Legislative Update July / August 2014

Protecting Two-Person Crews

Last month, it came to light that a General Committee representing trainmen on the SMART Transportation Division (formerly UTU) had negotiated a new Crew Consist Agreement that allows for engineer-only operations under certain circumstances along portions of BNSF Railway. The news of this tentative contract agreement traveled quickly through social media and other networks and has generated a great deal of discussion and unrest amongst railroaders and their families due to its potential impact beyond its own territory. A grassroots effort, orchestrated mostly by SMART Transportation Division members and their spouses and families, has sprung up across the nation to demonstrate opposition to the one-person crew concept and to support H.R. 3040, the Safe Freight Act. This legislation, introduced last August, would require a two-person crew on virtually all freight trains, and is currently pending before the House. While we applaud the efforts of this grassroots effort, we (the Auxiliary) have opted to steer clear of any public outcry or demonstration at this time and encourage our members to continue in their efforts to urge their representatives in the House to support H.R. 3040.

As pointed out by BLET National President Pierce in his formal statement on this matter, posted on the BLET website on July 21, 2014, the three avenues available to protect a two-person crew are regulation, legislation, and collectively bargained agreements. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a press release in April announcing its intention to issue a proposed rule requiring two-person train crews on crude oil trains and establishing minimum crew size standards for most mainline freight and passenger rail operations. A campaign is underway by the BLET National Division and the SMART Transportation Division to get state laws passed mandating a two-person crew on all freight trains. The BLET National and the SMART Transportation Division will continue to work together to promote legislation, on both the state and national level, to preserve two-person crews on our nation’s freight trains. Please help by staying informed and staying involved! Thanks for all you do!

To read the statement issued by BLET National President Pierce on July 21 in its entirety, please go to: http://www.ble-t.org/pr/news/newsflash.asp?id=5594.

BLET members ratify new contract at Metra

Over 96% of voting members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen ratified a new five-year collective bargaining agreement with Metra, the Northeast Illinois commuter rail system, on May 19. The agreement covers approximately 200 members and provides for five general wage increases and two retroactive payments totaling a compounded value of 21.2 percent over the life of the agreement, which runs through January 1, 2019. Members will also receive a $3,000 signing bonus. Wage increases will become effective July 1, 2014, and include retroactive payments for affected employees to July 1, 2012.

The agreement also governs numerous work rules and employee health and welfare benefits. The BLET secured a 23.8 percent increase to the membership’s deferred compensation plan, and Metra’s contribution will increase to $10.40 per member, per day, by the end of the agreement. Other improvements include a 38 percent increase in certification pay for locomotive engineers to $18 per day. Also, members will now be allowed to bank personal leave days accumulated while working in other crafts prior to earning promotion to locomotive engineer. Many thanks to the BLET National, the involved General Committee officers, and BLET’s Metra membership who worked hard to negotiate this new contract that ensures that those members employed by Metra will continue receiving fair and equitable compensation.

SEPTA Strike Update

As previously reported, BLET members working for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) voted to authorize a strike when a mandatory 30-day cooling off period under the Railway Labor Act ended on June 14, 2014. On that date, commuter rail service in the Philadelphia metropolitan area was shut down by the striking BLET and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) members. That same evening, President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order to appoint a Presidential Emergency Board to investigate contract disputes between SEPTA and over 400 of its workers represented by BLET and IBEW. The striking employees were ordered to return to work at 12:01 a.m. on June 15.

The recommendations of the PEB received last month by the unions were a disappointment to both the BLET and the IBEW, as evidenced by their joint statement:

“We are disappointed with the recommendations of the [presidential emergency board], particularly because the board, instead of directly addressing the economic analysis of the employees, simply sidestepped the core issue of this labor dispute. As we have been for the past five years, we are willing and prepared to meet with SEPTA to discuss a settlement that treats our members fairly and consistent with how they have treated their other 6,000 employees. The BLET and IBEW remain committed to achieving that outcome and hope that, in light of the board’s recommendations, SEPTA is, too.”

MetLife Provides Grief and Loss Counseling Resources

BLET members covered by the MetLife Group Term Life portion of the Railroad Employees National Health and Welfare Plan (GA-23000) and the NRC/UTU Health and Welfare Plan (GA- 690100), as well as their dependents and beneficiaries, are eligible for free grief counseling provided by Harris, Rothenberg International, Inc. (HRI). This valuable, confidential support can provide the comfort and guidance needed at the most difficult of times, whether it be a death, an illness, a divorce, receiving a serious medical diagnosis, the loss of a pet, or even the loss felt by a child leaving home. Those who are eligible may call a dedicated 24/7 toll-free number, 1-855-609-9989, to speak with a licensed professional counselor experienced in helping people who have suffered a loss. The plan covers up to five confidential counseling sessions per event. If further assistance is desired, the counselor can help clients access services that are appropriate to their situation, preferences, finances, and health insurance coverage. Sessions can either take place in-person or by phone.

Additional assistance from research specialists is also available at the same toll-free number at no cost. These specialists can refer services and providers as well as offer additional information, including help in locating local funeral homes and monument vendors; locating back-up care for children or older adults; finding specific types of support groups, e.g., children who have lost parents, survivors of suicide, dealing with grief, etc.; and finding storage facilities, estate sale planners, and charities that pick up donations. They can also provide information on important tasks such as notifying the Social Security Administration or the Railroad Retirement Board, as well as banks and utilities.

More information is available online at griefcounseling.harrisrothenberg.net/default.aspx (username: MetLife; password: grief), as well as a flyer from MetLife that can be downloaded and shared. The toll-free number is dedicated 24/7 toll-free number, 1-855-609-9989.

Thousands of Union Members Protest EPA Proposal in Pittsburgh, PA

Thousands of members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) were joined by electrical workers, boilermakers, railroad workers, utility workers and others at a rally and march in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on July 31, to protest the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule limiting greenhouse gas emissions from existing sources. Those who organized the rally argue that the EPA rule to lower carbon emissions by 30% by 2030 based on 2005 levels could cause more than 65,000 workers in the coal, utility, and railroad industries to lose their jobs by 2025, while doing little to address climate change globally. They maintain that climate change is a global issue that requires a global solution.

UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts, who was arrested at the event for blocking the sidewalk in front of the William S. Moorehead Federal Building, stated in an interview before the protest: “It’s going to be devastating if it goes through in its current form.”

Phil Smith, a spokesman for the mine workers union, said the UMWA was getting support from the AFL-CIO and other unions. “At the end of the day, this is a direct challenge to our membership and it’s up to us to deal with it,” he said.

On June 2, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to regulate electrical generation plants to reduce greenhouse gases, issuing a rule that could cost a staggering number of good railroad industry jobs. For more background on this issue, please see the segment entitled “EPA Needs a More Balanced Energy Plan for Coal” in the June legislative update at:



Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Eric R. Bunch, a BNSF locomotive engineer and Local Chairman of BLET Division 75 (Kansas City, Mo.), who died unexpectedly of cardiac arrest on July 24, 2014. Eric was only 38 years old and left behind a wife and two sons, ages 8 and 10. Those interested in supporting the family with a card, gift, or donation, please send to: Community Bank of Missouri, 1400 Hospital Dr., Excelsior Springs, Missouri, 64024 (Make checks payable to: Eric Bunch Memorial).

Our hearts also go out to the families and friends of locomotive engineer Chance J. Gober, 41, a member of BLET Division 182 in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and Conductor Roderick A. Hayes, 31, a member of the SMART Transportation Division, who were both killed in the tragic UP train accident that occurred in the early morning hours on Sunday, August 17, in Hoxie, Arkansas. Locomotive engineer Michael S. Zompakos, 54, a member of BLET Division 182, and Conductor Aaron P. Jeffery, a member of the SMART Transportation Division, were injured in this collision. Look for further details on the BLET website in the coming week.