Editor's Note: The National Mediation Board's hearings start July 6th on UTU's petition to declare that a "representational dispute" exists on the UP/SP and to combine all crafts -- thereby eliminating them -- into a single "operating craft." At the same time, the union is confronted with a vote over whether or not to recall its president. Meantime, preparations begin for the next round of collective bargaining, with section 6 notices due to go out next fall. We asked BLE President Clarence Monin to comment on questions being raised by members.
Newsletter: Members want to know, first of all, what the union is doing to respond to the threat to eliminate our craft.
President Monin: "Everything that we can possibly do to fight for our craft at this level. Our legal case is ready. Other unions, like Maintenance of Way, the Signalmen, the Transport Workers' and TCU, are weighing in with both the AFL-CIO and the NMB. The Federation itself has already rejected several appeals the UTU has filed over the impositions of sanctions.
BLE President Clarence Monin, right, meets with James P. Hoffa, newly-elected General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The two presidents discussed the recent contract agreement the Teamsters secured with the National Automobile Transporters, which provides members with new retirement benefits available after 25 years of work, including pension increases and health insurance eligibility starting at age 55 instead of 57.
"And our Mobilization and Strategic Planning Department is preparing for the July 6th march and rally in Washington, D.C. We're ready. We're angry. We're united in defense of our craft. And we will be heard."
Newsletter: But what can the individual member do?
President Monin: "Two things would be very important. First, show up in Washington, D.C., if they can. If they can't, wear a ribbon or a button to show support. It's vital to show we're united in the defense of our craft. And to show our determination.
"That leads me to the second point. This will be a political decision by the NMB. If the Board decided on the merits of the case alone, it would be a slam-dunk victory for the BLE. The facts overwhelmingly support our case, that our craft is and always has been separate and distinct. But the facts may not matter.
"So we need every member, working with their Division Legislative Rep, to contact their member of Congress even visit them in their District office when Congress is not in session. Get them to write letters to the Board, asking why the NMB is considering a policy that could deny our members the right to remain in the union that protects their craft.
"And contact the White House, by phone, email or regular mail. The industry is trying to get its seat on the NMB filled. While Senator Lott and the Republican Senate will have the major say in who finally gets confirmed, the Clinton administration could be helpful by refusing to nominate someone bent on destroying our craft."
Newsletter: Many members are writing in, concerned that union politics are dividing us at a critical time when our craft is under attack. Can you comment on their concern?
President Monin: "We've got a proud tradition of rank-and-file democracy like no other union has. It may seem divisive to outsiders, but when it comes to the defense of our craft, we're united. Fiercely united.
"It's hard for some people to understand the special pride we take in our jobs as engineers. We accept an awesome responsibility every day. We work under conditions that are mentally stressful as well as physically grueling at times.
"We're skilled, licensed craftsmen trained in operating expensive equipment. No one else can do what we do. The trains don't run without us.
"Whatever our opinions may be on other issues, and our members represent as diverse a group as you'll find anywhere in the States and Canada, we are not divided over protecting our craft. Nor will we be meek and hesitant in standing up for it. We are mobilizing. We are organizing. We are reaching out. We are preparing for whatever the future might bring."
Newsletter: What else are we going to be doing?
President Monin: "I don't think it's wise for me to get into the details. I think our members will understand the need for a certain amount of discretion in what should or shouldn't be revealed in too public a forum. Otherwise, who knows what will appear in the next UTU filing to the NMB, or in another appeal to the AFL-CIO?"
Newsletter: Then let's discuss the questions members have about collective bargaining...where are we on that?
President Monin: "Members are going to have a lot to say about collective bargaining, and very shortly at that. Our Wage and Rules Panel authorized the sending out of a questionnaire to members to get their feedback on the issues of most concern to them. It is important that every member respond as quickly as possible so we can begin the process of determining our priorities and the strategies we'll use to fight for a better contract.
"For the first time, we're going to have the survey available to members through our website. Members will be able to go to the "Members Only" page, access it through their password and give us their responses electronically.
"Now, we're also asking members to go beyond a simple 'wish list' and to think through the serious choices that may have to be made. No one can predict, at this point, how negotiations will go, except that you rarely get everything you need, much less what you deserve in any contract. We need the collective wisdom of the membership to help guide us through what I expect to be very difficult talks."
Newsletter: Beyond the survey, what's next?
President Monin: "Our General Committees of Adjustment will need to meet to decide the approach we want to take and the priorities we'll take with us to the table. Once we have the report completed on the membership survey, that formal process will begin.
"Informally, it's already begun in a way. Thanks to the electronic network we've established, ideas have been exchanged both in terms of issues and procedures. It's given all of us a chance to test ideas, get reactions very quickly. But we need the surveys to give us a broader gauge of the membership's concerns. Not everybody has a computer, nor uses email even if they do have one."
Newsletter: What are other unions doing?
President Monin: "Frankly, much is up in the air with most other rail unions. The situation with the UTU and the NMB complicates that process.
"But we're discussing joint strategies and approaches, and how we'll work together through the Rail Division of the Transportation Trades Department, the AFL-CIO. The need for joint action, as we deal with an industry that's narrowing down to a few super carriers, is understood."
Newsletter: Again, what can individual members do?
President Monin: "Again, fill out the survey, get it in as fast as possible. That's first. Second, have frank discussions in Local Division meetings, make sure Local Chairmen know the issues and your feelings about them, so the General Committees will have the best overview possible.
"And get ready. We don't know when, but we will be calling on members at the right time to make their feelings known to the carriers. And the first sentiment they should express is unity. Let them know we are a united workforce determined to better our living standards and improve our quality of life. The carriers need to hear that message over and over."
Despite the United Transportation Union's shrill campaign to convince everyone that the BLE is in financial trouble, an independent audit by the accounting firm of KPMG Peat Marwick shows the union's finances are strong.
Assets at the end of 1998 stood at a robust $16,577,248, with solid investments in real estate, securities and mutual funds, the audit showed. That figure was down slightly from the $16,668,000 at the end of 1997, and up slightly from net assets of $16,468,000 at the end of 1996. And, although the BLE was forced to mobilize its members to fend off UTU's attack on the craft of locomotive engineer, the union concluded 1998 with a net assets decrease of only $30,639.
The audit, released throughout the BLE long before the UTU made its outrageous claims, stands as proof that the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers is financially sound, BLE President Clarence V. Monin said.
"The UTU obviously has less than noble reasons for encouraging people to think otherwise," he said.
The BLE bottom line benefited from strong membership and revenue growth during 1998, showing an increase in new, dues-paying members each month for 26 out of the past 27 months.
"Our continuing growth was an added blessing last year because several significant events and external forces obligated us to spend more than we would under normal circumstances," said Monin, pointing particularly to the UTU's petition to the National Mediation Board to eliminate the craft of locomotive engineer and force a winner-take-all representation election for a single craft on the Union Pacific.
"It's remarkable that we were able to mount a massive campaign to mobilize our members and fight the UTU's attack on our craft before the NMB without having to dip into our other assets or asking our members for an emergency dues increase," Monin said.
"It would have cost us as much as $5 million to fight the UTU in a representation election on the Union Pacific, something the UTU tried to force on us. The BLE may yet have to find funding for an all-out winner-take-all representation election on the UP, but the mobilization training and outreach to the AFL-CIO and other unions conducted during 1998 will give the union a head start in that campaign."
Monin took UTU leaders to task for printing misleading financial information in their publications. "In the press, the UTU boasted of having assets in excess of $40 million," Monin explained.
"However, the UTU isn't telling the whole story. They didn't mention that a majority of the $40 million really belongs to their General Committees of Adjustment -- money that can't be spent by their International."
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