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US railroads demand concessions from 145,000 workers

By Jeff Lusanne - World Socialist Web Site, December 31, 2016

Major US freight railroads terminated long drawn-out contract negotiations with rail unions last month and invoked provisions for federal mediation. The railroads leading the contract talks are demanding that workers pay more for health care, accept minimal raises and agree to new concessions on working conditions.

The contract negotiation covers 145,000 employees in 11 unions, the largest of which are the United Transportation Union (UTU/SMART), Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), and Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWED). Representatives from most of the largest US railroads—Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Norfolk Southern, Kansas City Southern, and CSX—form the National Carrier’s Conference Committee (NCCC), which carries out the negotiations. Additional railroads and employees are covered or influenced by the contract, which sets the standard for the industry.

Negotiations began two years ago and agreements expired on December 31, 2015, but rail workers continue to labor under the previous contract. The railroads appear to be biding their time until the Trump administration takes office, a factor they apparently see working to their advantage.

Typical of railroad management’s attitude is a December 15 statement that declares, “Now is not the time for excessive demands. Railroad employees are among the most highly compensated in the nation.” That leads to a link describing compensation that is full of misleading data. That wages surpassed the inflation rate in the last 10 years is presented as an outrage. The wages that the railroad bosses decry often come from working far more than 40 hours a week, in potentially extreme circumstances.

Most egregious, perhaps, is the bulleted statement claiming that workers enjoy “11 national holidays and three weeks of vacation each year.” Railroads operate on nearly every major national holiday, and have strict “absenteeism” policies that penalize what they consider excessive time off. Notoriously, there is no schedule for operating employees, and they often work 12-hour shifts, longer if travel time is included, and are frequently away from home. A common challenge faced by many railroad workers is being forced to miss family events, holidays, and even funerals.

Presently, employees pay at least $229 a month for health coverage, but the railroads are insisting that this is “below average” and must rise. The BMWED notes that it offered “savings” in health care that do not cost any railway worker or the railroads any money, raising the question of whether the unions are proposing lower-quality health plans for workers. Nevertheless, the railroads rejected that proposal.

The railroads have welcomed the intervention of the National Mediation Board, a federal agency that coordinates labor-management relations. Its three members consist of two Democrats and one Republican, and membership will likely change with the new administration.

The Railway Labor Act of 1926 was designed to prevent any possibility of a railroad strike. Whenever the mediation board declares an impasse in the negotiations—which could take months or even years—a 30-day cooling off period begins, during which negotiations continue. After that period, railroads could lock out employees, or unions could call a strike, unless the president authorizes a Presidential Emergency Board. The unions, tied to the Democratic Party, entirely accept this framework, so that even as negotiations have progressed, railroads have been able to impose cuts without opposition.

For their part, the major railroad unions are concerned that the huge concessions demanded by railroads could spark a rebellion by workers. Dennis Pierce, the national president of the BLET, writes that “the level of concessions that were demanded on our health and welfare benefits [are] way beyond anything rail unions have seen in decades” and that the low wage increases would not even cover increased health care costs.

The rail unions have overseen decades of concessions and a dramatic drop in railroad employment (from 1.5 million in 1947 to less than 250,000 today.) The two crewmembers in the cab of a freight train are split between two unions, the BLET and the UTU/SMART, which have a history of working with the railroads to gain an edge by offering concessions.

In 1994, the BLET asked engineers to cross the UTU (conductors) picket line at Soo Line railroad. Some 98 percent of the engineers refused to do so.

How a Railway Workers Union Won New Technology That Improves Jobs and Reduces Greenhouse Gases

By Karl (Fritz) Edler, BLET Div. 482, retired, Special Rep, Railroad Workers United, Washington, DC - Labor Network for Sustainability, December 16, 2016

This is the story of one group of workers who used their union to improve their own conditions – and fight climate change – by proposing and winning their own plan for investment in improved technology. It provides an inspiring example of how workers and their unions can take their own action to reduce their employer’s greenhouse gas emissions while improving their own jobs.

Union railroad workers at Amtrak’s Washington, DC terminal use “small platform” locomotives to make up and service passenger and commuter trains. These diesel-electric locomotives use diesel engines to generate the electricity that is used to provide the motive power.  Their small size is a key advantage in the close quarters of terminal yard operations.  The units that are currently in use are almost a half-century old, and are far behind modern standards and goals for diesel emissions.

Several years ago the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, through its DC State Legislative Board, foresaw a looming dilemma. Without action, these aging diesel-powered locomotives would be kept in service with as little maintenance as possible until they were beyond recovery. At that point they would be replaced — with the lowest price most likely being the prime consideration.

This meant that the workforce and the public would endure ever-worsening diesel particulate emissions as long as the highly-polluting engines were kept in service. When they would finally replaced, the replacement locomotives would not have the kinds of work qualities needed for best practices in train operations.  Replacement units would most likely be harder and more unwieldy to work.

The union’s State Legislative Board devised a plan to modernize the locomotives now with more energy-efficient engines using an advanced technology known as “gen-sets.” That would reduce pollution and provide higher work life quality while reducing fuel costs. It would also preserve the “small platform” that made terminal train operations safer and easier.

The Union approached the Washington, DC area Council of Governments (MWCoG) to put together a proposal to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA had an existing grant program to replace diesel powered equipment with less polluting equipment.

No Coal in Oakland: a Report on the Campaign

By Margaret Rossoff - No Coal in Oakland, August 2016; image by Brooke Anderson

Many activists have expressed interest in an account of how the No Coal in Oakland campaign was organized.  This article is a response, but is not a history.  It is structured thematically rather than chronologically, and the many amazing activists and organizers are not identified by name.  Some of our initiatives came from organizations and some came from individual activists, but this account does not attempt to credit them, as every idea became a shared project.  Unlike just about every document during the campaign, this is not a collectively written piece.  It was significantly improved by careful readings by several people, for which I am very grateful, but I am responsible for all errors and omissions.  I expect—and hope–others will be writing their own accounts from a variety of perspectives.

I have included many links for documents referred to in this account.  For general background about the campaign, go to NoCoalinOakland.info.  A guide to acronyms is at the end of the article.

Margaret Rossoff
margaretmft@gmail.com

Strategy

No Coal in Oakland’s campaign was focused on persuading the members of the Oakland City Council to ban storage and handling of coal at a bulk export marine terminal to be built on City-owned land.  This would effectively prevent the transport of coal through Oakland and other cities along the rail lines as well as the shipment of coal overseas.

  • Our campaign to get the council members to vote for the ban had several components.  The primary ones were:
  • Direct lobbying with council members.
  • Outreach to Oakland residents, including particularly West Oakland residents and participants in community groups.  This was intended both to influence elected officials through popular opposition, and because we saw our campaign as part of building the larger movement for environmental justice and to contain climate disruption.
  • Insuring that evidence of the dangers of coal was adequately documented and presented to the council, including rebutting misleading claims by the developers.
  • Exploring other routes that might also lead to keeping coal out of Oakland.

This article focuses primarily on the first two aspects of our campaign. 

Appeal from Railroad Workers United: No Single Employee Crews!

Public Comment Period Extended to June 15th at 11:59 PM EDT 

Tell the FRA:

"No Single Employee Train Crews!"

Email Your Message today!

Dear RWU Members & Supporters:

On March 15th, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) offricially announced a Proposed Rule on the whole question of crew staffing for trains in the United States. After careful consideration, RWU has come to the only conclusion possible: the Proposed Rule provides a road map for any and all rail carriers to obtain the FRA's blessing to run trains with a single employee. Therefore, RWU cannot support this Proposed Rule, period.

We continue to agree with the joint statement from nearly 7 years ago that the BLET and the UTU made in a joint Petition filed in June 2009 with the FRA on the question of traincrew  staffing which reads: “No conditions exist where one-person operations are safe.”  And since the Proposed Rule is predicated on the "safe" operation of trains with a single crew member, we must urge the FRA to promulgate a Rule that outlaws the practice. We urge all RWU members and all railroad workers to contact the FRA and tell them in plain language: "No single employee train crews!"

  • To write/FAX the FRA, click HERE.
  • To email the FRA, click HERE.
  • To view the RWU Letter to the FRA on the Proposed Rule, click HERE.
  • To view the FRA Proposed Rule, Click HERE.
  • To view the RWU Editorial on the Proposed Rule Click HERE.
  • To view a comprehensive article entitled "What's Wrong with Single Employee Train Operations?" with 21 reasons why they are unsafe and unworkable, click HERE.
  • To view the most recent RWU Resolution to Oppose Single Employe Operating Crews from March 2nd, 2015, see below or click HERE.
  • To view the original RWU Resolution on Single Employee Train crews from January 5th, 2010, click HERE
  •  

Railroaders’ Group Supports Rule to Ban Single Employee Train Operations

By Ron Kaminkow - Railroad Workers United, March 15, 2016

Railroad Workers United (RWU) – a coalition of railroad workers drawn from all crafts across North America – applauds the efforts by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to restrict the use of single employee train operations, and demand a two-person crew as a minimum staffing requirement on trains.

RWU has taken an unequivocal stand against single employee operations since our founding convention in 2008. In 2010, the RWU Steering Committee reiterated our position in a formal resolution in opposition to single mployee train crews (see attached). And in 2012, we initiated a campaign of activities designed to build opposition to the carriers’ plans for universal single employee train operations.

“Our efforts - together with those of the unions of the rail operating crafts in the last few years - have brought this issue before the general public and the government”, states locomotive engineer and RWU General Secretary Ron Kaminkow. “The proposed rule by the FRA released on Monday is a major step forward in the fight against the dangerous and reckless proposal by the nation’s rail carriers to run trains with a lone employee. While the FRA Proposed Rule is far from perfect, providing loopholes and allowing for exemptions in too many instances, it is certainly a major stride in the right direction.”

RWU - along with the rail unions and various citizens groups - have also been pushing on the legislative front at both the state and federal levels for a law that would outlaw single employee train crew operations. A number of states - most recently California - have outlawed single employee train operations, while a dozen or so more have bills pending. At the federal level, HR #1763 if adopted, would make the minimum train crew size of two employees - a certified engineer and a certified conductor - the law of the land. Opinion polls that have been conducted on the question find that more than 80% of the U.S. population favor such a law.

RWU will prepare a written statement in the coming weeks to submit to the FRA in the hope of improving the Proposed Rule. In addition, the organization plans to keep up its educational work and continue to mobilize railroad workers, citizens groups and environmental organizations to get behind efforts to outlaw single crew operations of trains.

Labor Beat: Railroad Safety--Workers, Community & the Environment

By Milo Wolf - Labor Beat, October 26, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Motivated by the need to prevent dangerous and toxic railroad accidents, railroad workers, environmental and community activists met on Sept. 19, 2015 in Chicago for a conference organized by Railroad Workers United. A recurring topic was the 2013 railroad disaster in Lac-Megantic, Canada involving what is known as a "bomb train" of oil tanker cars that wiped out a significant part of that community. That doomed train in fact went through Chicago on its way to Lac-Megantic.​

This video demonstrates how squeezing increased productivity from rail workers produces negative effects that extend into the community and environment, in addition to the problem of exploiting workers.

After years of debating with management, retired locomotive engineer Fritz Edler concluded: "We demanded that they produce the evidence that you could do these [work] schedules and have it not be unsafe. And what they would do is stand up in the room and say 'fatigue is not a safety factor'. This is why we can't have this discussion just inside the railroad. We can't do that because they would never say that out in public."

Interviews and speakers featured: Ron Kaminkow, General Secretary of RWU; Dr. Lora Chamberlain, Chicago Oil by Rail; Jeff Kurtz, former BLET Iowa State Legislative Chair; Rozalinda Borcila, Artist, Compass; Ed Michael, RWU; Fritz Edler, BLET Div. 482 Local Chair (ret.); Vince Hardt, Chicagoland Oil by Rail.

Railroad Workers Fight Proposed Job Consolidation

By Jon Flanders - CounterPunch, October 13, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

With the unprecedented scrutiny freight railroads are now under due to oil train wrecks, and with record profits on the books, you would think that the major carriers would be unusually solicitous of their mechanical maintenance workforce, the people that are the doctors in the shop “hospitals” that treat the defects of locomotives. But you would be wrong.

One leading class 1 carrier, CSX, is demanding unprecedented changes in the working agreement of its
machinists and pipefitters, changes that could potentially turn the lives of these workers upside down. A “Master Mechanic” tentative agreement (TA) is currently being discussed in its locomotive shops.

In a promotional press release a CSX spokesman said: “This agreement is part of CSX’s focus on promoting a flexible workforce to meet changing business demands, and developing opportunities to retain and support our highly skilled workforce,” said Cressie Brown, vice president-labor relations, CSX.

The CSX press release quoted the head of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) District 19 in support of the agreement. “This tentative agreement provides new options for CSX employees, giving them more control of their careers, by expanding on the efficiencies gained from our previous partnership at Huntington, West Virginia while providing CSX with the tools they need to have the most efficient locomotive maintenance team in the industry,” said Jeff Doerr, IAM President and Directing General Chairman.

The Huntington “partnership” saw machinists and pipefitters foregoing former job descriptions in return for keeping locomotive rebuilding from outsourcing. There was no merging of union representation however, a “ratio” of machinists to pipefitters assured the two unions of their dues. The same ratio deal goes along with the proposed tentative agreement. So for example perhaps 85 percent of the jobs going forward would be machinists, 15 percent pipefitters.

Threatening major layoffs if the machinists and pipefitters, members of the International Association of Machinists(IAM) and the the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association (SMART) fail to ratify it, CSX is pulling out all the stops to see the TA passed.

Framed-up rail workers win support in Quebec town

By John Studer - The Militant, September 21, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

LAC-MÉGANTIC, Quebec — After less that 15 minutes, Judge François Tôth ordered further delay in the Canadian government’s frame-up campaign against rail workers Thomas Harding and Richard Labrie, as well as company operating manager Jean DeMaître. They are threatened with life in prison, as scapegoats for the July 6, 2013, disaster where a crewless Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train carrying 72 cars of crude oil rolled down a grade, derailed and burst into flame, destroying the downtown here and killing 47 people.

Tôth set a Dec. 1 court “management hearing” where lawyers for the government and the defendants would discuss potential witnesses and possible trial dates, and debate a government proposal to move the trial from Lac-Mégantic to Sherbrooke, a college town some 100 miles away.

“The crown doesn’t want the trial in Lac-Mégantic,” Thomas Walsh, attorney for Harding, told the Militant, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and other media after the hearing. “But it is the people here who were affected. They are in the best position to judge. All they want is justice.”

And many know Harding, who has been running trains through the area for years. They think the wrong people are in the dock.

“The big bosses should be charged. They’re the ones that gave the orders to the workers who had to carry them out,” Sylvie Carrier, an auxiliary nurse at the local hospital and member of the Quebec nurses union, told Communist League member John Steele from Montreal and this reporter as we went door to door showing people coverage on the defense campaign from the Militant and asking them what they thought.

Rail workers score big safety win in California

By Mark Gruenberg - People's World, August 26, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Rail workers scored a big safety win in California on August 21 as state lawmakers gave final approval to a bill mandating two-person crews on all freight trains.

The measure, pushed by the Teamsters and their California affiliates, the Rail Division of SMART - the former United Transportation Union - and the state labor federation, now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif., who is expected to sign it.

Rail unions nationwide have been pushing for the two-person crews while the rail carriers have been pushing for just one, an engineer. Several months ago, the head of one carrier, the Burlington Northern, advocated crewless freights.

The unionists told lawmakers presence of a second crew member would cut down on horrific crashes such as the one that obliterated downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, two years ago. Then, a runaway oil train crashed and exploded, killing 47 people. That train had only an engineer. There has been a string of similar U.S. accidents since, especially of oil-carrying trains. Recent oil train accidents were near Galena, Ill., Lynchburg, Va., and in West Virginia.

The proposed California statute requires trains and light engines carrying freight within the nation's largest state - home to one of every eight Americans - to be operated with "an adequate crew size," reported Railroad Workers United, a coalition of rank-and-file rail workers from SMART, the Teamsters and other unions.

The minimum adequate crew size, the bill says, is two. Railroads that break the law would face fines and other penalties from the state Public Utilities Commission. The commission supported the bill, SB730.

EcoUnionist News #58

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 27, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW

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