BLE first rail union to support proposed BNSF-CN merger

With the unanimous support of the General Chairmen who represent locomotive engineers on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad and the Canadian National Railway, including its Grand Trunk Western and Illinois Central components, BLE International President Ed Dubroski on February 29 signed a letter with the Chief Executive Officers of BNSF and CN under which, in exchange for certain labor protection commitments, the BLE will support the proposed merger of the two companies.

President Dubroski acknowledged the efforts of First Vice-President Jim McCoy in helping secure the job securities, and thanked all general chairmen involved for their professionalism in fighting for the deal.

In exchange for BLE support of the proposed merger, the carriers have agreed to an historic package of protections for nearly 10,000 BLE members, including the following:

The commitment made by BNSF and CN is a giant step toward reversing the 17-year practice of overriding collective bargaining agreements that has become known as "cram down." Under "cram down" entire collective bargaining agreements were abolished in the UP/SP and Conrail/CSX/NS mergers. The BLE-BNSF-CN pact increases the pressure on the Surface Transportation Board and the railroad industry to abolish the practice.

The BLE's decision also was shaped by certain characteristics of the proposed merger that sets it apart from others in recent years.

BNSF and CN will retain separate identities under the North American Railways, Inc., banner. The properties are end-to-end in the U.S., for the most part. Therefore, the potential for a substantial reduction in employment levels and the likelihood of coordination problems, as experienced in other mergers, is greatly diminished. Also, since the financial transaction is equity-based, we will not see layoffs, such as the recent furlough of 550 maintenance of way workers by the Norfolk Southern, in order to service debt.

International railroad transactions are not new. CN has controlled the Grand Trunk Western for decades, and previously merged with the Illinois Central. Over half of CN stock is owned by American investors. Several U.S. railroads also have ownership stakes in Mexico's railway system.

The proposed BNSF/CN merger is an example of the trickle-down impact on transportation industries of global economic pressures on North American manufacturing. Labor opposition has done nothing to stop mergers of U.S. railroads in recent decades, and these global economic forces are stronger than domestic pressures, further reducing our ability to influence the outcome.

The BLE commitment to support the merger is the strongest action we can take to protect our members' interests on those railroads. It also is intended to establish a fairer framework under which any possible future mergers - domestic as well as international - are reviewed by government agencies.

CN and BNSF announced their proposed combination on Dec. 20, 1999. The combination will create a rail system stretching 50,000 miles, linking eight Canadian provinces and 33 states in the western and central United States, and employing 67,000 people. The combined system will offer North American rail shippers: greatly expanded single-line service options and gateway choices; a coordinated marketing plan; reduced transit times; enhanced reliability; unified customer service information, including easier tracking, tracing and ordering; simplified billing; greater capacity; and improved asset utilization.

2000 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers