If you get a good deal, take it
Written by Frank N. Wilner, Contributing Editor
Watching Washington, November 2017: Almost three years since 12 rail labor unions commenced collective bargaining over wages, benefits and work rules with Class I railroads, plus many regionals and short lines, a coalition of six unions—representing some 60% of the 145,000 affected workers—has reached a tentative agreement with the carriers.
Should it fail membership ratification, a Donald J. Trump-appointed, and presumably management-friendly, Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) will make non-binding recommendations for settlement.
Absent a ratified agreement in place to serve as a pattern, all original carrier demands—lower wage increases, no retroactive pay, more healthcare givebacks, expansion of remote control use, elimination of road and yard distinctions, and scrapping of extra boards—are back in play, and a PEB likely will cotton to some.
Should labor decline to settle as recommended by a PEB, the door opens for an anti-labor congressional majority to do what lawmakers typically do to end a national rail work stoppage—impose the PEB recommendations.
This ain’t a trick bag in which rail workers wish to find themselves. While collective bargaining never delivers to either side all it wants, political realities and a problematic economic climate for railroads make this tentative agreement look generous.
Indeed, in the midst of continued wage stagnation elsewhere in America, it puts at least $33,000 more into the pockets of the highest paid rail workers within just two years; and more than $16,000 by mid-2019 to those in the lower wage rungs. And there is not a single work rules change.
Although healthcare co-pays, deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums rise—but more slowly than medical cost inflation, and barely for those in good health—employee monthly insurance premiums are capped at the current level until at least mid-2020. By contrast, other private sector and federal workers—including congressional staff advising lawmakers if ratification fails—pay significantly more. In fact, railroads will be paying some 90% of all employee healthcare costs.
Motivation for a management-friendly PEB and anti-labor congressional majority to trim back this tentative deal, should ratification fail, is a 44% drop in the railroads’ bedrock coal traffic—a $7 billion revenue hit—further shadowed by problematic prospects given the growth of natural gas, solar and wind for electric power generation. The bloom also is off intermodal, while many in Congress support allowing longer and heavier rail-competitive trucks.
Inexplicably and anarchist-like, leaders of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (BMWE), which abandoned its own effort to negotiate a new contract, have urged rejection of this tentative agreement negotiated by the six unions representing conductors, engineers, signalmen and some shopcraft workers.
Equally perplexing, the BMWE’s distribution of leaflets at work sites, and similar negative comments on social media, violate a core principle of trade unionism that forbids attacking another labor organization’s performance of its negotiating obligations. Were the BMWE affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the mainstream umbrella organization for most American labor unions, it would face severe sanctions.
Rejection of the tentative pact virtually assures that Congress will impose a new contract with an anti-labor tilt. The BMWE’s attempted sabotage is irrational, but irrationality has stained previous BMWE thinking.
BMWE members twice unlawfully occupied National Mediation Board offices to protest a preference for peaceful outcomes. BMWE has threatened to shut down Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor despite warnings that a perpetually underfunded Amtrak wouldn’t survive to reopen. And after frequently engaging in unlawful work stoppages against BNSF, BMWE is under unprecedented court order—with risk of its bank account being reduced to pocket change—to seek court permission for a future strike.
If there were a better deal out there, other labor organizations would have grabbed it. As for rejection, the probability of squeezing out a better offer is near nil. Most likely, should a PEB and Congress write the contract, is a three card Monte game rigged decidedly in favor of the carriers. Labor always is best served by the motto, “When you get a good deal, take it.”
The six unions with the tentative agreement are the American Train Dispatchers Association; Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Forgers and Helpers; Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division (including yardmasters), and National Conference of Firemen and oilers.
From our UTU brothers….PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY!!
My office was proved the attached Picture of what’s called a Cell Phone “Sniffer” and these sniffers are currently being installed on CSX Locomotives at the Huntington Shops.
Essentially, if the cell phone detector picks up a signal, it informs the sniffer, which takes a picture of the inside of the cab to catch whoever is using their cell phone.
Please urge your members to protect themselves from discipline and/or FRA fines by complying with this FRA directive. Section (h) of the FRA “Findings and Order” in Emergency Order No. 26 reads in pertinent part:
“(h) Sanctions. (1) Any individual who willfully violates a prohibition stated in this order or uses any of the described devices without observing any of the restrictions stated in this order is subject to civil penalties under 49 U.S.C. 21301.
(2) In addition, such an individual whose violation of this order demonstrates the individual’s unfitness for safety-sensitive service may be removed from safety-sensitive service on the railroad under 49 U .S.C. 20111.”
The picture is of the sniffer. Cameras are not needed because they can pull your phone number, the number of the person you call or text and other information.
Lets say you text a coworker who is on duty with an engine without a sniffer. The sniffer on your engine will get a delivery/ read receipt indicating that there phone is on as well. Now both of you could possibly be fired and/or fined up to $25,000.
We want our members to be aware of how the company is using technology against us. Please use this information to protect yourself and your coworkers.
Brothers and Sisters,
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, October 5 — Rail Unions making up the Coordinated Bargaining Group (CBG) announced today that they have reached a Tentative National Agreement with the Nation’s Freight Rail Carriers. The CBG is comprised of six unions: the American Train Dispatchers Association; the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (a Division of the Rail Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters); the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers; the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers / SEIU; and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART TD).
On Wednesday, October 4, the CBG’s full Negotiating Team met in Independence, Ohio, for a review of the terms of the proposed voluntary agreement. Following that review, each of the CBG Unions’ Negotiating Teams unanimously endorsed the Tentative Agreement. On Thursday, October 5, the involved General Chairpersons of SMART TD, BRS and BLET met as well and those groups also unanimously endorsed the Tentative Agreement for consideration by the respective membership of each Union.
The Tentative Agreement, which will be submitted to the memberships of each involved Union in the coming weeks, includes an immediate wage increase of 4%, with an additional 2.5% six months later on July 1, 2018 and an additional 3% one year later on July 1, 2019. In addition, wage increases of 2% effective July 1, 2016 and another 2% effective July 1, 2017 will be fully retroactive through implementation, for a compounded increase of 9.84% over an 18-month period and 13.14% over the 5-year contract term (this includes the First General Wage Increase of 3% implemented on January 1, 2015).
All benefits existing under the Health and Welfare Plan will remain in effect unchanged and there are no disruptions to the existing healthcare networks. While some employee participation costs are increased, the tentative agreement maintains reasonable maximum out-of-pocket protections for our members. The TA also adds several new benefits to the Health and Welfare Plan for the members of the involved unions and, importantly, it requires that the Rail Carriers will, on average, continue to pay 90% of all of our members’ point of service costs.
On a matter of critical importance, the employees’ monthly premium contribution is frozen at the current rate of $228.89. The frozen rate can only be increased by mutual agreement at the conclusion of negotiations in the next round of bargaining that begins on 1/1/2020.
In addition, the CBG steadfastly refused to accept the carriers’ demands for changes to work rules that would have imposed significant negative impacts on every one of our members. As a result of that rejection, the Tentative Agreement provides for absolutely no changes in work rules for any of the involved unions.
“This Tentative Agreement provides real wage increases over and above inflation, health care cost increases far below what the carriers were demanding, freezes our monthly health plan cost contribution at the current level, provides significant retroactive pay and imposes no changes to any of our work rules,” said the CBG Union Presidents. “This is a very positive outcome for a very difficult round of negotiations. We look forward to presenting the Tentative Agreement to our respective memberships for their consideration.”
A copy of the Tenative Agreement
Im sure we all remember this day and how it changed our lives, this was the beginning of 2.21, PTC , TIR and Inward facing cameras. This all started from a crew member being complacent, getting distracted and not doing his job. because of this 25 people lost their life .
When your on duty put your phone away, make sure all crew members have done the same. If there are any brothers who refuse to comply STOP THE TRAIN.
Executive Summary NTSB
About 4:22 p.m., Pacific daylight time, on Friday, September 12, 2008, westbound
Southern California Regional Rail Authority Metrolink train 111, consisting of one locomotive and three passenger cars, collided head-on with eastbound Union Pacific Railroad freight train LOF65–12 near Chatsworth, California. The Metrolink train derailed its locomotive and lead passenger car; the UP train derailed its 2 locomotives and 10 of its 17 cars.
The force of the collision caused the locomotive of train 111 to telescope into the lead passenger coach by about 52 feet. The accident resulted in 25 fatalities, including the engineer of train 111.
Emergency response agencies reported transporting 102 injured passengers to local hospitals. Damages were estimated to be in excess of $12 million.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the
September 12, 2008, collision of a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train was the failure of the Metrolink engineer to observe and appropriately respond to the red signal aspect at Control Point Topanga because he was engaged in prohibited use of a wireless device, specifically text messaging, that distracted him from his duties.
Contributing to the accident was the lack of a positive train control system that would have stopped the Metrolink train short of the red signal and thus prevented the collision.
The safety issues identified during this accident investigation are as follows:
• Inadequate capability, because of the privacy offered by a locomotive operating
compartment, for management to monitor crewmember adherence to operating rules
such as those regarding the use of wireless devices or the presence of unauthorized
persons in the operating compartment.
• Lack of a positive train control system on the Metrolink rail system.
As a result of its investigation of this accident, the National Transportation Safety Board
The carrier has given us notice that they are combining the cx809 xe11 and cx809 xe10. We received the 30 notice today.
A new bill by one of the rail industry’s favorite senators looks to change how the industry is regulated to allow “market forces to improve rail safety.” In June, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who happens to chair the Senate Surface Transportation Subcommittee, introduced the Railroad Advancement of Innovation and Leadership with Safety (RAILS) Act.
In essence, the bill seeks to shift the rail industry toward a self-regulatory — and more difficult to enforce — approach to safety known as “performance-based regulation,” an effort first reported by DeSmog after a Congressional hearing in May.
In that hearing, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) advocated for performance-based regulations for safety, saying that government should “allow the railroad industry to keep more of their profits.” That’s what you should expect when moving to a system relying on market forces to improve safety.
Speaking of market forces, it should come as no surprise that the top donor to Senator Fischer’s election campaigns is rail company Union Pacific. Or that four of her top eleven donors are rail companies, which include Berkshire Hathaway (owner of rail company BNSF), Norfolk Southern, and CSX.
That helps explain why she is pushing to allow the industry to self-regulate via performance-based regulations. Even in a pro-industry opinion piece in the publication RailwayAge, written by a former employee of rail lobbying group, the Association of American Railroads, it wasn’t possible to sell the bill without noting that it allows industry to regulate itself:
“…performance-based safety standards mean rather than the [Federal Railroad Administration] prescribing particular actions, such as mileage-based brake tests and specific operations and maintenance procedures, the agency would specify a safety outcome — such as a maximum accident-type rate or component failure rate — and allow each railroad to devise its own cost-effective means of achieving that target.”
What could go wrong if you allow each railroad to devise its own cost-effective means of achieving safety? Let’s take a look at Exhibit A: Lac-Mégantic.
Lac-Mégantic: When ‘Market Forces’ Regulate Safety
Shortly after the deadly oil-by-rail disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Canada, a columnist at The Guardian stated, “the explosion in Lac-Mégantic is not merely a tragedy. It is a corporate crime scene.” There is a mountain of evidence to prove how corporate cost-cutting caused the July 2013 accident in the small Quebec town.
The fire on the locomotive that started the whole deadly chain of events was the result of cutting costs for engine repair. A report from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada stated that “This temporary repair had been performed using a polymeric material, which did not have the strength and durability required for this use.” That was the first mistake due to cost-cutting shortcuts.
The company operating that oil train had also been allowed to run the trains with a single person crew. Another cost-saving measure that railroad labor unions oppose and one that the rail industry in America is lobbying hard to make standard.
And then there was the corporate policy of not using all of the braking systems in order to save time, which we wrote about on DeSmog last year:
What has been overlooked is the corporate policy of not engaging the “automatic brake” when leaving a train on the tracks. Harding [train engineer] set the independent brake and handbrakes but did not set the automatic brake because that was corporate policy.
The brakes he did apply were sufficient to hold the train. But then the locomotive caught fire that night and the fire department cut power to the locomotive, which led to the loss of pressure in the independent brake and the train “running away” down the hill towards Lac-Mégantic.
It would have taken Harding 10 seconds to engage the automatic brake. If this had been done, the train most likely would have remained in place until it was scheduled to continue the next morning. But company policy was to not engage the automatic brake even when parking a loaded train of explosive Bakken oil on a hill above a town. Why not?
Because while it only takes 10 seconds to engage the braking system, it takes between 15 minutes to an hour to disengage the system when the train is restarted the next day. And in the rail industry, time is money.
This is what happens when market forces drive safety precautions. And that is why it is accurate to describe Lac-Mégantic as a corporate crime scene.
‘Sound Science’ and ECP Braking
The new bill from Sen. Fischer include the section “Sound Science,” which requires that regulations be based on things like “appropriately validated models and formulas.” It does not mention how one goes about “appropriately” validating models and formulas.
This approach of claiming that safety regulations aren’t based on sound science or that the “science is still out”has already proven to be a very effective approach for delaying further safety measures for the rail and oil industries. It has been the main argument allowing the oil industry to continue to transportvia train a dangerous and volatile oil that could easily be stabilized and made safer to ship.
In the RailwayAge opinion piece supporting Fischer’s industry-friendly bill, it notes that the industry is particularly interested in rolling back the requirement to have electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes on oil trains, saying this regulation was “troubling to railroads and the scientific community.”
When DeSmog asked RailwayAge to provide evidence that the scientific community found the regulations requiring ECP braking “troubling,” the author of the piece — former Association of American Railroads (AAR) employee Frank Wilner — directed DeSmog to the Transportation Technology Center, Inc. According to its website this organization is “a wholly owned subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads.”
So, scientists on the payroll of the rail industry’s main lobbying group find a proven safety technology “troubling.” What should be more troubling to anyone concerned about rail safety is a bill introduced by a senator taking large amounts of money from the rail industry, a bill which is then promoted by not only the industry’s lobbying group but also a former lobbying group employee, claiming in an industry trade magazine that industry-paid scientists are the final word on safety.
As repeatedly noted on DeSmog, there is ample evidence that ECP brakes are safer.
But perhaps the strongest argument for ECP brakes is that they are required on trains hauling nuclear waste. Why would this be required if these brakes offer no safety benefits? In 2004, the AAR gave a presentation on why trains should be allowed to move spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and clearly noted that ECP brakes were important for safety. Yet 13 years later, this group is purporting that it is an unproven technology.
And that’s not all. There’s evidence that ECP brakes would have prevented the Lac-Mégantic disaster.
Performance-Based Regulation or Profit-Based Regulation?
“Railroad rules have been written in blood.” This linecomes from the annual report of the Commissioner of Railroads for the state of Michigan — in 1901. It implied that safety rules were only implemented when enough blood had been spilled.
One hundred and fifteen years later, in an opinion piece on rail safety for CNN, rail expert Fred Failey essentially said the same thing, opening his piece with the statement, “The rules by which trains operate on American railroads were written in blood.”
Now, with over 100 years of history showing the rail industry’s refusal to implement safety measures until enough people have died, the industry is again pushing to regulate itself in order to avoid proven safety technologies for the sake of “keep[ing] more of their profits.” Congress and the anti-regulatory officials now in the Trump administration are working hard to allow this to happen.
The only performance that will improve when implementing performance-based regulations is the performance of railroad stock prices and the fundraising efforts of politicians like Sen. Deb Fischer.
Main image: Union Pacific locomotive Credit: