Why the BLE said "no" to NMB request

CLEVELAND -- In a three-page letter to all BLE members, BLE International President Edward Dubroski outlined the reasons why the BLE cannot engage in voluntary discussions with the United Transportation Union under the auspices of a neutral facilitator. The letter is reproduced below:

January 10, 2000

All Active BLE Members

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

As you probably know, on December 30, 1999, the National Mediation Board (NMB) issued a ruling that the UTU's application for a single operating craft on the Union Pacific Railroad would not be decided by the Board itself; rather, an appointed panel will decide the issue. In this ruling, the NMB also "suggested" that we and the UTU "resume voluntary discussions to resolve this dispute through mutual agreement." If either union declines to go back to the table, then the NMB-appointed panel must have its decision prepared by no later than March 1st; otherwise, the decision must be ready by March 29th. We were given until today to advise the Board of our decision.

I have consulted with the Executive Committee, the Advisory Board and a broad range of counselors and advisors, and I have considered suggestions and opinions from officers at every level of the BLE and from rank and file members, who have called or sent letters, faxes and e­mails advocating a wide variety of positions. After a great deal of soul-searching and prayer, I notified the NMB this afternoon that we could not acquiesce to their suggestion. While I want to assure you that there is steadfast support for this decision among those with whom I consulted, I also want to be clear that the final decision, and the responsibility for making it, rest with me and me alone. Now, I want to tell you exactly why the road we have chosen is the only one that I believe will lead to a positive future for BLE members and all operating employees.

What the NMB asked us to do was continue to talk about a final resolution of our differences. For the UTU leadership, that has always meant the complete and immediate merger of the two unions, with every other Rail Labor union excluded, at least in the short term. My vision is to build solidarity -- first working solidarity, then perhaps organizational solidarity -- through a multi-craft federation built on a foundation of common positions on issues and mutual respect for and advancement of genuine craft autonomy. I have been working on that vision since taking office in late July, and our efforts are beginning to bear fruit with the ATDD, BMWE and TWU. UTU has called a federation a "deal-breaker" often enough to tell me that it would be fruitless to propose it again. And the events of the past year have made clear to me that BLE members do not share the goals of UTU's leadership. So, returning to the table would quickly have brought up the "structure" question, on which I am not prepared to yield.

UTU leaders have claimed that the BLE "walked away from a signed deal," in May; without question, their position on renewed talks would be that the "28 Principles" is the baseline. Those principles were flawed; moreover, UTU breached them by withholding critical financial information necessary for our review in the discharge of our fiduciary responsibility to the BLE membership. Because of the UTU's reluctance to furnish this information, our Advisory Board unanimously repudiated them in May. Also, a pair of Labor Department investigations of UTU finances -- one of its Job Benefit Fund and one of the UTUIA -- are still being conducted. In other words, the UTU's finances remain shrouded in mystery, and nothing has changed that would provide a factual basis for the Advisory Board to reconsider its earlier action, even if there were no other problems.

But there are other problems, nearly all of them serious. For as long as I can remember, the philosophies, policies and goals of the BLE and the UTU have been very different ... and usually contradictory. That is more true today than at any time in years. Consider, for a moment, just these few examples from a long list of fundamental differences between the two Organizations:

  • The Railroad Retirement deal UTU currently is pushing would give the carriers a "tax cut" of between $325 million and $340 million per year. When the employers' Tier II tax rate was raised to 16.1% in 1983, locomotive engineers and other railroad workers had to accept inferior wage packages, which means that the carriers would be pocketing our money -- deferred from wage increases to save our pension fund -- under the proposal UTU supports. Do we need to entice the industry to support legislation lowering the retirement age? Yes, but we don't have to give them half the pie, as the UTU deal would. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • On doing away with "cram down" -- the practice whereby carriers can abolish collective bargaining agreements in implementing mergers -- AFL­CIO Secretary-Treasurer Trumka, on behalf of the BLE and all of Rail Labor, reached a deal with the carriers in November, which resulted in our removing holds on the reconfirmation of STB Chair Linda Morgan (candidate of the carriers and the UTU). Morgan had no sooner been reconfirmed, when the carriers reneged on the deal, double-crossing all of Labor and the White House. UTU wants to return to the table today and basically begin negotiations again from step one. We say that, unless and until the industry agrees to no less than the deal it made with Trumka, we're going to work overtime to pass Senator Crapo's bill, which would outlaw cram down altogether. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • The BLE and all of Rail Labor is supporting Jack Wells, currently Democratic Staff Director for Railroad Issues for the House Subcommittee on Ground Transportation, for the position of FRA Deputy Administrator, which is the number two slot at the agency. The UTU is promoting Ray Lineweber, its Nebraska State Legislative Director, for the post. Lineweber's qualifications? How about reneging on his agreement with the changes to the engineer certification regulation, then helping get it tied up in court for a year? How about causing TCU picketing of a meeting of the Union Pacific SACP Oversight Committee, because of his attempts to have UTU local officers supplement overworked TCU members? How about scheduling SACP meetings on operating craft issues and providing either late notice to BLE representatives or no notice at all?

Despite talking about unity, UTU leadership has had no problem taxing its Canadian members -- who are in the same bargaining unit as locomotive engineers under Canadian labor law -- and its bus drivers in order to destroy the BLE. Also, UTU leadership has a quaint notion of solidarity ... that it should stop at the cab door, and not extend beyond the BLE, even though UTU itself has members in at least 20 different crafts or classes, including maintenance of way workers and carmen. As the Executive Committee wrote last month, we've already moved beyond that artificially restricted view of rail labor solidarity.

What would it mean if we did what the NMB suggested, and "made nice" with the UTU leadership? In the short term, we'd have to pull down our request for a hearing on AFL­CIO sanctions against UTU for its raid on the Louisiana & Delta; we'd have to tell John Sweeney that we won't be able to accept his invitation to present our views to the AFL­CIO Executive Council next month, when it takes up the question of imposing tougher sanction on unions, like UTU, who refuse to comply with Article XX "no raiding" decisions; and we'd have to tell our potential federation partners to put our plans for joint activities on hold -- or move forward without us -- because UTU doesn't hold the same positions on the issues that the four of us do. We'd also have to support Ray Lineweber for FRA Deputy Administrator, despite the fact that Jack Wells is infinitely more qualified and has an unblemished track record of working with all of Rail Labor.

In the medium term, we'd have to cave in on Railroad Retirement reform, and take what would be the equivalent of up to a 3.4% wage cut ... and we'd have to negotiate with the carriers on cram down from a position of weakness, rather than strength. In the long term? We would have two options -- take whatever deal the UTU leadership is offering, good or bad, or leave things to the NMB-appointed panel, who will decide the case by March 29th no matter what else happens. Only this time, if the decision goes against us, we already would have turned our backs on those who currently are supporting us, and we also would have abandoned the very positions that we believe make the BLE the better union.

Some have suggested that there is "no harm" in sitting down and talking; I used to feel that way, but I don't any longer. Top UTU leaders have engaged in a systematic two-year assault on the BLE, as an institution, and our officers and members. Since August alone, we've been subjected to the three dollar "war chest" for a "fight to the finish," UTU President Little's vow to resort to "A" cards if the UTU's NMB application is denied, and libelous published statements falsely claiming that we've placed "bounties" on UTU members. I doubt whether even a brief, civil conversation is possible at this point, much less the serious, substantial discourse suggested by the Board.

It is clear to me that, ultimately, there isn't even a remote chance of reaching a mutual agreement as contemplated by the Board that would be acceptable to the majority of BLE members. I say this in all candor. Further, it is my judgment that agreeing to enter a process that is doomed to failure is not in our best interests; therefore, I cannot in good conscience engage in discussions that I believe are futile, merely in order to "stop the clock" for four weeks. The UTU reached the same conclusion, having informed the NMB that "it is obvious the question of further voluntary discussions is at an end."

I'm completely fed up with being forced to devote less than my full energy to the members' goals because of the UTU attack, and I am disheartened at the thought of spending millions of dues dollars fighting a war that we didn't start. However, the bottom line is that either we confront the threat head on at this time, or we throw in the towel and adopt the UTU's agenda as our own, weakening our leverage with the industry and surrendering all that the BLE stands for. I'm not prepared to do that just because there's a gun at my head. The position of the UTU's leadership leaves us with only two choices, and my obligation is to the members of this great Brotherhood, even at the risk of my own position.

No matter which way the NMB-appointed panel rules, the BLE will be tested in a way it has not seen since its earliest days. I will measure up to the challenge, and I know you will, too. With your support and sacrifice, and by working hard together, we will prevail.

In solidarity,

/s/ Edward Dubroski

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January 10, 2000

© 2000 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers