Rail Unions Go Back to the Bargaining Table

May 9, 2007: Going back to the table gives the two unions a chance to fix problems in the proposed agreements.

On Feb. 28 the Rail Labor Bargaining Committee, a coalition of seven rail craft unions including the BLET and the BMWED, announced that they had reached a tentative agreement with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee. Rail members were supposed to vote on the contracts in April, and the agreements were to take effect in June.

But on April 5, the BLET admitted that they had only agreed to an outline of the proposed contract—not to specific contract language. When lawyers from both sides tried to hammer out the actual contracts, they found out that they could not agree on the specific language. So now the unions are back at the table.

The BLET and the BMWED have been bargaining for new contracts since 2004. Under the old agreements, the carriers have raised the cost of monthly employee healthcare premiums each year. Under the old BLET contract, engineers went from paying $100 a month in 2004 to $148 a month this year.

In a press release, BLET President Don Hahs said there are two outstanding issues that are preventing an agreement, but he wouldn’t say which issues.

Hahs insists on keeping members in the dark, saying, “Details of the agreement cannot be released until both parties have signed off on the final document.” Maybe Hahs should have been a little more careful before announcing the tentative deal in February.

The outlines released in February won’t bring healthcare costs under control. Instead, BLET and BMWED members will pay 15 percent of their monthly healthcare premiums, and the carriers can raise costs each year.

In 2006, the average cost of employer healthcare premiums increased by 7.7 percent—double the rate of inflation. That means healthcare costs for rail Teamsters could skyrocket. In 2010, monthly cost-shifting premiums are capped at $200 or the 2009 rate, whichever is higher.

For BLET members, the proposed outline will also eliminate the Harris Cost of Living Adjustment. Engineers did win one victory, though: the carriers dropped their demand for single-crew operations, at least for this round of bargaining.

Rail Teamsters are waiting to see what will change at the bargaining table. This new round of bargaining is our chance to fix the problems in the proposed agreements.

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