UTU to charge 'maintenance fees'

As the BLET News was about to go to press, the National Division received a copy of a letter of intent signed by Robert Allen, Chairman of the National Railway Labor Conference, and Paul Thompson, President of the United Transportation Union. The letter, dated Nov. 1, 2004, gives the UTU the right to implement exclusive representation, seniority maintenance fees and seniority retention fees on Burlington Northern Santa Fe, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific.

In essence, the agreement will force trainmen to pay the UTU the equivalent of monthly dues even though they belong to the BLET.

Seniority maintenance fees require train service employees to pay a monthly fee to UTU to "accumulate train service seniority." Seniority retention fees require locomotive engineers who belong to the BLET to pay a fee to the UTU to retain train service seniority. If they don't pay the fee, then their seniority in train service is "extinguished." The latter arrangement will be in effect on properties where the BLET has a seniority maintenance agreement in place.

UTU can implement the letter of intent on a general committee basis on a territory as small as a seniority district, subject to its ratification procedures.

"The way it is written, UTU General Chairmen will take all the blame if the members revolt," President Hahs said. "The UTU leadership in Cleveland has given them the gun - the General Chairmen will be the ones who have to pull the trigger. They need to think about that."

The UTU's action is a last-gasp effort to stop the financial bleeding caused by a huge loss of trainmen membership to the BLET, which recently merged with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

"The UTU is losing members left and right," BLET National President Don Hahs said. "By implementing a nationwide seniority maintenance fee program, the UTU is attempting to pick the pockets of members and non-members alike.

"We had an idea that the UTU was up to something when, out of the blue, it issued a press release on October 15 claiming that the BLET had implemented seniority maintenance agreements on Conrail Shared Assets and the Kansas City Southern. BLET has had those agreements in place for quite some time in response to UTU's seniority maintenance fees on those properties."

According to President Hahs, what is missing from the October 15 UTU news release is the fact that the UTU was the first union to implement these fees at Conrail and KCS. The UTU pioneered the concept of seniority maintenance fees years ago, requiring engineers to pay a fee or join the UTU in order to maintain their seniority. BLET challenged UTU's seniority maintenance all the way to the Supreme Court.

"The BLET implemented seniority maintenance only after the UTU did so," President Hahs said. "We would never even have dreamed of such an unpleasant concept had the UTU not done so first."

UTU's letter of intent will force engineers and trainmen who are members of the BLET to pay a fee to the UTU. "The UTU's October 15 press release is nothing more than a smokescreen to draw attention from its plan to implement exclusive representation, seniority maintenance and seniority retention fees on a national level," President Hahs said.

"It is unconscionable that UTU would make an agreement forcing post-'85 workers to take promotion to engineer on the one hand, and then force them to pay double dues on the other."

BLET General Chairman Tom Roberts explained the reason behind his General Committee's action to begin seniority maintenance fees at Conrail.

"UTU Exclusive Representation is my target, not UTU Members," said the Conrail SAA/CSXT Northern District General Chairman. "On Conrail, seniority accumulation fees are dependent upon UTU exclusive right to represent trainmen."

In 1996, the UTU General Committee on Conrail served notice that, pursuant to its 1996 agreement, it would begin a seniority aintenance fee program, requiring BLE engineers to pay a monthly fee to UTU to continue accumulating trainman seniority. Within 30 days, the BLE General Chairman at the time, Bob Godwin, polled the BLE Conrail General Committee and, as a result, withdrew the BLE's exclusive right to represent engineers.

About a week ago, the BLET General Committee on Conrail served notice that, pursuant to its 1996 agreement, it would begin a seniority maintenance fee program, requiring UTU engineers to pay a seniority maintenance fee to continue accumulating engine service seniority, unless the UTU withdraws its exclusive right to represent trainmen. It is hoped that the UTU will give up that exclusive right as the BLE did in 1996, Roberts said.

"Only if the UTU fails to withdraw exclusive representation will any UTU member pay 'double dues,'" Roberts said. "We are only doing what the UTU did in 1996. Clearly, UTU exclusive representation is my target, not UTU members."

The BLET National Division will convene its Advisory Board and all General Chairmen to discuss this issue and determine possible solutions.



© 2004 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen