BNA Daily Labor Report: UTU Members Ratify New National Contract

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

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