Editorial: Safety hypocrites?

By Raymond A. Holmes
BLE Vice-President & U.S. National Legislative Representative
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers

On March 19, that other organization proclaimed that the BLE's protest of remote control operations was wrong headed and somehow the Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) was the proper forum for developing regulations for remote control operations (RCO).

The public needs to know that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has many methods to promulgate regulations outside of the RSAC. They have done so recently and will continue to do so. The RSAC will not take on a regulatory matter unless a majority of the 48 members vote in favor of it. Also, understand that the number of voting members of the RSAC provides a balance in favor of the railroads when combined with management related associations.

The RSACs - once chartered - move at a glacial pace and some eventually fail to deliver consensus regulations. Part of the problem is the RSAC working groups usually end up with the controversial issues that pit labor's safety interests against management's perceived need to increase productivity. The consensus-driven approach is often not enough to get the rule in place. There is a pattern developing by some of holding out for even greater concessions using the government's built-in procedural hurdles. When that tactic fails legal action is taken. In fact, after agreement by the full RSAC to revisions of 49 CFR Part 240, that other organization sued the FRA to stop implementation of the changes. While the BLE played by the rules and merely petitioned for necessary changes, that other organization, on three previous occasions, brought court action against the FRA on matters related to engineer certification. It is no wonder that the other organization's willingness to let their own members assume the risk of remote control operations was a better deal to the railroads than any long drawn out science based rulemaking process to implement remote control operations (RCO).

The BLE petition for RCO was presented to FRA for consideration in November 2000. The RSAC met in April of 2001, without an official Administrator. The subsequent meeting of the RSAC, to be held in September of 2001, was postponed because of the events of September 11, 2001. The full RSAC did not meet again until February of 2002. That was 15 months after the BLE petition had reached the FRA. Given the potential for serious consequences of RCO, the courts appeared to be a reasonable way to address FRA's reluctance to affirmatively protect railroad workers and the public through orderly implementation and regulation.

The BLE does not intend, as that other organization implies, to "burn its bridges with the FRA." In fact, our members are being asked to help the FRA gather more information to proceed with the necessary regulations to protect worker and public safety from poorly implemented RCO. BLE will continue to make a sincere effort to support the RSAC process and - despite the desire of that other organization to alienate our 36,000 active members from the railroads and government - we will continue to act responsibly and without hypocrisy when it comes to the safety of railroad workers. BLE believes in safety and cooperation to achieve it. We do not believe "cooperation" means doing what ever is expedient to achieve another goal such as destruction of the railroad crafts.

If that other organization wishes to point fingers and accuse the BLE of hypocrisy, then let's be frank and not forget the recent past.

On December 9, 1999, that other organization issued a press release, which read in part:

"UTU is totally opposed to remote-control operations and we have campaigned actively against them in North America and around the world. Lives have been needlessly lost because of remote controls in switching operations, and they are a danger to every operating employee The use of remote-controlled locomotives in switching operations is expected to lead to the loss of scores of jobs for operating employees." - Charles L. Little, former UTU President.

Just over a year and a half later, that other organization completely flip-flopped and signed a letter of intent with the national rail carriers to expeditiously implement nation-wide use of remote controls. The reason UTU suddenly embraced remote control can be found in the next to the last paragraph of Mr. Brunkenhoefer's March 19 post, where he stated: "Those who operate remote control will continue to be employed under collective bargaining agreements negotiated and administered by the UTU."

In other words, their active campaign against remote control for safety reasons went out the window when the carriers rewarded them with an agreement to represent employees using remote control. It's all about representation rights and administration of the agreement, not about safety. In nearly every remote control accident, UTU has agreed with the carriers that the accidents were caused by operator error and were not the fault of the technology or the fault of the carriers, who are forcing two people to do the work of three.

In a further display of UTU hypocrisy regarding remote control, one needs look no further than Mr. Brunkenhoefer himself, who made the following statement during the FRA's public hearings on remote control in Appleton, Wisc., on December 4 and 5, 1996:

"Only by being a party to a pointless death and disaster will the FRA and rail carriers be forced to rethink this insanity. We are urging them to rethink now, before the inevitable happens," said the UTU." - Railway Age, February 1997

The inevitable has happened. Will that other organization's leaders be driven by safety interests or by expediency and hypocrisy?

The BLE will continue to seek a responsible, safe means to remote control implementation.

We refuse to re-state our position and engage in another diatribe with that other organization. One organization (guess who?) never allows the truth to get in the way of a good story.



© 2003 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers