The Tex Mex saga

Why the UTU fought to eliminate craft lines on Laredo shortline

While the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers was victorious in preserving distinct operating craft lines on the Union Pacific Railroad, the UTU destroyed them on the Texas Mexican Railway.

It is a sad story of craft elimination, and is typical of the slash and burn mentality of UTU leaders over the past 31 years. To prevent the BLE from holding a representation election for locomotive engineers that it almost certainly would have won, the UTU persuaded the National Mediation Board to combine the locomotive engineer and conductor crafts into a single "Train and Engine Service Employee" class on the Tex Mex.

UTU members come to BLE

More than one year ago, UTU members on the Tex Mex, a shortline on the U.S.-Mexico border headquartered in Laredo, Texas, approached the BLE and expressed interest in joining our organization. The 102 Tex Mex operating employees had been represented by the UTU for more than 25 years, but had become so dissatisfied with UTU leadership that a majority of locomotive engineers signed "A" cards, authorizing a representation election on the property.

In September of 1999, the BLE petitioned the National Mediation Board to hold a representation election for only the locomotive engineer craft. The UTU International, surprised to learn of the possible vote, petitioned the NMB to hold off on the election. They argued that, "The proper craft or class on Tex Mex is Train and Engine Service Employees."

NMB halts election

Even though BLE sought the representation election in September of 1999, the NMB held its decision on the case until March 1, 2000, the day after the specially appointed three-member panel of labor relations experts issued its decision in the Union Pacific case. In Union Pacific, the panel ruled correctly that locomotive engineers and conductors represent two distinct crafts.

In Tex Mex, unfortunately, the NMB ruled -- based on almost identical testimony from the UTU and the carrier -- that the correct craft or class should be "Train and Engine Service Employees." Based on this ruling, NMB then dismissed BLE's application for a representation election for locomotive engineers.

Outraged by this decision, Tex Mex workers reacted quickly. In a matter of days, they signed enough A-cards to have an election for both conductors and engineers under the newly combined "Train and Engine Service Employee" craft.

NMB received the A-cards from BLE on March 7, and sanctioned another representation election.

NMB halts election, again

Then mysteriously -- after filing all the paperwork, assigning an investigator, and obtaining a list of eligible voters from Tex Mex - the NMB quashed BLE's application for a representation election. Because of the creation of the single operating craft, the NMB ruled, a two-year ban on representation elections was placed on Tex Mex to promote "labor stability."

Throughout the process, a vast majority of Tex Mex workers pledged allegiance to the BLE, so much so that it became obvious that BLE would have won both representation elections had they been allowed to take place.

Tex Mex workers condemn UTU President

On January 6, 59 Tex Mex workers signed a letter condemning UTU President Charles Little for his attempt to force a combined craft of "Train and Engine Service Employees" down the throats of locomotive engineers and conductors. With only 102 operating employees on Tex Mex, the 59 signatures made it clear the BLE had a strong numerical advantage in any upcoming elections.

"We, on the Tex Mex, view your attempt to combine the crafts as a carrier initiated ploy that, if successful, will drastically weaken the representation of Tex Mex employees," the 59 workers wrote. "Your position that the lines of distinction between the craft of locomotive engineer and conductor have become blurred to the point of extinction is totally without merit on the Tex Mex."

In spite of this position taken by its own members, UTU proceeded to deliver damning testimony which allowed NMB to rule that the crafts were, indeed, combined.

UTU becomes desperate

The BLE obtained a copy of the January 6 letter signed by the 59 Tex Mex workers and posted it, along with the signatures, to its Internet website on March 21. Faced with such overwhelming numbers against it, UTU leaders resorted to outright fabrication and distortion of the facts in a desperate attempt to turn the tide.

On March 24, UTU posted a letter to its website written by UTU member David Snow, alleging that the certified letter and signatures posted to the BLE website were forged.

"A fake certified letter and plain pages with the signatures of 59 Tex-Mex employees accompanied the phony story," a UTU "news" release stated.

Even though Snow signed the January 6 letter that was posted to the BLE website, he alleged that he signed a blank piece of paper and never read the letter. Snow also falsely accused BLE officers of circulating the letter and gathering signatures.

Setting the record straight

In reality, the letter was written and circulated by J.J. Vara, a Tex Mex locomotive engineer and member of the UTU. Vara states that he -- not BLE officers -- visited Snow's house, reviewed the letter with him, and watched as Snow voluntarily added his signature to the list of names.

In a March 26 letter to UTU President Little, Vara expressed dismay that his letter had been dubbed a "fake" by Snow.

"I am grieved to read March 24th on the UTU Web site that my certified letter of January 6, 2000, to you has been termed a fake by Brother Snow. I alone wrote and took the letter to his house where he sat and read the original, we talked, and he signed an approval page that brothers before and after him signed," Vara wrote. "My January letter to you was approved by 59 members in expressing our opposition to becoming 'Train and Engine Service Employees' and our concern about one labor union attempting to destroy another labor union.

Conclusion

The BLE must wait two long years before coming to the rescue of Tex Mex workers. But sadly, nothing can be done to repair the damage done by UTU leadership. In their continued lust for dues money and political power, UTU leaders have ravaged the craft lines on Tex Mex and destroyed the historical crafts of locomotive engineer and conductor.

"Instead of protecting our jobs, UTU has given them away," Vara wrote. "UTU has gutted the crafts on the Tex Mex. UTU has brought in no new jobs. When the UTU was caught and sanctioned by the AFL-CIO, you disaffiliated. UTU lost the representation election on the Union Pacific. UTU is a rogue union. Yet here you come bellowing that you are the savior of all rail labor and that there is no distinction between engineers and conductors."

The bottom line, as usual with UTU leaders, comes down to money.

"The issue on the Tex Mex Railway is all about dues money and keeping your salary, isn't it, Charlie?" wrote Vara in his March 26 letter to the UTU President. "In 26 years, we never got this much one-on-one attention from the UTU until the BLE showed up.

"Since it's all about dues money, don't you remember me? I've paid 39 years of BRT and UTU dues. Are you now buying elections with the war chest money?"

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© 2000 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers