Anti-remote control billboard disappears

Remote control technology has caused 60 locomotive engineer jobs to disappear nationwide since the beginning of 2002 -- and now it has caused a billboard to disappear.

In April, the members of BLE Division 532 spent just under $1,000 to lease a billboard overlooking the rail yard where they work in Richmond, Va. They used the billboard to post a message protesting CSX Transportation's use of remote control locomotives. Even though the Division paid to have their message displayed for a full month, it disappeared after only two weeks.

The billboard's message read: "Remote control trains? No engineer in the cab? Stop the madness! Call your Congressman today! Stop paying dues to a union that eliminates jobs! Join BLE Division 532 today!"

The billboard was situated outside the control tower window and in plain view of the local trainmaster and yardmaster. It received positive responses from BLE and UTU members alike.

"Most UTU guys on the ground around here don't want remote control," said M.E. "Ed" Mellott, Local Chairman of Division 532.

However, the BLE message mysteriously disappeared and was replaced with a military recruitment ad.

Brother Mellott contacted the billboard company that his division had paid to lease the advertising space. According to Brother Mellott, a representative from the billboard company told him CSX had contacted her company asking that the BLE message be removed. She told Brother Mellott that CSXT believed the message was a breach of the billboard company's contract with CSXT, primarily because the billboard was located on CSXT property. She further told Brother Mellott that CSXT threatened to knock down all the company's billboards located on CSXT property if the message was not removed.

News of this controversy reached a reporter at Trains Magazine's website, Trains.com. A reporter from Trains.com contacted CSXT headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla., to inquire about the disappearing billboard.

CSX spokeswoman Kathy Burns said the billboard was not on CSX property, and that the decision to ask that the billboard be removed did not go through proper approval channels within the company. She also said that CSX would apologize to Brother Mellott. "We clearly made a mistake," she told Trains.com.

Notification about the billboard went to CSX's real estate subsidiary, Burns said, which contacted the billboard company and asked that it be removed because the message "was offensive."

Brother Mellott said he was contacted via phone by a high-ranking CSX director of labor relations on May 23. The officer apologized for the billboard "misunderstanding" and said the railroad would not object if BLE Division 532 wished to pay to have the same message posted on the same billboard.

After taking down the BLE's message in mid-April, the billboard company offered to transfer the message to another location for two weeks or to refund half of the BLE's money. The BLE Brothers chose to have half of their $1,000 refunded. "We felt we had made our point, so we opted to get our money back," Mellott said.

 

© 2002 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers