NMB backs BLET on election interference

Management at shortline improperly influenced workers during representation election

The National Mediation Board (NMB) is conducting a second representation election at the Stillwater Central Railroad after ruling that the carrier violated the Railway Labor Act by improperly influencing workers during the original election process.

"The carrier's intent was to influence employees and convey the idea that the union was unnecessary," the NMB determined. "The Board has found such deliberate conduct intended to influence employees in their selection of a representative to be contrary to Section 2, Ninth of the Railway Labor Act."

The NMB issued its ruling on March 15 after a protest by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, which is seeking to organize approximately 20 train and engine service employees at the Kansas-based shortline railroad.

An August 2005 representation election at Stillwater resulted in only nine of 20 workers voting in favor of BLET. However, the BLET filed charges of election interference on August 26, 2005, after learning how the carrier had improperly influenced the vote.

"During election campaigns, a carrier must act in a manner that does not influence, interfere with, or coerce employees' selection of a collective bargaining representative," the NMB wrote in its 46-page ruling. "When considering whether employees' freedom of choice of a collective bargaining representative has been impaired, the Board examines the totality of the circumstances as established through investigation. In such an evaluation, each conclusion may not constitute interference in and of itself, but when combined with other factors, the totality evidences improper interference."

After months of investigation, the NMB agreed with BLET, ruling that conditions for a fair and unbiased election were tainted after the carrier: fired three train and engine service employees who were known union supporters; held numerous group and one-on-one meetings with workers; changed work policies for train and engine service employees; and gave workers pay increases during the election process.

"Guys literally lost their jobs helping organize the property," said BLET Organizing Director Tommy Miller. "The NMB ruling is a victory. It lets the people on the Stillwater Central know we've stuck with them. We're not going to desert them. The BLET is the type of organization that will stick with you."

If the carrier does not appeal the NMB's ruling, then the re-vote is expected to take place as this issue of the News goes to press.

During the election process, the carrier improperly influenced the vote by holding mandatory group meetings and informal one-on-one meetings with workers. The carrier had no history of holding such meetings prior to the BLET's presence on the property. During these meetings, the carrier implied that it was willing to address worker concerns and that union representation was not necessary. The carrier also implied that working conditions might deteriorate and that wages might decline if the union was voted in.

Following the mandatory group meetings, the carrier issued a document titled, "SLWC Items of Adjustment for Policy." Many of the "Items of Adjustment" went into effect immediately, addressing some of the workers' grievances expressed during the group meetings. Among the changes: the carrier began making bottled and filtered water available; job assignments were posted publicly for the first time; job assignments were rotated; and workers were guaranteed 40 hours of work per week.

In addition to the work rule improvements, which the NMB ruled were implemented to influence the vote, the carrier also gave wage increases to 11 of 20 eligible voters. The carrier could not prove that those wage increases were mandated in advance, which implies that the carrier granted them to influence the outcome of the election.

Headquartered in Pittsburg, Kan., the Stillwater Central is a subsidiary of Watco, a transportation company that owns 16 shortline railroads operating in 15 different states.

The Stillwater Central operates over 275 miles of track in Oklahoma, primarily handling mined, mineral, and industrial products.

"The BLET is pleased that we were able to bring about positive change, even though we are not their bargaining agent yet," Miller said. "The BLET is looking forward to the next representation election, and hopefully we can further enhance their wages, benefits and working conditions."


© 2006 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen