BLET provides 'Railroading 101' training to new NMB arbitrators

Just like the rest of the railroad industry, which had to hire and train new employees to replace a generation of retiring workers and to increase staffing to meet increases in traffic, the arbitration end of the business is facing similar challenges.

It has become necessary to recruit National Mediation Board-certified arbitrators who have been practicing in other industries for railroad work. Some of the new referees have experience with other Divisions of the NRAB, but none have heard First Division, or operating craft, cases before.

The BLET Arbitration Department, in conjunction with the National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC), and with the cooperation of Union Pacific Railroad, sponsored three railroad-orientation classes for new arbitrators in December of 2006.

The purpose of the class was to provide fundamental information concerning locomotive and train operations and to expose the new arbitrator to the locomotive engineer work environment and railroad culture. The three arbitrators attended the all-day classes, which were conducted in Chicago.

Doug Davidson of the BLET National Division's Arbitration Department taught the workshops.

"The workshop was a condensed version of a Railroading 101 class," Davidson said.

A member of BLET Division 96 in Chicago, Davidson works under the direction of National Vice-President Richard K. Radek and serves as a labor member for the First Division of the National Railroad Adjustment Board.

"We began in a classroom with a general overview of the responsibilities and duties of the locomotive engineer," Davidson said. "This was followed by a module on engineer certification and in particular, the relationship between Part 240 violations and the collective bargaining discipline."

That portion of the workshop was followed by a presentation on train-track dynamics, focusing on in-train forces and on what an engineer must do to control slack and speed. A Union Pacific representative demonstrated locomotive event recorder technology on a laptop computer and there was a discussion concerning event recorder data as evidence.

The class then continued in the field where the new arbitrators inspected rail cars and locomotives, looked at track structure, switches, signal systems and safety devices. Each class visited a manned interlocking tower and listened in to radio transmissions governing train movements. Davidson said the arbitrators were given the opportunity to throw a hand switch in the yard.

"The highlight of the class was for each referee to spend time in the locomotive cab with a BLET engineer while that member operated a UP passenger train," Davidson said. "The arbitrators observed first-hand engineers passing through work zones, reacting to trespassers and grade crossing hazards and professionally handling their trains.

"Most beneficial to the new arbitrators was the conversations with the BLET engineers, which allowed the referees an unfiltered view of the railroad culture. Quality of life topics included working in unassigned service, being on call 24/7, railroad discipline, critical incidents, stress on the family at home, and the stress that comes from working in a performance-driven and safety sensitive position."

All three arbitrators later wrote letters to the BLET Arbitration Department expressing that the classes were very instructive and that they all gained a greater appreciation of the demands placed upon our craft.

Additional classes for other new arbitrators will be scheduled soon.



© 2007 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen