairpersons from the Association of General Chairpersons, District No. 1, will review the proposals submitted and begin to fine-tune those suggestions into the notices to be served on the carriers. The full Association of General Chairpersons, District No. 1, will then be convened to review and finalize the union’s Section 6 notices. Soon thereafter, the Section 6 notices will be reproduced and mailed to all U.S. general chairpersons for serving on the affected railroads on or about Nov. 1. “All affected members will be kept informed regarding the Section 6 notices and developments in negotiations, when possible, through the SMART Transportation Division News and the SMART TD website,” said Transportation Division President John Previsich. Under the Railway Labor Act, the current national agreement between SMART TD and NCCC will remain in effect until a new agreement is reached.