Rail Workers Build Solidarity Caucus
December 5, 2007: Rail labor activists from across North America are coming together to form a new cross-craft inter-union caucus that includes all rail workers in North America—Railroad Workers United.
by Ron Kaminkow, BLET Division 51
Amtrak, Reno., Nev.
“We have been divided—craft against craft, union against union, terminal against terminal—for too long,” says Joe Wyman, UTU trainman in Tucson, Ariz. “We will be stronger by including all railroaders in North America.”
The RWU will be a membership organization. Membership is open to all members of any railroad union, including the BLET and the BMWED, rail crafts that have joined the Teamsters.
The new group got its start thanks to Railroad Operating Crafts United (ROCU), a group founded in 2005 to end the warfare between the BLET and the UTU.
“Rather than continue to beat our heads against the wall in face of the determination of the officials of the BLET and the UTU to remain separate and at war with each other, we decided to put our energy into building an organization that includes all rail labor,” says Ed Michael, an engineer in BLET Div. 724.
“We are not creating another rail union,” explains Jon Flanders, a Machinist in Selkirk, N.Y. “Instead, we are creating an industry-wide caucus where we can all come together to help each other build the solidarity, support, democracy and strength that is missing in our individual craft unions.”
The new group will work to build solidarity among all railroad workers, including:
- Support movements for democracy within the rail unions;
- Build unity at the next round of bargaining;
- Support candidates who actively support RWU goals for leadership positions in the various unions;
- Support mergers between rail unions where they make sense;
- Build local chapters in terminals to recruit members and build solidarity;
- Get behind national legislative campaigns that would benefit rail workers and facilitate union organizing.
RWU has drawn up a “Statement of Principles” to act as a guide to its work, which include unity of all railroad crafts, an end to inter-union conflict, rank-and-file democracy, and coordinated bargaining.
The founding convention of RWU is scheduled to take place Friday, April 11, 2008, at the Labor Notes Conference in Detroit that weekend.
For more information, including a copy of the RWU Statement of Principles, call RWU at 206-984-3051, or go to www.railroadworkersunited.org.
Norfolk Southern: Early Agreement Hits the Rails
November 9, 2007: The BLET Norfolk Southern General Committees have negotiated an early deal with the carrier—over two years before the current on-property agreement is set to expire.
Here’s what’s in the tentative contract:
Wages. The deal increases wages 2 percent in 2008; 2 percent in 2010, 2011, and 2012; 2.5 percent in 2013; and 3 percent in 2014. There is no wage increase for 2009. Those wage increases won’t be enough to keep up with inflation.
Bonus. The contract continues the controversial NS bonus program, but it reduces the amount of the bonus from 15 to 10 percent for 2010, 2011, and 2012. The program pays out only if the company reaches its financial goals. This extra money is not counted toward pay increases—so it does not build over time.
This year engineers are likely to get only a third of their potential bonus. One engineer complained about the bonuses on the web: “We assume all the risks and the NS risks ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.”
Vacation. The new agreement increases vacation time, but it also adds restrictive new language that could take away vacations from some engineers off work for illness or disability. Plus, the company will stop counting overtime toward days worked for vacation.
Scope Agreement. The contract guarantees engineers work outside of the yard. But it fails to guarantee the work of yard engineers. Remote control operation—jobs guaranteed to the UTU—has already eliminated many engineer jobs in the yard. Over a period of time, the new agreement even concedes control over the conventional engines within yard limits.
“Why are we signing this agreement now?” asked Hugh Sawyer, local chairman in BLET Div. 316. “No member has been consulted about this contract. We have two more years to go. We should use that time to win a stronger agreement—including wage gains and quality of life improvements that have already been won on other railroads.”
The current on-property agreement expires in 2009. The tentative agreement would run until the end of 2014.
Ballots are already in the mail for rail Teamsters to decide on the tentative agreement. Ballots have to be received by December 5.
Teamster engineers who want to send negotiators back to the table should vote No on this tentative agreement.
Click here to contact TDU's National Rail Chapter.
BLET President Caught Embezzling
September, 17, 2007: The president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) Don Hahs has been charged with embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the union.
Hahs spent the money to pay for everything from Cleveland Cavs tickets to a fishing expedition to Alaska. The Independent Review Board (IRB) issued the charges on September 13.
Hahs has been a Hoffa International Rep since the BLET merged with the Teamsters in 2004. His career is likely coming to an end.
From 2004 to 2006, the IRB found Hahs spent $47,880 on tickets to Cleveland Cavaliers basketball games. Hahs kept the tickets in his desk, and he only gave them out to other BLET employees “at the last minute when he could not use the tickets himself,” according to the charge.
Hahs also charged the union for:
- A three-day fishing trip in Alaska. Hahs was in Alaska for one day for a meeting then cut out for his fishing trip.
- Taking his wife on union trips. Since 2004, Hahs charged the union $7,951.97 for his wife’s tickets and meals.
- A week-long trip to Las Vegas with his wife that cost $1,677.77. Hahs and the union have no record of any union purpose of their excursion.
- $923 in hotel room movies. Hahs says his grandson enjoyed them; he often brought his grandson along on his trips at union expense.
Hahs claimed he brought his wife along on trips so that she could report back to the Grand International of Auxiliary, the BLET’s spouses association. But the officers of the GIA reported “that Mrs. Hahs never gave any presentations or updates at any GIA meetings about this trip or any other meetings she had attended.”
Altogether, the IRB investigation indicates that Hahs embezzled over $58,000 from the union.
Hoffa now has to decide whether to hold a hearing on the charges, or dodge the issue and let the IRB handle it. If Hahs is found guilty of the charges, the punishment may well be expulsion from the Teamsters.
“Don Hahs has shamed our union, but this is also an opportunity,” said Ed Michael from BLET Division 724. “Don Hahs’s outrageous waste of our dues money and resources has to end. Our remaining leaders have a unique opportunity to begin creating trust and respect at every level of the BLET.
“Hopefully our next BLET President will put our members first.”
UTU Merger: What Would It Mean for Teamster Engineers?
July 12, 2007: by Jim Eubanks and Ed Michael: The United Transportation Union (UTU), the main union for conductors on the railways, is proposing a merger with the Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA).
Why is the UTU so eager to merge with the SMWIA when they have a natural merger partner sitting across the engine cab from their members—the Teamster engineers in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen? A merger with the BLET makes much more sense.
We’re members of both unions because we think it’s time to come together. We’re getting beat up by the divide and conquer strategies of the carriers. A merger between the BLET and the UTU would end the destructive war between the two unions.
It turns out that this merger is less about building power for our rail workers—and more about business as usual at the UTU.
It’s All about the Money
The UTU is having trouble paying for the outrageous salaries we pay to our top officers.
Last year, Paul Thompson, UTU International President, made $258,093. And Thompson’s not the only one making big money. In 2006, the eight lowest-paid Vice Presidents each made $137,094.
International officers also get an extra pension on top of Railroad Retirement.
These salaries and pensions are costing us a lot. In 2004, for example, the UTU put $7.53 million in the officers’ pension fund—that’s almost half of our total dues for 2004.
Trim the Fat
We know how to cut down these expenses.
The Blue Ribbon Committee charged with examining our finances recommended that we cut eight VPs off the payroll. They reported: “Our review of International officer assignments and their annual reports clearly indicates that there is insufficient work to support maintaining the current number of full-time officers.”
Here’s the catch: these recommendations will not take effect until the end of this year. If the merger passes, these officers will keep their old jobs under new names.
Put Teamster Power To Work on the Rails
This year, Teamster engineers went through another round of national negotiations without the support of our natural allies, the conductors. We paid the price with a contract that leaves us paying more for our healthcare.
In addition, Teamster engineers on some railroads have ratified a side agreement that appears to open the way to single-person train crews.
The merger with the SMWIA is a dead end for conductors and engineers. The fights between the UTU and the BLET will not stop. Those fights will leave us both weak and divided.
We do need a merger—but not with the SMWIA. A UTU-BLET merger would put our unions back on the right track.
Reuters: CP Rail Track Workers Got Wage Hike, Bonus in Deal
June 13, 2007: The deal that ended a strike by Canadian Pacific Railway track workers includes bonuses but kept to the railway's pre-strike wage demands, according to documents distributed on Monday.
CP dropped demands for changes in seniority rules, but won changes in health insurance co-payments, according to copies of the tentative contract being sent to the 3,200 workers for a ratification vote.
The three-year deal, which is retroactive to the end of 2006, includes annual wage hikes of 3 percent, 4 percent and 3 percent. The Teamsters union said CP will also pay bonuses of 1 percent in all three years and higher expense payments.
The workers staged a three-week strike that ended June 6 with the tentative agreement. Results of the ratification vote are expected in mid-July.
CP has said it wants all its unionized employees held to annual wage hikes of 3 percent, although the railway offered 4 percent in the second year in return for the health insurance co-payments, according to the documents.
COLA: A Pay-Day Loan from the Railroad?
June 8, 2007: What if your employer told you that your raises for the last two years were just a loan? That’s just what happened to rail Teamsters in the BLET.
The proposed national agreement between the BLET and the freight carriers says that cost-of-living adjustments for 2005 and 2006 were just loans from the carriers to the engineers—and the carriers want the money back.
That’s like turning the carriers into a pay-day loan store.
The Railroad Comes Collecting
Even worse, our national negotiating team is helping them collect. The proposed agreement will let the carriers deduct the “loan” from engineers’ retro checks.
If the contract passes, an engineer who worked 160 hours a month for the last two years will owe the carriers $1,749. But most engineers work more than that, and they could owe over $2,000.
Engineers have been waiting since 2004 for a new contract—and a wage increase. COLA raises have helped engineers keep up a little with inflation. It’s a real double-cross to have to pay back that money, especially when the carriers are making record profits.
“When we joined the Teamsters, our leaders said that they’d put Teamster Power to work for us,” said Chad Black, an engineer on the Union Pacific. “Now we’ve got to pay back our wage increases for the last two years. Our negotiators should never have agreed to that.”
Can’t we do better? The negotiators should have pushed to turn the COLA “loan” into a real raise. Instead, rail Teamsters got a weak contract—and a humiliating loan.
Canadian Track Workers Shut Down Construction on the CP
June 8, 2007: A strike on the Canadian Pacific Railway has entered its third week.
On May 16, over 3,200 track maintenance and construction workers walked off the job. The track workers are members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference.
The members say they want higher wages and stronger job security. CP wants to expand job duties.
The railroad has replaced striking maintenance workers with over 1,200 managers. But the strike has put a stop to new construction and expansion work.
This is the second major rail strike this year in Canada. In February, 2,800 United Transportation Union (UTU) conductors struck the Canadian National railroad. Members of the UTU on the CN are leading a drive to join the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference.
Rail Workers Blame Woes on Earlier Cuts
May 29, 2007: by Brent Jang from Transportaion Reporter: When Shayne Brighton started his job 28 years ago at Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., he didn't have to worry about toiling nights and weekends - shifts he has often worked in the past three years.
Mr. Brighton, 49, makes $24.24 an hour as a welder-fabricator at CPR. He went on strike with his 3,200 Teamsters union co-workers on May 16.
"CP Rail isn't offering us much in return for our hard work," Mr. Brighton said from Revelstoke, B.C.
He said his quality of life has been eroded by work demands that increasingly cut into what used to be his family time.
While he can make nearly $60,000 a year, including overtime, he said he and his colleagues are underpaid, given the growing work load for employees remaining after many years of layoffs.
CPR and Canadian National Railway Co. are running into union resistance to management attempts to broaden duties for employees, who would rather reap bigger rewards from the industry's prosperity.
After last year's record profit of $2.1-billion at CN and $796-million at CPR, employees complain that their ranks have been depleted by job cuts even as the rail sector thrives.
From 1994 to 2005, railway industry employment across Canada fell 35 per cent to about 35,400 people, or a loss of 19,000 jobs.
Average wages during the period rose 46 per cent to $72,000 a worker in 2005, says the Railway Association of Canada. The wage hikes average 3.5 per cent annually, outpacing the yearly inflation rate of 2 per cent.
The downward trend in jobs has continued, dipping below 35,000 positions last year, while the railways try to keep a lid on further wage increases.
Amid wage restraints and ongoing job cuts, 2007 has become the year of labour unrest in Canada's efficiency minded railway industry. A 15-day strike hit CN in February, and the CPR strike enters its 13th day today.
The CPR strike by track maintenance workers came just three months after 2,800 conductors and yard staff at CN staged their strike, upset at what they view as onerous demands to meet CN's quest to be a "precision railroad."
CPR has a different name for its efficiency drive, dubbing it an "execution excellence" campaign.
The corporate slogans refer to management's focus on forming daily schedules for rail cars, setting targets for departures and arrivals.
Other goals include reducing "terminal dwell time," where workers get trains ready to roll; part of the mission is to transport more freight in speedier fashion.
In the late 1990s, Montreal-based CN began emphasizing the importance of getting trains to leave at scheduled times.
CN has become the leader in the shift away from the common industry practice of a decade ago, when locomotives were forced to wait for enough goods to show up before moving on the rails.
Following CN's lead, Calgary-based CPR and other North American railways have embraced the concept of departing at specified times, even with light loads.
David Scott, 54, a CPR carpenter who makes $24.24 an hour, said wages aren't the only sticking point in the strike against CPR. Pensions, health benefits and work rules (notably management's proposal to expand work districts) are also contentious issues, he said on his cellphone, shortly before reporting for picketing duties in Montreal.
Mr. Scott has worked at CPR for more than 30 years, supporting his wife and their two daughters, now in their early 20s and still living at home.
"CP Rail is making money hand over fist, and they should share with us," he said.
Escalating imports of Asian goods, notably from China and India, and rising commodity exports have created bustling times in the railway sector over the past three years.
As the train business booms, unions are clashing with management's attempts to keep costs under control, said BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc. analyst Randy Cousins.
He said that as baby boomers retire over the next decade, the railways will be able to shave labour costs further through natural attrition.
The industry has become more efficient, taking advantage of improvements in train technology and productivity gains such as growth in handling intermodal goods that are transferred in large containers between trains and ships, said Edward Jones & Co. analyst Daniel Ortwerth.
He said there was bound to be labour resistance to the railway sector's transition to becoming 24/7 operators.
"Change is hard," Mr. Ortwerth said.Click here to read the story at globeandmail.com
Rail Teamsters Say “Vote No!”
May 25, 2007:Rail Teamsters have launched a campaign to vote down the proposed national BLET agreement.
"It’s a bad deal. The new contract says we’ll pay more for our healthcare, and it says we owe the carriers thousands of dollars each,” said Ed Michael, a member of BLET Div. 724 on the Union Pacific. “We can do better. That’s why I’m voting No.”
Under the new agreement, engineers will pay 15 percent of their healthcare premiums every month. And there's no cap until 2010.
The new deal also means engineers will pay more at the doctor and the drug store. The contract raises co-pays for a doctor’s visit from $15 to $20 a visit. For a specialist, the cost goes up from $15 to $35. At the drug store, generics will go up from $5 to $10, and brand names from $10 to $20.
The new contract requires engineers to pay back their COLA raises since 2005. The new contract says that the raises were just a loan. If the contract passes, most engineers will pay more than $2,000. “What a joke,” Michael said. This amount will be deducted from their retro pay.
The new agreement may help the carriers expand remote control operation. A side agreement on the BNSF railway would allow engineers to operate a locomotive remotely with a belt pack out on the mainline when outside a company yard. The side agreement will only take effect if the majority of BNSF Teamsters vote for the national agreement.
Teamsters from TDU and Railroad Operating Crafts United (ROCU) are working to win a stronger agreement.
"Ballots are in the mail now. Now's the time to get the word out," said Ron Kaminkow, a member of BLET Div. 51 in Reno, Nev. "We're getting 'Vote No' flyers out in break rooms, on bulletin boards, and in locomotives. We're going to spread the word far and wide." Kaminkow is a member of ROCU's steering committee.
Help spread the word. Download a Vote No flyer from ROCU.
Build TDU’s rail network. Join TDU.
Support Rail Unity. Click here to register as a ROCU supporter.
Traffic World: Canadian Pacific Workers Strike
May 21, 2007:Traffic World, Journal of Commerce: Unionized track maintenance workers with Canadian Pacific Railway went on strike Wednesday after contract talks failed to produce an agreement.
Canada's second-largest railroad deployed managers to replace the 3,200 striking workers, represented by the Teamsters. The railroad said Wednesday that train service was operating normally despite union pickets, Bloomberg reported.
Canadian Pacific, headquartered in Calgary, offered wage increases of 3 percent this year, 4 percent in 2008 and 3 percent in 2009. The union sought a 13-percent raise over the three-year period. The most recent contract expired in December.
Earlier this year, a series of strikes by 2,800 Canadian National conductors and yard workers represented by the United Transportation Union ended when Parliament passed back-to-work legislation.
In Ottawa, Labor Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn declined to answer questions from reporters about the possibility of back-to-work legislation in the Canadian Pacific dispute.