Rail Labor to resume bargaining with carriers

Pressure from labor forces NCCC to return to negotiations

Late on February 13, the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC) withdrew its request for release from mediation, representing a victory for BLET members and all of Rail Labor.

Withdrawing the request means that the NCCC has agreed to continue bargaining with Rail Labor as opposed to seeking a forced agreement through Congress via a Presidential Emergency Board.

"It was a hard-earned victory for our members and Rail Labor," said BLET National President Don Hahs. "Countless telephone calls, e-mails and faxes from BLET members helped persuade the National Mediation Board to keep the NCCC in mediation, and pressured the NCCC to continue bargaining."

As part of a joint campaign, BLET and UTU members bombarded the National Mediation Board (NMB) with letters, faxes, e-mails and telephone calls in an effort to make a point: Rail Labor wants a negotiated settlement during this round of collective bargaining.

Since February 7, the NMB switchboard has received an average of one telephone call per minute requesting that the Board keep the parties at the bargaining table.

Substantial support for the campaign came from the Rail Labor Bargaining Coalition (RLBC), Change to Win Federation, the AFL-CIO, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Labor's campaign influenced two key Republican leaders in Congress, who issued stern warnings to the carriers not to seek the assistance of Congress in imposing a forced contract on Rail Labor through a Presidential Emergency Board.

Representative Don Young (R-Alaska), Chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, issued his warning on January 23. Representative Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, issued his warning on February 6.

"Congressional intervention in any transportation labor dispute should always be a very last resort," Rep. Young wrote. "My additional concern is that we may be headed for conflict among the branches of government. I therefore recommend that the Board carefully consider whether it would be prudent to release the parties from mediation before the courts have resolved the pending litigation."

Rep. LaTourette echoed Rep. Young's warning.

"Congressional intervention is neither assured nor guaranteed for either party if resolution is left to the Congress," Rep. LaTourette wrote. "Again, I encourage both parties to redouble their efforts to reach an agreement."

The rail carriers asked the NMB for a release from mediation on Dec. 14, 2005, less than a year into the current round of negotiations. Labor protested and the NMB set dates for more bargaining sessions, but the carriers refused to withdraw their request for release. After more pressure from Rail Labor, the carriers verbally agreed to withdraw their request, but failed to do so in writing. Escalating pressure from Rail Labor, as part of the BLET-UTU campaign, led to the carriers' February 13 letter formally withdrawing their request for release.

The BLET and UTU have worked jointly on the campaign, putting past differences aside. Driving the two unions together is the threat of reduced crew size, a dangerous idea put forth by the NCCC. Reducing crew size puts the lives of all rail workers and the general public in danger. It also seriously threatens the financial security of the Railroad Retirement system.

The carriers claim that experimental positive train control (PTC) will permit crew-size reduction and the permanent elimination of thousands of jobs. In fact, the carriers' attempt to reduce crew size has nothing to do with new technology and everything to do with increasing corporate profits and executive bonuses.

The carriers have told the National Transportation Safety Board that implementation of PTC is many years away. Moreover, the Federal Railroad Administration has not conducted a study into the safety and reliability of reduced crew size, nor its impact on an already highly fatigued workforce operating trains through congested areas carrying highly toxic hazmat during this era of heightened terrorist threats to the security of our nation's railroads.

As a show of good faith during the current campaign, the UTU has withdrawn its request for a single-craft representation election at the Union Pacific Railroad while the BLET has pledged to refrain from conducting organizing drives at UTU-represented properties.


© 2006 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen