LEGISLATIVE UPDATE APRIL/MAY 2015
By Kathleen Bisbikis, National Second Vice President, National Legislative Representative, BLET Auxiliary
Two Person Train Bill H.R. 1763
In a continued joint effort, the BLET and SMART–TD Unions are working together to secure the safety of the railroad industry with the announcement of Bill H.R. 1763 being introduced in the 114th Congress. H.R. 1763 requires a minimum of two crew members on all freight trains in the U.S.–a certified engineer and a certified conductor. The bill was introduced by Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) on April 13, 2015. In a statement by the BLET marking the introduction, National President Dennis Pierce said, “The BLET continues to oppose and condemn single-person freight operations as adverse to worker and public safety. . . . All parties involved must understand that as things stand today, there are only two ways to end one-person train operations: federal laws or regulations that outlaw this dangerous practice, or collectively bargained contract language that requires two crew members on every train. We will continue to work to protect contractual language to defend two-person crews, and it also is our goal to protect the safety of railroad workers and the general public by advocating for passage of H.R. 1763.”
Victory for BLET on Two-Person Train Crew Issue
The BLET’s position on the two-person train crew was recently vindicated by a ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The court ruled that the use of managers in place of conductors on the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad (W&LE) constitutes a major dispute under the Railway Labor Act.
In September 2013, the BLET went on strike over the W&LE’s repudiation of collective bargaining agreements that cover the locomotive engineer and trainmen operating crafts. Specifically, W&LE ignored longstanding crew consist agreements and operated single-person operations in an effort to eliminate trainmen.
The W&LE challenged the strike and the District Court ruled the dispute to be a minor one, granting the Carrier a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), and BLET members returned to work. The District Court conditioned the TRO “on WL&E’s agreement not to use supervisors or other management employees in place of engineers or conductors in the operation of its trains.” The TRO was later converted into an injunction.
A unanimous three-judge panel for the Sixth Circuit reversed the District Court, finding that W&LE’s “claim that the Trainmen Agreement allowed it to man trains without union conductors is frivolous or obviously insubstantial, and the dispute is major.” The Court of Appeals also vacated the injunction and remanded the case back to the District Court with instructions to dismiss the W&LE’s complaint. This is a major victory for all BLET members, especially those at the W&LE.
Confidential Close Call Reporting System
Metra employees will now be able to report near accidents and incidents, safety, or rule violations without the fear of facing sanctions by Metra or the FRA. Leaders of four rail unions and the transit system signed an agreement earlier this month with the FRA to adopt a “Confidential Close-Call Reporting System.”
The intent of the program is to collect data so that corrective steps can be taken in training, safety rules, and operating procedures. To ensure confidentiality, calls will be handled by a third party, NASA, who will compile the data, remove all identifying information, and then forward it back to a labor peer review team, Metra management, and the FRA.
Obama Vetoes GOP Bill on Union Elections
On March 31, 2015, President Obama vetoed a Republican effort to overturn union voting rules, telling reporters, “I think it’s a bad idea.” Earlier last month, Congress passed a resolution of disapproval of a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that shortened the timeline for holding union representation elections after workers had expressed interest in representation, dubbing it an “ambush election” rule and arguing it would allow unions to place undue pressure on workers and employers.
The Republicans deliberate misinformation about labor unions is clearly on display with the “logic” they rely upon in this anti-worker resolution. The Republicans simply ignore the fact that unions and workers are the same group of people. Essentially, Republicans complain that workers are placing pressure (to vote) on themselves when in fact the streamlined process actually relieves the pressure on the workers that the employers always use in unionizing decision elections. However, it is also clear they are unhappy with the pressure organized employees will place on employers to treat their workers fairly.
This is only the fourth veto of his presidency. President Obama stated that the Republican resolution would reverse ‘common-sense, modest changes to streamline’ the union voting process. . . . One of the freedoms of folks who live in the United States is if they choose to join a union they should be able to do so,” he added. “We shouldn’t be making it impossible for that to happen.”
Why Fast Track is the Wrong Track
As the fight in Washington continues and our brothers and sisters continue to march against the Fast Track Legislation, we are all called to stand up against a bill that, if passed, will ultimately move more jobs overseas and lower wages here in the U.S. The information below is taken from the AFL-CIO website and is very helpful in giving a clear understanding of the importance of us standing up for our middle class rights. Now more than ever, as the battle rages on, it is important that we all understand clearly what we have to lose.
Legislators have introduced a bill that is bad for democracy and bad for America. The Fast Track legislation (S. 1900 and H.R. 3830), introduced by Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), would establish a process that allows no amendments and limited debate on such trade deals as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Once legislators have the Fast Track ticket in their hands, they are free to agree to provisions that will send jobs overseas, reduce the bargaining power of workers, jeopardize health and safety regulations and gives corporations more control over our economy and our trading partners’ economies.
Fast Track legislation allowed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to be rammed through Congress with weak labor and environmental side deals. Since NAFTA went into effect in 1994, North American workers have experienced downward pressure on wages and a tougher organizing environment. Twenty years later, we find an unbalanced system in which profits soar even as workers take home a diminishing share of the national income.
More recent trade deals, like the World Trade Organization trade deal, had no labor or environmental standards at all. And other Fast Track trade deals have included Colombia, a country in which nearly 3,000 labor leaders and activists have been killed since 1986, and Korea—a country with which our trade deficit is already rising, and which, under the very low standards of the deal, can receive tariff benefits for cars that contain only 35% Korean content. To really have trade deals with high standards, the American public must have more say—and that means no Fast Track authority from Congress.
The Baucus-Hatch-Camp- bill would do nothing to fix the U.S. trade deficit or grow the middle class. In fact, it would interfere with important health and safety regulations, ensure the primacy of investor rights over labor rights and boost profits and incomes for global corporations and the top 1%. But it will shrink the paychecks of working families and make it less likely that America’s children can climb the ladder of success.
The trade deals the Fast Track authority would influence are shrouded in secrecy. The bill doesn’t give the public any opportunity to improve a bad deal. Indeed, it doesn’t even require Congress or an independent body to evaluate the trade deal to ensure it has a positive impact on the U.S. trade balance, job creation, or environmental protections before the Fast Track procedures apply—every deal, no matter how bad, is entitled to the same preferential treatment. If passed, the bill would:
- Keep the very low congressional “standards” that allowed weak trade agreements like NAFTA to pass;
- Keep the negotiating process behind closed doors, subject to too much Wall Street and special interest influence;
- Ensure that irresponsible corporations remain unaccountable for labor and environmental violations anywhere in their supply chain.
The Baucus-Hatch-Camp bill does not create a trade policy that is open for input, discussion, and amendment. America’s workers want a trade policy that contains robust jobs, skills and investment packages that will allow U.S.-based companies and their workers to take advantage of any benefits of trade. Such a jobs package should include things like:
Improvements in trade enforcement, including enforceable disciplines on currency manipulation, so that workers don’t lose jobs when countries play currency games to make their products more affordable and U.S. products more expensive;
A robust infrastructure package to create new jobs and facilitate the increased flow of goods to and from the United States;
Reauthorization of critical job-creation agencies and programs, including the Export-Import Bank of the United States;
Well-funded export advancement programs that promote products and services such as “Made in America”; and
Comprehensive job training, education, and worker safety net programs to ensure America’s workers can reap the benefits of trade and not just suffer the loss of well-paid, middle-class jobs.
Tell Congress that America needs jobs, not bad trade policy. Put the brakes on the “fast track” bill.
Tank Car Upgrades
The movement of crude oil by freight continues to be in the spotlight because of several oil train derailments in the past year. In a response to the concern of the safety of crude by rail, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has issued a “Railworthiness Directive,” requiring railroad carriers to replace certain types of unapproved tank car valves that have been shown to leak. In a March 13, 2015 public statement, FRA stated, “The valves in question are UNNR ball valves manufactured and sold by McKenzie Valve & Machining LLC (McKenzie). Recent FRA investigations revealed that the valves were not approved for use on railroad tank cars. Additionally, the 3-inch ball valve, when not properly configured, is leading to tank cars leaking small quantities of hazardous materials.” Carriers have 60 days to remove and replace the valve with an approved valve for use on railroad tank cars.
“Any type of hazardous materials release, no matter how small, is completely unacceptable,” said Acting Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg. “The removal of these valves from service will help to reduce the number of non-accident hazardous materials releases.”
Money from the BLET-PAC is used to help in the fight on Capitol Hill for issues that impact your job, your family and your future.
Federal Employers’ Liability Act
Big Railroads spend big money in Washington to influence members of Congress and push their anti-worker plans. In the last election cycle, Union Pacific donated a whopping $2,444,993 to federal candidates. BNSF threw in $2,590,882. CSX and Norfolk Southern donated $1,256,931 and $1,273,796 respectively.
Despite this eye popping spending by the Big Railroads, through aggressive lobbying on Capitol Hill and in State Houses and City Halls across America, our union worked to stop some of the worst attacks on our members. Congress and state legislatures increasingly control vital aspects of the railroad industry and our profession. We must support those in elected office who support us on issues that are important to us, and to our families.
Although federal law does not permit you to contribute to the BLET-PAC, you still can make a difference to encouraging the BLET member in your family to join the BLET-PAC or increase their current contribution.
WHY SHOULD EVERY BLET MEMBER JOIN?
Big Railroads are pushing their agenda harder than ever. That means we have to fight back stronger than ever. Unions cannot just react when important issues arise. We must get in the game early and help set the agenda. BLET-PAC helps elect and retain elected officials who share our concerns.
THE BLET MEMBER IN OUR FAMILY ALREADY PAYS UNION DUES
Laws prohibit the use of union dues for political purposes. Voluntary BLET-PAC contributions fill this gap and enable us to provide financial help to those politicians who share labor’s interest on the state and national level.
I UNDERSTAND IMPORTANT THINGS ARE GOING ON IN WASHINGTON, BUT WHAT ABOUT PRESSING ISSUES IN MY STATE?
Contributions to the BLET-PAC are divided evenly between a national fund and a fund overseen by the State Legislative Board, which coordinates contributions to candidates on the state level, as well as recommends contributions for federal candidates.
THE BLET MEMBER IN OUR FAMILY IS ALMOST READY TO RETIRE
BLET-PAC also works for our retired members and their spouses. We’re working to protect your interests on matters related to Railroad Retirement, survivor’s benefits, and other timely issues.
Think about it:
$5 a month is the price of lunch, a few cups of coffee, a magazine, or a few lotto tickets; $10 is the price of a movie; $20 and $50 dollars is a tremendous shot in the arm for our folks fighting in the trenches.
ASK THE BLET MEMBER IN YOUR FAMILY TO SIGN UP OR INCREASE THEIR CURRENT CONTRIBUTION!