BLE, UTU safety summit with BNSF set for April 30
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) and the United Transportation Union (UTU) will hold a joint safety summit with management of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) on April 30 in Kansas City, Mo.
The original call for the summit came from UTU International President Byron A. Boyd Jr., on March 14. After BLE International President Edward Dubroski applauded the initiative, stating that "safe working conditions for operating employees, and indeed for all railroad workers, is an issue that must transcend rivalries between unions," Boyd proposed that both unions participate in the summit together.
"The very fact that we are working side-by-side at this safety summit says that the issue of safety for all locomotive engineers, conductors and trainmen bonds us all deeply together," said Dubroski. "I think BNSF knows how serious this is because they will be sitting across from both the BLE and UTU together."
"By working together we can accomplish twice as much for our members when it comes to safety," said Boyd. "We intend to begin setting things straight on the BNSF."
In a joint letter to BNSF President & CEO Matthew K. Rose, the leaders of both unions expressed concern over the unusually high number of accidents, injuries and fatalities suffered by train crew members on BNSF property in recent months.
"We are in agreement that focusing first on safety and an effective safety process will create a safer workplace for our members and your employees," wrote Dubroski and Boyd. "We are also in agreement that centering on past individual incidents would be unproductive in addressing our mutual interests. Past incidents can only be useful in what they tell us about what is needed to satisfy those interests."
The safety summit will be attended by top officers of all three organizations, including BLE and UTU general chairmen and state legislative board officers.
"We are always willing to talk about safety and working conditions at BNSF, and it seems to me that this type of dialogue could be beneficial," Rose wrote in response.
Commenting on tensions between the two unions, which reached a fever pitch in the past three years, UTU President Boyd characterized the safety summit as "a new beginning between" the BLE and UTU.
"We should seize upon this opportunity, and others that are sure to come about in the coming months, to mutually advance the causes of our memberships," said BLE President Dubroski.
BNSF safety practices have come under national media scrutiny in recent weeks, following the derailment of an Amtrak train in Iowa on March 18, which caused one death and more than 90 injuries.
Fifteen cars on a BNSF freight train derailed near Stanton, Iowa, on Dec. 13, apparently because a welded piece of a switch failed, causing a train wheel to go off the track and derailing the cars.
On New Year's Eve, part of a BNSF coal train derailed near Red Oak, Iowa, apparently because an overheated wheel bearing caused the wheel to fail and a coal car to drop down onto the roadbed.
A March 3 switching accident on the BNSF in Willmar, Minn., claimed the life of a switchman, UTU member Terry Weyh.
© 2001 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers