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PEB 243 report leaves much unfinished business

CLEVELAND, November 7 — Presidential Emergency Board No. 243 has issued its Report to President Obama and its recommendations for settlement of the national wage/rules/benefits dispute between 11 unions, including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), and most of the nation’s Class I railroads. In some ways the PEB recommended adoption of some of the Carriers’ arguments that the United Transportation Union (UTU) settlement be followed but in other ways it modified those terms to give the employees represented by the other unions a more generous settlement.

In its presentation to the Board, the Carriers argued that the UTU settlement was a pattern that should be adopted lock, stock and barrel. The PEB did not agree and its recommendation does not strictly follow the Carriers’ demands. For example, the general wage increases proposed by the Board are greater than those found in the UTU agreement. In addition, the Board has recommended a lump sum signing bonus for all employees covered by the agreement, while the UTU agreement only pays lump sums to employees working under the entry rate progression that UTU had previously agreed to.

However, the Board did recommend that the parties adopt all of the health and welfare changes the Carriers sought and got from UTU, but again with certain variations. Insofar as increases to coinsurance and deductibles are concerned, the Board has recommended that these changes be phased in over an 18-month period instead of being implemented immediately. Lastly, the PEB recommended adoption of only one craft-specific union proposal, and that proposal did not affect members of BLET. As for the others, it suggested “local handling” for a few and withdrawal of all the rest. The majority of BLET’s craft specific issues were included in the latter of those two categories. The only BLET craft specific issue that the Board did not recommend be withdrawn was BLET’s request for certification pay for the conductors that it represents but the Board did not recommend it be adopted either; instead it referred that issue to on-property handling.

BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce expressed frustration with the report. “The 11 unions working in unison made a compelling case for status quo on health and welfare benefits and an even more compelling argument for wage increases greater than those found in the recommendation,” Pierce said. “BLET also made very strong arguments for long overdue changes to its craft specific agreements that were documented by substantial evidence, and made it quite clear to the Board that our wage settlements with three of the four largest Class I carriers and on-property negotiations with the fourth meant that health care cost-shifting would place a tremendous obstacle in the way of obtaining an acceptable settlement. Unfortunately, that is exactly the situation we now face.”

With the issuance of the PEB report, the parties now have 30 days in which to try to arrive at a settlement. If no settlement is reached by 12:01 a.m. on December 6, the parties will be legally entitled to self-help, which could include a lockout by the carriers or a strike by one or more unions.

President Pierce said the focus now is returning to the bargaining table with the Board’s recommendation in hand in an attempt to reach a voluntary settlement to the bargaining round dispute. “Both the Organizations and the Carriers have an interest in reaching a voluntary settlement, but the jury is still out on whether or not the Board’s recommendations will move the parties to such a voluntary settlement. Based on the detailed and comprehensive presentations BLET made to the PEB, I am hopeful that the carriers will recognize that more is needed to achieve a settlement that is satisfactory to both sides and avoid the need for anyone to resort to self help or a Congressionally-imposed resolution. Last month our membership spoke loudly and with a single voice when they voted to strike, if that became necessary. We are working now to exhaust all efforts to come to an agreement worthy of consideration by BLET’s voting members, and to ensure they will have the final word on what is fair for locomotive engineers and trainmen.”

The Report of PEB 243 — as well as the pre-hearing submissions filed by the Carriers, the Joint Labor Coalition (including the Economic Summary Statement, and Health and Welfare Actuarial Assessment) and the BLET, along with daily transcripts of the PEB hearing and a compendium of the testimony by BLET National President Pierce before the PEB — can be read, downloaded or printed from this link:

www.ble-t.org/PEB243

Monday, November 07, 2011
bentley@ble-t.org

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