How Long Can Rail Teamsters Go Without a National Contract?

Rail Teamsters are starting to wonder just how long they can go without a new contract. Negotiations began in 2004 between the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, but the two parties have still not agreed to a new contract.

The talks stalled when the carriers demanded single-crew operation of trains. Both the BLET and the UTU refused to budge over the issue.

Health Care Costs: Out of Control
Teamster engineers are paying for working without a contract. With no new contract, the carriers are free to pass increased costs along to BLET members. At the start of negotiations, rail Teamsters paid $100 a month for their health insurance. Now that number has shot up to $148 a month.

The failure to conclude negotiations has also kept some areas from keeping up in terms of wages and working conditions.

“On the Illinois Central, their general committee made a separate deal,” said Hugh Sawyer, Local Chairman of BLET Div. 316. “Their agreement raised their wages significantly above the baseline set by the national agreement.”

Many rail general committees make separate deals in addition to the national agreement on wages and work rules.

We don’t think the carriers can win single-crew train operation in this round of bargaining. But even if a new contract is wrapped up this year, new bargaining is scheduled to start again in 2008. And the Union Pacific and other Class 1 railroads are actively pursuing technologies like satellite train operation that could theoretically allow single-crew operation—at a huge potential safety risk.

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