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Opinion: Me thinks thou dost protest too much (Shakespeare), or Will the real Paul Thompson please stand up

By Ed Rodzwicz
First Vice President
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen


CLEVELAND, March 21 -- The BLET has no interest or intent in continuing to respond to the UTU over the same old, tired, worn out issues that their leaders continue to bring up. However, on March 3, 2005, UTU International President Paul Thompson issued a letter addressed to All Local Presidents, All Secretary-Treasurers and All Local Chairpersons on the Norfolk Southern property. In this letter, Paul Thompson refers to various issues and makes several allegations in connection with the representation of trainmen on the Norfolk Southern Railroad. His misleading comments and distortion of the truth demand one final response to set the record straight.

Before getting into the details of Paul Thompson’s March 3rd letter, it should be noted that several years ago the UTU hired a master of spin doctoring, Frank Wilner, in its Public Relations Department. Prior to being hired by the UTU, Wilner was the Director of Information and Public Affairs for the Association of American Railroads (AAR). In 1991, while working for AAR, Wilner made some interesting comments in publications regarding rail labor and the need for carriers to have more flexibility with its employees. Some of Wilner’s comments were:

    “Not surprisingly, output measurements have soared. However, subsequent increases in wages and fringe benefits to remaining rail workers have dissipated much of the cost savings.”

    “This handicap might be surmountable were it not for restrictive union-imposed work rules that compel excess employment and impede flexibility in assignment of workers.”

    “In the railroad industry, where antiquated work rules and distorted levels of compensation are impeding efficiency, reform is urgent.”

    “Existing restrictive work rules prevent railroads from using those remaining employees more efficiently, which is essential if the rail industry is to prosper during the 1990s.”

    “Minimum crew size is an albatross for all major railroads. Generally, as many as four workers – most often three – are assigned to each train, when no more than two – sometimes, one – are necessary.”

    “Carriers should have the flexibility to assign employees any work – regardless of craft or job assignment – for which they are properly trained so as to maximize utilization of worker skills, expedite freight movements, improve asset utilization and enrich customer service.”

    “Equity and efficiency demand Congress move to merge railroaders into existing state no - fault workers’ compensation plans covering other private sector workers.”


Wilner’s comments from 1991, do not sound like they come from a man whose interest is in promoting wages, benefits and the rights of railroad workers. Why would an international rail union employ a person such as Frank Wilner when his views are so pro rail carrier and anti-rail worker?

Turning now to Paul Thompson’s letter of March 3rd, he states that UTU general committee offices have received “numerous telephone calls from BLET local chairpersons stating they personally did not support the A-card drive on NS.” Who are these BLET local chairmen, Paul Thompson? It is easy to state “numerous BLET local chairpersons” but identifying them, or the divisions which they represent, could possibly add some credibility to his statement, which has no credibility in its current form. Paul Thompson also states that “BLET officers are harassing and intimidating UTU members on NS property.” While I doubt the veracity of such a statement, we, in no way, condone such behavior.

In the second page of Paul Thompson’s letter, he raises issues such as the Soo Line strike in 1994, the agreement on Montana Rail Link concerning use of remote control locomotives and the VIA Rail issue. He also states that the BLE agreed to work without firemen back in 1964, but he fails to state that the October 31, 1985 UTU National Agreement completely eliminated the craft of firemen.

As far as the Soo Line issue is concerned, in 1994 the UTU went on strike against the Soo Line. There were four issues in the UTU’s negotiation demands that would adversely affect engineers. Then-BLE International President Ronald McLaughlin advised UTU International President Tom Dubose that those four issues would have to be withdrawn in order for the BLE to continue honoring the UTU’s strike. President Dubose refused to withdraw those issues which pertained to the exercise of engineer’s seniority, exclusive representation, a requirement that engineers pay dues to the UTU to protect trainmen seniority and placing the conductor totally in charge of the train, including the activities of the locomotive engineer. BLE members honored the UTU strike on that property from July 25th through August 24th when President Dubose refused to withdraw those provisions that were adverse to locomotive engineers. The dispute was ultimately resolved by Presidential Emergency Board No. 12455. Of the four issues President McLaughlin demanded to be removed from the UTU’s demands, the Board only granted the UTU the right to implement seniority maintenance fees if the BLE implemented exclusive representation. The Board did not even address the other three issues raised by the UTU in its submission to the Board.

As far as the BLE agreeing to work without firemen in 1964, the elimination of firemen began with the issuance of the infamous 282 Award. This Award allowed carriers to operate some trains without firemen. The BLE merely made an agreement to compensate the engineer for the additional duties and responsibilities that would be required of the engineer when working without a fireman. This provision is very similar to the numerous provisions in UTU agreements that have eliminated brakemen positions, firemen positions, switchmen positions and flagmen positions for additional compensation to the remaining train crew members.

The accusations by Paul Thompson concerning VIA Rail can best be answered by stating that this case is in the hands of the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) with the final outcome yet to be determined. However, it is a complete fabrication by the UTU when they state that 230 conductors on VIA Rail will each receive $230,000. When BLET learns of the final outcome of this case, BLET membership will be immediately informed.

The VIA Rail dispute began in 1997. In 2004, after the VIA Rail issue, 2,800 UTU members on Canadian Pacific chose Teamsters Canada Rail Conference as their representative over the UTU. The UTU/VIA Rail rhetoric was certainly not a factor in that representation election.

And while we are addressing issues involving Canadian operations, it should be noted that on the Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway (QNSLR) the UTU represents both engineers and trainmen. The QNSLR operates engineer-only trains through an agreement with the UTU. On November 7, 1996, the UTU signed an agreement with the QNSLR that eliminated all conductors and trainmen. This agreement provided that engineers would assume all duties and responsibilities formerly performed by conductors and trainmen. The implementation of this agreement caused approximately 49 employees to become surplus. These are the facts; yet, Paul Thompson tries to convince people that the UTU is the only union that will protect their jobs. Maybe one should ask some of the surplus employees that lost their jobs on the QNSLR as a result of the UTU agreement, what they think about his claim to fame.


The agreement on Montana Rail Link which Mr. Thompson refers to has resulted in most trains on MRL operating with three-person crews. Each crew must have a certified locomotive engineer. Where are the job losses you refer to on this property, Paul?

In previous articles and letters, UTU officers have stated that the UTU offered the BLE 50 percent of the remote control jobs. They do not tell the readers that this offer would have required the BLE to merge with the UTU. Our membership expressed their desire on the issue of merging with the UTU – 70 percent voted against merging and 30 percent voted in favor of merging. The Letter of Intent dated September 26, 2001, which authorized the use of remote control, signed by the UTU and the carriers states, “Operation of remote control technology pursuant to this Letter with respect to assignments covered hereunder will be assigned to employees represented by the United Transportation Union.” Does that sound like the UTU was agreeable to giving the BLE 50 percent of the remote control work?

Another glaring problem for the UTU leadership appears to be its inconsistency. For example, in 1991, Paul Thompson and other UTU officers opposed exclusive representation. In fact, in a letter dated January 21, 1991 addressed to the UTU National Negotiating Committee (G.T. Dubose, J.M. Brunkenhoefer, L.W. Swert and C.L. Little) Paul Thompson, whose signature is the first on this letter, and other UTU officers, chastised the Negotiating Committee members for not opposing exclusive representation The letter states in pertinent part: “There can be no explanation for your incompetence….Why don’t you do the only thing you could do as an apology to those engineers and the members of the UTU as a whole, RESIGN. You have proven you are not qualified to hold any office in the United Transportation Union.” However, on November 1, 2004, Paul Thompson signed a Letter of Intent with the carriers that grants the UTU exclusive representation of trainmen and requires BLET members to pay maintenance fees to the UTU in order to maintain their seniority as a trainman. He refuses to allow BLET members who are working as trainmen to be represented by their chosen representative — the BLET local chairmen. Paul Thompson insists that grievance and discipline matters involving employees working in train service be handled exclusively by the UTU representatives.

Rumors persist that the NCCC granted the UTU exclusivity and seniority maintenance through the November 1, 2004 Letter of Intent (LOI) in exchange for the UTU agreeing to open national negotiations on the issue of a reduction in crew consist requirements. Allegedly, UTU leaders acted in a retromingent manner after the LOI was implemented by taking the position crew consist would have to be negotiated with the individual general committees rather than through national negotiations. Hence, the lawsuit filed by UTU in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois to “defend crew consist and FELA.”

If this rumor is not true, it would be very easy to put it to bed. Paul Thompson could request a letter from NCCC Chairman Robert Allen and the vice presidents of labor relations from the railroads represented by the NCCC, stating that this is not true.

By the way Paul, at the CRLO meetings in February of this year, you notified all of the rail labor union presidents in attendance the UTU would submit a proposal to the NCCC that would “eliminate frivolous FELA lawsuits.” The BLET believes there is already a system in place to determine if a FELA lawsuit is frivolous – it’s called the judicial process. Nonetheless Paul, why not share the “proposal” with all of rail labor.

In summary, the March 3, 2005 letter issued by Paul Thompson can only be described as artful rhetoric. In fact, the subject which led to his letter — a possible A-card drive on Norfolk Southern property — has arisen at the request of UTU represented employees on that property.

Does Paul Thomson have a creative memory, an absence of memory or a memory void of truth? You decide!

Monday, March 21, 2005
bentley@ble-t.org

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