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BLET members vote to authorize strike at Wheeling & Lake Erie

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, June 29 — One hundred percent of voting BLET members working for the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway (WLE) have voted in favor of withdrawing from service should the union and the railroad fail to reach an agreement to settle their contract dispute under processes set forth in the Railway Labor Act (RLA).

In late May, the BLET mailed strike ballots to over 150 BLET members, more than 75 of whom hold seniority as both locomotive engineers and trainmen. Ballots were counted in late June and 100 percent of the ballots cast in each craft were in favor of a strike should one become necessary to attain the Organization’s bargaining goals.

BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said the unanimous vote in favor of a strike indicates a clear mandate from BLET members that they are prepared to fight for a fair agreement.

As background, the BLET holds the contract to represent both the locomotive engineer and the trainman crafts at WLE. BLET served Section 6 notices to begin contract negotiations on January 5, 2012. The union requested mediation on August 6, 2012, and a mediator was assigned the following day.

For nearly five years, the parties have continued to bargain under the auspices of NMB mediation. The parties reached a tentative agreement in September 2016, but it was rejected by over 90% of voting members in each craft. On May 25, 2017, President Pierce formally requested that the NMB declare an impasse and proffer arbitration to the parties as a possible prelude to being released from mediation. The strike vote allows BLET members to exercise self-help in defense of their agreements should the RLA process be exhausted without new agreements being reached.

On September 20, 2013 — about six weeks after mediation began — BLET locomotive engineers and trainmen were forced to strike over the railroad’s repudiation of the union’s collective bargaining agreements. Specifically, the carrier used management officials to perform the work of bargaining unit employees, and ignored crew consist agreements by operating single-person operations in an attempt to eliminate trainmen. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the BLET’s position that the WLE’s use of managers in place of union conductors was, indeed, a major dispute under the RLA. In January of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition filed by WLE to review the Sixth Circuit decision, thus vindicating the BLET’s position and solidifying a major victory for WLE’s union membership.

“I want to thank our Wheeling & Lake Erie locomotive engineers and trainmen for their high level of solidarity in the strike vote process,” President Pierce said. “This is a critical time in our long-standing dispute and I urge all WLE members to continue standing strong and united.”

Friday, June 30, 2017
bentley@ble-t.org

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