Fighting for your best interest

By Dennis R. Pierce
BLET National President

(BLET Editor’s Note: The following message from President Pierce has been excerpted from the upcoming October/November issue of the Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen News.)

CLEVELAND, November 17 — As this Newsletter goes to press, the BLET and the other unions who have not settled their contract differences are in the final stages of the negotiating process that is set forth in the Railway Labor Act. With PEB 243’s report and recommendations in hand, both the Unions and the Carriers must now make some very important decisions. Ultimately, one of two things will happen.

The first option is for the Carriers and each Union to reach a voluntary settlement in the round, with the PEB’s recommendations driving this final attempt to negotiate. Both good and bad can come from this option.

On the good side, any time the parties settle their differences without using a third party, totally removed from the impact of the final outcome, they generally benefit. If for no other reason, a voluntary settlement means that the membership has controlled the outcome through the ratification process, instead of allowing a third party — in this case, a highly unpredictable congress — to control the outcome.

On the down side, the only settlement available to us now includes the concessions on health and welfare benefits that we have steadfastly rejected from Day One. Add that if we do not reach and/or ratify a voluntary settlement, congress will be forced to take control. We cannot rule this option out as there are certain things that our membership will just not abide.

There are many in our union who feel that their issues in this round have been neglected by the Carriers and by the PEB. Even if the odds are against us, many of our members cannot reconcile the large gap between the way our corporate employers treat themselves and the way they treat us. We all struggle with the gap between CEO compensation and the compensation and benefits that engineers receive. This is especially true in light of the fact that not one load of freight gets delivered from producer to consumer without an engineer doing his or her part in the process.

Unfortunately, if Congress does take control of our dispute, there are concerns over what those leading the war on the workers in congress will do. A congressional settlement requires legislation to be passed by both the House and the Senate, and signed into law by the President. We have all seen products from the legislative process that were offensive to labor, and we must assess those risks as we move forward.

The gulf that lies between these two options now places us at a crossroads as unionized railroad workers. We know in our hearts that there will be closure to the bargaining round one way or the other, regardless of which path we choose. But we also know that we must find a way to bring closure to this bargaining round that insures that every ounce of the union’s energy was put into our effort, that every possible solution was considered, and that no stone was left unturned. As your National President, trust that I do not take any of this lightly.

We are working now to find a way to negotiate a settlement in the round that, if nothing else, minimizes the impact of what the PEB has recommended for our health and welfare benefits. Time will tell if that effort is successful, but again, this must be part of our effort to insure that every possible solution is considered.

In the end, I know that — like my predecessors before me — I will have to make a very difficult and lonely decision. There are those who say that this is the membership’s decision to make, and that I should submit the last best offer that we receive to the membership and allow them to democratically make the decision. Others argue that, absent meaningful changes to the PEB recommendation, the answer should not only be no, but that no such tentative agreement should even be submitted for ratification. You can trust that I do not take this decision lightly either.

Along with our focused National Wage Team, I am working with the Presidents of the other unions who have not reached settlements, so that BLET members can benefit from the strength that our numbers can provide. I have also scheduled a meeting with all of the General Committees that are affected in any way by the outcome of this bargaining round.

I know that many of you work on properties where your wage and work rule issues have been settled, and that you did not expect to pay additional health care costs when you ratified your wage packages. Indeed, our central fight has been to prevent that from happening. I can assure you that the input from each property, no matter how it is situated, will guide which path we choose to follow.

Our efforts on your behalf will continue until this fight is over, but please know this. We could not have gotten this far without the strong support of each and every man and woman in the BLET, because you have stepped up to the plate whenever we asked. As this dispute moves ever closer to final resolution there is no doubt in my mind that we will call upon you again, and that you will respond as you have in the past. Regardless of the outcome of the pending struggle, I take great comfort in your support.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

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