New STB rules to govern rail mergers fail to address 'cramdown'

In comments submitted to the Surface Transportation Board (STB), the Rail Labor Division of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, (TTD) declared that the Board's proposed new rules to govern rail mergers "will do nothing to reduce labor-management conflict over cramdown."

The rail unions took particular issue with new language in the proposed rule whereby the STB would only be required to provide "adequate" protection for rail employees affected by a merger. The comments pointed out that such language is, in fact, at odds with the Board's governing statute, which provides that a rule cannot be adopted that will result in protective conditions that do not provide a "fair arrangement for employees."

"The railroads make a take it or leave it offer knowing that they can get whatever they want through arbitration or from the STB," said Rail Labor Division Chair Edward Dubroski, International President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. "As our comments point out, the STB's latest proposal does nothing more than pat rail employees on the head and send them back to the bargaining table where nothing has changed and where all the cards are stacked in favor of rail management."

Underscoring the almost 20-year tilt against employees during merger proceedings, the comments noted that the STB has never ruled that an arbitrator went too far in allowing a collective bargaining agreement to be broken. And the ICC and STB have overturned arbitrators who refused to rule in favor of rail management.

While the rail unions agreed with the Board that it would be best if rail labor and management could negotiate a resolution to this problem, they stressed that under current STB precedent, the process is skewed heavily towards management and leaves the rail carriers with no incentive to negotiate.

"For two decades now, thousands of rail workers have seen their hard-earned collective bargaining rights destroyed because the STB and its predecessor agency, the Interstate Commerce Commission, gave railroad management free reign to abrogate contracts and trample on the rights of workers in the name of merger mania," TTD President Sonny Hall said. "We had hoped the new STB rule would put an end to the cramdown policy; however, as presently drafted, the STB's proposal uses some good sounding words but does little to reverse course and protect the collective bargaining agreements of railroad employees. We are hopeful that the STB in the final rule exercises its authority to end this perverse policy."

2000 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers