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Arbitrator approves replacing American crews with Mexican crews in Laredo

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, August 6 — A three-year contract struggle against actions by Kansas City Southern Railway Company (KCS) and its affiliate Texas Mexican Railway (Tex-Mex) to replace BLET-represented crews that shuttled trains between Laredo Yard and the U.S.–Mexico border concluded on August 4th, when a majority of a Special Board of Adjustment (SBA) ruled in the Carriers’ favor.

In July 2017, then-BLET General Chairman C. M. Heise learned of the Carriers’ plans to replace Tex-Mex shuttle crews with crews supplied by the Kansas City Southern de México (“KCSM”), another subsidiary of KCS’s parent corporation, over the 9-mile route between the International Bridge and Laredo Yard. When a year’s worth of discussion failed to produce a mutually acceptable resolution, the crew replacement was implemented on July 10, 2018. This came days after a federal judge enjoined a strike by the Tex-Mex crews, which had been supported by 98% of the members who cast a ballot.

The arbitration hearing was held exactly two years after the Tex-Mex crews had been replaced. The Chairman and Neutral Member of the SBA was arbitrator Sidney Moreland IV. The BLET was represented on the Board by Vice President J. Alan Holdcraft; the Carrier was represented by its Vice President – Labor Relations Maqui Parkerson.

The General Committee of Adjustment (GCA) argued that numerous provisions of the collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) for locomotive engineers and for conductors and trainmen were violated by the Carriers’ actions. In general, the GCA argued that the CBAs reserved the work of moving Tex-Mex trains on Tex-Mex property exclusively for Tex-Mex employees. More specifically, the GCA pointed to 68 years of practice under a pair of 1950 Agreements specifying that all cross-border traffic was to be exchanged at the border, memorializing operations that had been established in 1920.

The GCA further argued that the Carriers’ actions violated National Agreement interchange rules because the interchange tracks designated by the Carriers were not in close proximity to the border, and existing work equities were not being maintained. Lastly, the GCA pointed to numerous provisions in the so-called “Interchange Agreement” between Tex-Mex and KSCM where the two railroads agreed that all trains operating north of the border are considered Tex-Mex, not KCSM, trains.

The GCA showed that Tex-Mex employees in Laredo lost over 25,000 pay hours as a result of the Carriers’ actions and requested a cease and desist order and monetary relief for every affected Tex-Mex worker.

The Carriers countered that what they’d done was merely a change of interchange points, and that employees cannot claim exclusivity to interchange service. Further, they said that the 1950 Agreements had become defunct over time, and that the control aspects in the Interchange Agreement only dealt with customs requirements not pertinent to the CBAs.

The Carriers also blamed Mexican law, which limits the performance of railroad work to Mexican nationals, for their inability to provide work equities, and argued that they had complied with the “close proximity” requirements of National Agreement interchange rules because Laredo Yard was the closest point to the Bridge.

A majority of the Board accepted the Carriers’ arguments and ruled against the GCA. In a separate Dissent, BLET Vice President Holdcraft wrote that the majority’s decision contained “significant errors.” For example, he pointed out that the record was replete with proof of an undisputed history of the century-long practice, which the majority simply dismissed as irrelevant. Holdcraft noted that the majority failed to appreciate the unprecedented nature of the changes the Carriers had implemented and badly misconstrued the road switcher rules in the CBAs. Finally, he criticized the majority’s reliance on the Carriers’ business rationale for the changes, because “that’s not the standard for determining compliance with the Agreement.”

BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce expressed the National Division’s disappointment in the outcome of the arbitration, and thanked those who have been at the center of the fight for the past three years, saying “As stated in the Organization Member’s dissent, the majority missed the mark by a long shot with its decision. This ruling is an affront to BLET’s Tex-Mex membership, and an attack on the collective bargaining rights of all American workers. The Carrier was wrong in 2017 when it gave the jobs of hard working Americans to Mexican Nationals, it was wrong in 2018, and it’s wrong today.”

“That said, I also want to acknowledge some of the people who have been in the forefront of this struggle. I want to thank former General Chairman Chris Heise and current General Chairman Mike Ball for their leadership; I also want to specifically recognize the tremendous contributions made by Vice General Chairman Alfonso Arellano, whom we called upon time and again to build a detailed factual and historical case. I appreciate the work by retired Vice President Cole Davis and Vice President Alan Holdcraft, who provided constant assistance and advice to the GCA. And I thank retired General Counsel Mike Wolly and Special Counsel Kathy Krieger for their hard work on all aspects of the Laredo case. Finally, I want to acknowledge the National Division staffers, especially my assistant Tom Pontolillo, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to help build the case and craft the presentation. Regardless of the outcome, this team should be proud of its efforts.”

President Pierce also vowed that the struggle will continue. “This ruling is disappointing, to be sure. However, we will continue the fight. We will continue to litigate the refusal by the Trump Administration’s Federal Railroad Administration to comply with its statutory obligations to properly regulate safety between Laredo Yard and the International Bridge. We will also continue to pressure Congress to adopt reciprocal legislation, missing in the Trump-negotiated USMCA (NAFTA 2), to put U.S. locomotive engineers and trainmen on an equal footing with their Mexican counterparts. And we will continue to fight trade agreements that kowtow to the multinationals, like KCS, that put profits before people.”

A copy of the 82-page Award and Dissent is available here (PDF).

Thursday, August 6, 2020

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