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Our Solidarity is Crucial to our Success

By Dennis R. Pierce
BLET National President


(BLET Editorís Note: The following message from BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce has been excerpted from the August-October 2019 issue of the Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen News.)

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, October 21 ó In past Presidentís Messages, I have written to BLETís Membership about the many issues that confront us in our effort to protect the interests of locomotive engineers and trainmen, as well as working class Americans in general. While my past Messages may not have presented those issues as ďgood news,Ē I am still convinced that we will prevail if we remain united. Our solidarity as BLET members, and our solidarity with other Unions that share our goals, is the key to that success.

To foster that internal solidarity, I have made an increased effort to be out in the field meeting with member and officer groups in 2019. So far this year, in addition to our two Regional Meetings, I have attended over two dozen membership meetings across the country where I have explained the key issues that we are working on at the National Division. As part of those discussions, I have also solicited the input of the members in attendance on those key issues. Not only do the members who attend these meetings leave with a better understanding of what we are confronted with, my ability to do the best in my job is improved when I get direct information on our issues from the membershipís perspective.

Although it is hard to rank the fights that we are waging with the Nationís Railroads, one of the most critical issues we face as this edition of the Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen News goes to print is our effort to maintain a minimum of two crew members on the Nationís Class I Carriers.

As I have shared at our membership meetings this year, there are three primary ways for us to preserve a minimum two-person crew and all three of these paths ultimately involve the politics of our Nation.

The first of those is Regulation. Under the leadership of President Obama, the Administrator of the FRA, Joe Szabo, initiated a rulemaking to establish a regulation on minimum crew size. As background, prior to being nominated by President Obama to serve as FRA Administrator, Joe Szabo served as Illinois State Legislative Director for UTU. I share that for a reason. After President Trump was elected, he nominated his own FRA Administrator, a man who came from a much different background. Ron Batory, the current Trump-appointed FRA Administrator, was previously the CEO of Conrail.

This is noteworthy because Administrator Batory recently terminated the crew size regulatory process started by Administrator Szabo, obviously at the insistence of the Nationís Rail Carriers. As a result, there will be no regulatory solution protecting a minimum two-person crew so long as the current administration controls the FRA.

The second way for us to protect a minimum two person crew is through legislation. To that end, seven states have passed minimum crew size laws, all supported jointly by BLET and SMART-TD. It is worth noting that, in every case, the state crew size laws were passed by legislatures controlled by Democrats, and signed into law by Governors who were Democrats. I do not share that to incite political infighting; I share it because it is true. No matter how anyone chooses to vote, it is critical for us to measure the work of all politicians insofar as our workplace issues are concerned. Under tremendous pressure from the Nationís Rail Carriers, the involved politicians stood up to that pressure and passed the State laws that BLET and SMART-TD supported.

But the politics donít end there. When President Trumpís FRA Administrator ended the crew size regulatory process, he also invoked something called ďnegative preemptionĒ against the seven State Crew Size laws. Also at the insistence of the Nationís Rail Carriers, FRA now suggests that the absence of a Federal Regulation preempts the Statesí Rights to enact State solutions to crew size. Our fight here is not over; BLET and SMART-TD have filed a joint petition for review of FRAís attempt to negatively preempt State crew size laws in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit; so have the states of California, Washington and Nevada.

While we will continue this fight, it is imperative for all willing to keep an open mind politically to understand that none of these attacks on our regulatory and legislative efforts are by accident. Like it or not, these attacks are the consequences of the most recent Presidential election. By nominating a former Railroad CEO to be the FRA Administrator, President Trump effectively gave the industryís safety Regulating Agency to Railroad Management and we see the impact on our key issues.

But even this has not stopped our legislative effort. While the legal actions continue on FRAís negative preemption attempt, BLET and SMART-TD are also jointly sponsoring a national legislative effort to protect a minimum two-person crew. Senate Bill S. 1979 (sponsored by Senator Ed Markey (DĖMA)), along with the House version H.R. 1748 (sponsored by Don Young (RĖAK)), have been introduced to legislate a Federal law to govern minimum crew size.

As expected, the Nationís Rail Carriers have started an all-out lobbying blitz to prevent these two bills from passing. That is where our internal solidarity can make a difference. By the time this edition of the Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen News reaches your home, you will have been asked to participate in a Mobilization effort to contact your Congressional Representatives in support of our legislative effort. Only time will tell if we are able to achieve a legislative solution to minimum crew size, but rest assured that you can make a difference if you participate in this effort.

The third leg in the effort to protect a minimum two-person crew is through collective bargaining. Whether it be through Crew Consist Agreements or Scope Rule Agreements, both SMART-TD and BLET have previously negotiated collective bargaining agreements, all in an effort to protect each Unionís respective half of a two-person crew. For our two Unions to collectively protect the current two-person crew minimums, we must preserve these existing agreements. If either Union is defeated in the effort to protect its half of the two-person crew, the Nationís Rail Carriers will certainly pursue single-person operations nationwide.

This issue also is pulled into the political landscape of our Nation and here is why. Under the requirements of the Railway Labor Act, when Rail Unions and Rail Carriers cannot reach voluntary national contract settlements, the process ultimately reaches conclusion through the appointment of a Presidential Emergency Board to hear both sides of the disputed issues properly in play through the bargaining process. In an effort to force SMART-TDís Crew Consist Agreements into this process, the Nationís Rail Carriers recently filed a law suit against SMART-TD in an effort to force this issue onto the bargaining table.

There is no doubt that the Railroads are seizing the opportunity to push changes to crew size collective bargaining agreements because President Trump will be the person appointing the PEB to hear those disputes if a voluntary agreement is not reached.

As I have asked thousands of members over the past year: In light of the Trump Administrationís actions through its FRA Administrator, are you comfortable with President Trump being the one to appoint the PEB that could hear and make recommendations on crew size nationwide? I for one am not, and I ask all members to keep an open mind politically for this very reason.

But the fight does not stop here, either. SMART-TD has responded loud and clear that it will stand united to defend its collective bargaining agreements. I have personally reached out to my counterpart, SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson, and committed BLET to assist in that fight. Even more important is that we stand united, in solidarity, when the next national contract negotiations begin in January of 2020.

In the last round of bargaining, BLET and SMART-TD bargained together for the first time in my 40-plus year railroad career. As a result, engineers and conductors voted on the same agreement at the same time for the first time in all of those years. I have expressed my commitment to President Ferguson that our two proud Unions should bargain together again in the upcoming round. In light of the collective actions by the Carriers and the Trump Administration noted above, it is even more critical that our two Unions, who share a common goal, show our strength through solidarity. As I have said, our solidarity is crucial to our success.

Monday, October 21, 2019
bentley@ble-t.org

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