September 19, 2008: BLET members on the Norfolk Southern railway have ratified a new six-year contract that contains improvements after voting down a weaker tentative agreement last year.
Members ratified the agreement by a vote of 1,894 to 1,091.
The biggest improvement is in wages. The new agreement raises wages an average of over three percent a year, with the biggest raises coming early in the contract.
For several years, NS engineers have gone without regular wage increases.
In place of wage hikes, they’ve participated in a bonus system that rewards them when the company reaches its financial goals. That’s left their base rate frozen. The new agreement will help NS engineers start to close the gap with other carriers.
By the end of the agreement, NS engineers will be at a wage level of around $29 per hour. Existing agreements on other properties already pay over $35 an hour. Other improvements include:
- A significant increase in the weekend differential from $30 to $45 in through freight, and from $7 to $21 in all other service, will kick in on Jan. 1, 2010.
- The away-from home meal allowance will go to $12, up from $9.
- The 401(k) match will go to 30 percent in 2010.
- The threshold for when held-at-away-from-home terminal payments kick in was lowered from 16 hours to 14 hours.
On the downside, engineers gave up a performance bonus provision currently capped at 15 percent of wages for a two-tiered system that starts at 10 percent. Higher standards are required for an engineer to receive the 15 percent bonus.
This agreement may also get Norfolk Southern one step closer to one-man crews, the long-term goal of the carriers.
The new contract spells out a scope agreement that limits the use of UTU remote control operators to within yard limits. But the agreement also sets rates for remote control operation by an engineer for on-the-road operations.
June 30, 2008: A federal judge June 26 enjoined the pending merger between the United Transportation Union and the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, finding that UTU members were not aware when they approved the merger of conflicts between the constitutions of the two unions (Michael v. United Transp. Union, N.D. Ohio, No. 1:07-cv-3818, preliminary injunction issued 6/26/08).
Granting a request by four UTU rank-and-file members for a preliminary injunction to prevent the merger from going forward until UTU members vote on a new constitution, Judge John R. Adams of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio found that the plaintiffs had shown a substantial likelihood of success on their claim that they were deprived of a "meaningful vote" on the merger, a violation of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.
The merger of UTU and SMWIA to form the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART), was scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2008, but Adams Dec. 27 issued a temporary restraining order putting the merger on hold (6 DLR A-11, 1/10/08). The TRO resulted from a suit filed Nov. 30, 2007, by four UTU members against the union and its then-President Paul Thompson, charging LMRDA violations. The plaintiffs charged that a copy of the new SMART constitution was not made available to UTU members before the vote.
According to Adams, in June 2007, then-UTU-President Thompson informed the members of the union's board of directors about the terms of the merger he had negotiated with the SMWIA's president and requested their approval. During discussions, the board learned that the UTU and SMWIA constitutions would be joined in their entirety to become the SMART constitution. The board voted to submit the merger agreement to the membership for its approval or rejection.
A mailing was sent to UTU members in July 2007 that included a copy of the merger agreement, supporting materials, and directions for telephone electronic voting that was to take place from July 17 to Aug. 7. While the agreement said that the new union would be governed by the SMART constitution, the packet did not include a copy of that constitution nor copies of the unions' current constitutions.
Meanwhile, UTU was scheduled to have its convention in August 2007, and Thompson admitted during a May 28, 2008, hearing before Adams that the UTU leadership "knew at the time of the merger vote that the convention would likely result in amendments to the UTU constitution," making it impossible to know the "extent of the conflicts between the UTU and SMWIA constitutions," which would form the SMART constitution.
The vote, nonetheless, took place, and out of 68,000 mailed ballots, 12,097 members voted with 8,625 casting votes in favor of the merger.
The UTU convention elected new officers, and Malcolm Futhey succeeded Thompson as president Jan. 1, 2008. When the plaintiffs attempted to substitute Futhey for Thompson in the litigation, six vice presidents and the legislative director of UTU, who all supported the merger, sought to intervene as defendants because they were concerned that as president Futhey would not defend against the plaintiffs claims.
As Adams was considering whether to allow the UTU officers to intervene, Futhey and the UTU board agreed to attempt to produce a SMART constitution so that a new vote could be conducted among the membership. The agreement was included in the terms of an extension of the TRO, which was to last until 10 days after the court ruled on the motion to intervene.
In a June 18 decision, Adams ruled that the UTU officers and legislative director may intervene in the case. Adams, however, ruled that Thompson could not intervene in the case.
Four Factors Considered
In granting the June 26 injunction, Adams reviewed four factors—the likelihood the plaintiffs would be successful on the merits, whether the plaintiffs may suffer irreparable harm if the injunction was not granted, whether granting the injunction would cause substantial harm to others, and the impact of an injunction upon the public interest.
Finding the plaintiffs likely to be successful, Adams said that the SMART constitution never was provided to UTU members prior to their approval of the merger. "The failure to provide such relevant information constituted a failure to disclose the relevant terms of the proposal between the parties. Plaintiffs therefore have demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on their claims that they were deprived of a meaningful vote."
Adams found that UTU members were harmed through the failure of their elected officials to provide them adequate information prior to the merger vote. Noting that a review by attorneys involved in the merger found the possibility of 40 conflicts between the two unions' constitutions, Adams wrote: "Members were forced to vote with little or no knowledge of the conflicts between the two Constitutions that could ultimately lead to a SMART Constitution with terms very different from that of the current UTU Constitution. The SMART Constitution would then govern their working lives for the foreseeable future." Without information about the possible changes to the constitution, the UTU members' votes "cannot be said to be meaningful," he added.
Adams also found that no substantial harm would occur to others if he issued an injunction. "No harm will befall the UTU if an injunction prohibits the merger from being effectuated. Instead, an injunction will ensure that the merger will not take place until a meaningful vote on the SMART Constitution has occurred." In addition, there is no harm to SMWIA, he said, because the merger was dependent on the UTU members approving it. "Until such a vote that complies with the LMRDA has taken place, SMWIA has no legally enforceable rights" under the merger agreement.
Lastly, in finding that the public interest weighs in favor of issuing an injunction. Adams quoted from a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit:
"The clear policy of the [LMRDA] is to bid farewell to the regime of benevolent well-meaning union autocrats and to give favor to a system of union democracy with its concomitants of free choice and self-determination."
Arthur L. Fox II of Lobel, Novins & Lamont, Washington, D.C., represented the four rank-and-file member plaintiffs, while sole practitioner Joyce Goldstein, Cleveland, represented Thompson and the six intervening UTU vice presidents and legislative director. Joseph Guerrieri Jr. of Guerrieri, Edmond, Clayman & Bartos in Washington, D.C., represented Futhey, and David A. Campbell III of Vorys, Sater, Seymour & Pease, Cleveland, represented UTU.
Text of the decision ordering the preliminary injunction may be accessed at http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=mamr-7fzq3z.
June 27, 2008: In a victory for rank-and-file democracy, Judge John Adams has issued a preliminary injunction stopping the merger of the United Transportation Union and the Sheet Metal Workers.
The preliminary injunction puts the merger on hold until the disputed merger can be resolved.
Click here to read more in Traffic World.
Click here to read the judge’s injunction.
June 20, 2008: All Teamsters want to work safely, without injury. But company programs that put the blame on union members—rather than unsafe working conditions—won’t make our jobs safer.
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) members and divisions are saying no to company spy programs that don’t improve our safety.
On the Union Pacific, management and some union leaders are working on a “Total Safety Culture” program.
The program sends out special Implementation-Teams (“I-Teams”), made up of management and union reps, to observe union members on the job.
The I-Teams are not supposed to discipline workers, but the opportunities for abuse are obvious.
The observations and the resulting data are supposed to remain totally anonymous. But the UP has already started awarding prizes to the employee who agrees to be observed the most times.
Members Say No to Spying
Other divisions are not going along.
In Selkirk, N.Y., CSX used information gathered by a joint union-company safety committee to discipline members.
Members of Selkirk BLET Division 867 voted unanimously to leave the company’s safety committee.
In Atlanta, Norfolk Southern asked BLET Division 316 to participate in safety audits.
While the division agreed in principle to audit unsafe infrastructure, it refused to monitor or observe union employees—a move that would have divided the union.
Railroad Workers United, a rank-and-file organization on the railroad, is organizing a nationwide campaign to educate members about the Blame the Worker safety programs, and what they can do to respond.
Contact RWU at info [at] railroadworkersunited.org (info [at] railroadworkersunited.org).
June 11, 2008: Members of the United Transportation Union, which represents approximately 45,000 employees of more than 30 freight railroads, have voted to ratify a retroactive collective bargaining agreement that provides a 17 percent wage increase over five years, according to a June 10 announcement by UTU.
The tentative agreement was reached in January between the union and the National Carriers' Conference Committee (NCCC), which represents over 30 freight railroads, after a negotiation process of about three years (16 DLR A-2, 1/25/08).
"In the face of recurring news reports of overall wage declines in American industry, tens of thousands of American job losses, and reductions in health care benefits and pensions for millions of workers, UTU members covered by this agreement gain a 17 percent wage hike, retroactive pay, no change in work rules, an increase in the meal allowance, and a cap on health care contributions with no reduction in health care benefits," UTU International President Mike Futhey said in a statement.
The election was conducted by telephone by the American Arbitration Association, UTU said. According to the union, 15,313 workers, or 85 percent, voted in favor of ratification, while 2,763 voted against ratification of the agreement. The agreement covers conductors, yardmen, brakemen, engineers, firemen, switchers, hostlers, and yardmasters employed by Burlington Northern Santa Fe, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, and several smaller railroads, UTU said.
The union had urged its members to vote for approval of the agreement. In a May 27 letter to UTU members posted on the union's Web site, the union said that if the agreement was not ratified, a presidential emergency board appointed by President Bush would most likely not be receptive to union concerns.
"We would have preferred--and we deserve--more; but the carriers and their anti-labor friends in the Bush administration, which will name the presidential emergency board if we fail to ratify this agreement, would have preferred we obtain less," the letter said.
The contract is retroactive to July 1, 2005, and becomes amendable January 1, 2010. As Futhey stated, the contract provides for a 17 percent increase in wages over five years. UTU said retroactive wage payments will be made to members within 60 days. Under the Railway Labor Act, collective bargaining agreements become amendable but do not expire.
Health Care Contributions Capped
The agreement caps employee contributions to health care premiums at 15 percent of the employer's cost until Jan. 1, 2010. The monthly employee cost-sharing contribution currently is $166.25, and that rate will remain in effect through 2008. Beginning in 2009, employee contributions will remain at 15 percent of employer cost. In 2010, employee contributions will be capped at $200, unless that amount is exceeded in 2009, in which case the 2009 rate would remain in 2010. Should the 2010 rate be lower than that of the prior year, the lower rate would prevail. In 2011, "the employee cost-sharing contribution will be determined on the same basis as under the past national agreement provisions," UTU said.
Futhey said in his statement that UTU was the only rail union to obtain continuation of a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), beginning in 2010, in the amended contract. "The COLA put some $7 more per day in members' pockets while we were at the negotiating table this round," Futhey said.
In a June 10 statement, NCCC said that with the ratification of the UTU agreement, "nearly 95 percent of all unionized freight rail workers have successfully concluded voluntary agreements in the current bargaining round." Members of the Transportation Communications Union, the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen-TCU, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the Transport Workers Union ratified similar contracts in July 2007 (182 DLR A-13, 9/20/07 ). The International Association of Machinists remains the only union representing freight railroad workers without an agreement, NCCC said.
"We are pleased that the UTU's membership has overwhelmingly endorsed its leadership's efforts to craft mutually beneficial solutions to the challenges that had stymied negotiations for so long," NCCC chairman Robert F. Allen said in the statement. "This demonstrates yet again that voluntary bargaining continues to work well in the railroad industry."
UTU represents nearly one-third of the workforce of the freight railroads in NCCC, according to the conference committee.
By Michael Rose
May 12, 2008: Those of us who work in transportation don’t have to be the victim of the downward spiral of wages and working conditions that is hitting so many of our union brothers and sisters.
Many businesses are adopting “just-in-time” delivery. The idea is to cut down on inventory and get the goods to where they’re going right when they’re needed—be it raw materials or a finished product going to the store.
Employers are using automation in warehouses and transportation to cut down on jobs. But those of us left standing in the transportation industry are in the catbird’s seat. We’re more critical to the smooth flow of goods across the globe than ever before.
Keep in mind that the transportation sector includes all the support groups from clerks to mechanics to waste haulers.
A Fragile System
It’s no accident that the term “fragile” is always used when talking about just-in-time delivery. One delay can lead to many more delays.
That gives us power.
There is a major shortage of truck drivers in this country. The spiraling cost of fuel is driving a lot of independents under, and the big trucking companies will emerge dominant. The degradation of master freight agreements can be halted and reversed. Union organizers must aggressively exploit this upheaval in the trucking industry.
In rail, we’re in the middle of a five-year cycle during which 50 percent of our entire workforce will reach retirement age. The carriers can’t keep up with new hires—and it seems that the younger generation actually expects to have a life outside the railroad.
Higher fuel rates are fueling higher rail traffic. The Federal Railroad Administration is on the verge of imposing mandatory off days. And customers are demanding scheduled service. This is the perfect storm for major wage and benefit gains!
Sure, we’re in an economic downturn and most Teamsters are not feeling our power right now.
But this is actually a time for optimism for workers in the transportation sector. We are not lucky to have a job—the employers are lucky to have the few of us who are able to meet the demands in this sector. Let’s take our rightful place as the backbone of organized blue-collar labor in the 21st century.
by Hugh Sawyer
BLET Div. 316
April 1, 2008: Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen have ratified a collective bargaining agreement with Amtrak covering approximately 1,300 locomotive engineers, the union announced March 28.
Representatives of Amtrak and the union signed the tentative agreement Feb. 19, and ratification ballots were due March 28 (43 DLR A-8, 3/5/08) . The contract covers engineers who operate passenger trains throughout the 21,000-mile, 46-state Amtrak system, the union said.
BLET said it counted the ballots March 28, with a final tally of 809-138 in favor of ratification.
Mark Kenny, general chairman of BLET, urged union members in a Feb. 29 letter to vote in favor of ratification. He said the contract "significantly improves hourly rate wages, placing them in proximity of the highest paid passenger/commuter services in the rail industry" and "sets employee cost contributions levels for [health and welfare] benefits consistent with today's industry standards."
The newly ratified contract replaces one that became amendable Jan. 1, 2000, and is based on the recommendations of the presidential emergency board established to resolve collective bargaining disputes between Amtrak and eight other rail unions, BLET said. That contract was ratified March 10 (49 DLR A-7, 3/13/08).
The new contract becomes amendable Jan. 1, 2010. Under the Railway Labor Act, collective bargaining agreements become amendable but do not expire.
The agreement provides for a wage improvement package amounting to a 34.7 percent increase over the hourly rate in effect at the end of the last agreement, 100 percent retroactive pay recovery, and no work-rule changes, BLET said.
The contract provides for retroactive wage increases for all engineers who were on Amtrak's payroll as of Dec. 1, 2007. Those workers are eligible for retroactive pay for all time-based compensation under the previous agreement between July 1, 2002, and the date of the first general wage increase of the new agreement paid in 2008.
The contract also provides that 27 cents per hour of the previous contract's cost-of-living allowance will be rolled into the new basic pay rates. All cost-of-living allowance payments in excess of 27 cents made after July 1, 2002, will be recovered from the retroactive payments.
BLET said 40 percent of the total retroactive amount due to eligible employees will be paid within 60 days of the contract's ratification, with the remaining 60 percent to be paid on or before the first anniversary date of the first payment. Union members who believe Amtrak's retroactive calculation to be incorrect will have the right to challenge the figure, the union said.
The new agreement also sets the monthly rate that employees must pay for employee and dependent health care coverage at $166.25, and requires that employees pay retroactive health premiums for each year of the contract dating back to July 1, 2001. The premium payment scale begins at $33.39 per month and increases to the $166.25 rate for premiums in 2008. These payments will be deducted from the retroactive wages that will be paid to workers.
Cost-sharing contributions for health care will increase over the life of the agreement, but are capped at $200 or the July 1, 2009, cost-sharing contribution amount--calculated as one-twelfth of 15 percent of the per employee cost for health care coverage for the prior calendar year--whichever is greater.
Previously, BLET members rejected a June 20 tentative agreement with Amtrak by a vote of 587-305 (184 DLR A-12, 9/24/07 ).
Representatives of BLET were not immediately available for comment.
An Amtrak spokeswoman told BNA that the railroad company had informed all of its employees of the ratification vote results, and that an implementation schedule would be finalized once the agreement is signed.
The collective bargaining agreement between BLET and Amtrak is available on the Internet at http://www.bletamt.org/contract-08.htm .
March 25, 2008: Don Hahs has been removed from office as head of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET).
A three-member Teamster panel has removed Don Hahs from office and suspended him from Teamster membership for one year for violating his fiduciary duty to the union.
Last year, Hahs was charged with embezzling over $58,000 in members’ money for basketball tickets, fishing trips, hotel-room movies, and unauthorized travel for his wife.
Hahs is barred from holding any BLET office until the end of his current term in 2010, suspended from Teamster membership until March 20, 2009, and must pay a fine of $44,963. Hoffa has approved the decision of the panel.
The panel, which included one BLET official and two Teamster officials, refused to convict Hahs of embezzlement. But they did agree that his spending was a serious misuse of members’ money.
Even after his suspension ends, Hahs won’t be able to run again for office. The next BLET elections are in 2010, but the Teamster constitution requires that a member must be in continuous good standing for 24 months to be eligible to run—that would be 2011 for Hahs. His career in the union is finished.
Ed Rodzwicz has taken over as president of the BLET. Hahs has appealed the decision, but he is unlikely to prevail.
Throughout this case, Hahs has claimed that he was only doing what BLET presidents before him did. “Hahs says ‘everybody did this,’” said Hugh Sawyer, the local chairman of BLET Div. 316. “That’s no excuse. It’s never OK to steal from our members. This is a union. Not a corporation. Union dues must be spent on union matters.”
January 30, 2008: A new study from Labor Notes magazine shows the power transportation workers have in the new economy.
Truck drivers at HUDD Distribution walked off the job December 17 at the company’s facilities in South Gate and Mira Loma, California.
The drivers, primarily Latino immigrants known as troqueros, shuttle goods between the massive port of Los Angeles/Long Beach and the company’s inland warehouses.
Drivers were protesting a company move to unilaterally modify their contracts, cutting wages in tandem with reducing freight insurance. Port truckers, while often tied to a single company, are classified as independent contractors rather than employees, making it impossible to form a union under existing labor law.
HUDD drivers stayed off the job for almost two weeks, but quickly found themselves in the crosshairs. Within days the terminal operator APM, another division of A.P. Moller-Maersk, had contracted with a different trucking company to move the idle shipping containers inland. Then on December 28 the drivers’ bid for solidarity from local longshore workers was quashed when an arbitrator ordered dockworkers back to work just hours after they refused to cross the truckers’ picket line.
The situation for the troqueros is just the latest example of workers squeezed by the titans of the global economy. A.P. Moller-Maersk is the world’s largest shipper, moving close to 15 percent of cargo in and out of the United States. A majority of the containers HUDD transports are for Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer.
The Cargo Chain explores the ever-expanding network of ship hands, longshore workers, truck drivers, railroad operators, and warehouse workers that make the global marketplace possible. To the average consumer, these workers are practically invisible, but they are at the crossroads of today’s economy, moving billions of dollars of goods daily.
And their importance is growing, judging by the surge of goods moving in and out of the country. Just one example is the number of containers—the 40-foot steel boxes that hold everything from flat-panel televisions to scrap metal—that enter and leave the United States, a figure that has doubled in the past 10 years.
Just In Time Leverage
This growth is the result of a strategy by retailers like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Target to create a seamless supply chain, slashing inventories and delivering goods “just in time” to the customer. Ships, intermodal yards, and trucks have been transformed into mobile warehouses.
While adding to the corporate bottom line, this has put tremendous pressure on an already over-stretched transportation network, increasing the risk of disruption—and the costs that go with it—as well as amplifying the potential power of workers.
One recent flash point was last year’s strike by conductors at Canadian National, Canada’s largest rail carrier. The two-week walkout cut container traffic in half at the Port of Vancouver and caused major disruptions across Canada’s grain, forest products, chemical, plastics, gas, and auto industries. The stakes were so high that a week into the strike federal legislators ratified back-to-work legislation, strengthening the company’s hand in bargaining.
Employers on the Move
Companies also recognize the potential power for workers in the cargo chain, and are taking steps today to protect tomorrow’s profit. A key goal is to expand shipping options so cargo isn’t bottlenecked by a strike, storm, or natural disaster. As the HUDD drivers quickly discovered, shippers already can effectively pit non-union short-haul drivers against one another.
But employers are also searching for more ways to route cargo through ports or overland, a move that will temper the power of unionized workers on the docks, the railroads, and the highways. APM is building a new $250 million terminal in Mobile, Alabama, at the same time that terminals in Houston, Norfolk, Virginia, and Savannah, Georgia, are being greatly expanded.
Railroad companies are working with the Department of Transportation to create massive rail yards, renovate track, and raise overpasses to make way for rail cars that carry two containers stacked on top of each other. Norfolk Southern now has a direct line from the Virginia ports to Chicago and the Midwest since overpasses were raised to make way for “double stack” rail cars.
Companies are also using new technology to cut jobs and shift control of the work from people onto machines. At a newly expanded terminal in Norfolk, for example, yard cranes run without an operator, using GPS technology, cameras, and computers. Rubber-tire gantry and rail-mounted gantry cranes can stack containers seven high and six wide, delivering containers to trucks or rail cars. Six cranes can be operated at once from a computer booth inside the terminal.
These developments only deepen the need for solidarity among workers in the cargo chain, union and non-union alike.
One key test will be the fight to defend standards on the docks at the bargaining table. In July the contract for West Coast longshore workers expires, and the memory of the 10-day employer lockout in 2002 is lingering over current talks. East Coast longshore workers face an equally important contract deadline in 2010, which will either reverse or reinforce the two-tier wage system put in place during the last round of negotiations.
An even more daunting question is whether unionized workers in the freight network will be able to harness their power to organize non-union workers like the HUDD troqueros.
by Mark Brenner, Labor Notes Magazine
Editor’s Note: Labor Notes is pleased to announce the release of The Cargo Chain — a joint project with the Longshore Workers’ Coalition and the Center for Urban Pedagogy. This pamphlet examines the network of workers and machines that move goods across the globe, the potential power this system creates for labor, and what companies are doing to undermine this power.