BLE, Tex Mex sign landmark remote control agreement

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers has reached a landmark contract agreement with the Texas-Mexican Railway that allows for the safe implementation of remote control operations and provides major pay raises.

"It's a good agreement," said BLE Tex-Mex General Chairman George Leyendecker. "There's nothing like it in the land."

The agreement, ratified by an 81 percent majority of workers, gives remote control assignments to both locomotive engineers and conductors. Job protections are written into the contract for both crafts, assuring that no current employees will lose their jobs or be furloughed due to remote control implementation.

"Not only did we reach an agreement with management regarding the implementation of remote control operations, it is our opinion that we established an operation that is vastly superior to the agreement that the Class One properties reached and implemented with the United Transportation Union," BLE International Vice-President Merle Geiger said.

"The BLE still has some very grave concerns over the manner in which remote control locomotive operations have been introduced into the industry," he continued. "The Organization still believes that the Federal Railroad Administration has not done its duty in setting forth regulations regarding the operation of remote control and in establishing the proper training of remote control operators. This Organization will continue in its endeavor to convince the FRA to do its job and to not continue to sit on the sidelines on this most important matter."

Geiger and Leyendecker were part of a successful negotiating team that also included Mike Clark, Juan Garza Jr. and David Snow - members of BLE Division 244 (Laredo, Texas) who work as conductors for Tex-Mex.

"With three conductors and two locomotive engineers on the Negotiating Committee, this was a total team effort," Brother Leyendecker said. "All credit and accolades should go to the negotiating committee as a whole."

Vice-President Geiger explained the BLE/Tex-Mex agreement, which will allow remote control assignments to be handled much more efficiently than on the Class One railroads.

"What the BLE was able to accomplish in the Tex-Mex agreement is to return to the historic manner in filling these assignments," Vice-President Geiger said. "We have placed a qualified locomotive engineer in the Lead Remote Operator position and conductors will fill the Remote Operator position. On Tex-Mex there no longer are any 'yard assignments,' per se. Yard assignments on this property have been replaced by TSE (Traveling Switch Engines). In addition to performing work outside of terminal limits, they handle all of the switching formerly performed by yard assignments.

"BLE assignments will be much more productive than remote control yard operations under the UTU agreement. BLE members assigned to remote control operations will have a much greater flexibility in performing their duties."

With a federally certified locomotive engineer on the job, the Tex-Mex crews will have the flexibility to operate trains by traditional methods or by remote control, depending on which method is more efficient in any given situation.

"The operators under the BLE Agreement will have the flexibility to operate in the traditional mode when it makes sense to do so and will alleviate some of the safety concerns that we have with the remote control operations in place on the Class Ones," Vice-President Geiger said. "Further, the carrier will have the flexibility to use remote control crews to do traditional work, such as dogcatching, staging trains outside the terminal, and doing outside terminal work that requires a certified locomotive engineer at the controls of the locomotive."

Train crews will be compensated handsomely for their increased flexibility and efficiency. General Chairman Leyendecker summarized the pay issue by stating that some crew members could receive pay increases of 45 percent when they go into remote control operations. Vice-President Geiger explained in more detail.

"In exchange for the additional flexibility that the BLE Agreement gives the Tex-Mex, the carrier agreed to compensate the engineer and the conductor as though they were working conductor-only assignments under the UTU Crew Consist and TSE Agreements including all Crew Consist payments, Foot Board Yardmaster payments and Air Pay. The BLE has tapped into the UTU Crew Consist allowances for engineers," Geiger said.

"Payments will be based on the engineer and conductor seniority date. For Pre-85 employees that equates to approximately an additional $100 per day in addition to the basic day. For Post-85 employees it equates to approximately $40.00 in addition to the basic day. Further, both crew members will receive an additional 45 minutes at the daily basic rate of pay and the Lead Operator position will receive the Engineer Certification Allowance."

Vice-President Geiger also explained the superior job protections outlined in the Tex-Mex agreement.

"The BLE has established true employee protection based solely on the implementation of remote control on the property," he said. "All employees on the roster at the time of signing receive said protection. Prior to any protected operating employee being furloughed, said employee will have the right to mark up as a brakeman to one of these Remote Control assignments. When an employee marks to the brakeman position, the Remote Control Assignment automatically reverts to a regular TSE and the assignment remains as such until the employee filling the brakeman position is able to hold a job elsewhere at which time the assignment will automatically revert to a Remote Control Assignment."

Vice-President Geiger recognized Tex-Mex General Manager James Riney and Labor Relations Officer Lynn Lambert for their efforts.

"For if not for their vision and courage in the face of pressure from other carriers, we would not have been successful in reaching this landmark agreement," he said. "There were certain people within the NCCC who stated that it would be a waste of time on the part of Tex-Mex management because they would never be able to reach an agreement with the BLE on remote control. Obviously we have proven that element wrong."

In addition to Brothers Clark, Leyendecker, Garza and Snow, Vice-President Geiger also thanked Tommy Miller, BLE Director of Organizing, for helping to get the agreement ratified. "His hard work in this endeavor proves, again, his value and commitment to our Organization," Geiger said.

Brother Miller, who helped to organize the Tex-Mex property last year, said unity was the key to success.

"This is what happens when we can be on the same page and all work together toward one common cause for the benefit of everyone," he said. "We have one of the best agreements in the country as far as remote control is concerned, and I thank everyone for participating in the meetings to explain the agreement in Houston, Laredo and Corpus Christi."



© 2003 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers