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Legislative Update March 2009

The quarterly newsletter legislative update will be coming out shortly, but in the meantime, here are a few of the issues that are currently on the radar.

Employee Free Choice Act – The 111th Congress reintroduced the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) under H.R. 1409 on March 10, 2009.  The Senate bill should be filed shortly, but as of this date, has not been assigned a bill number.  As of today, March 12, there are 222 co-sponsors on the House version.  Without going into all of the specifics, the major points of contention being lobbied by organizations such as the National Chamber of Commerce is the assertion that secret ballots will no longer be available and that Unions will pressure and intimidate workers into joining.  That fact alone is not true.  The bill provides that if 30% of employees wish to hold a secret ballot, the option is available.  What it does provide for is the ease of “card check” in which workers interested in forming a union can do so with a majority simply indicating their desire.  Under the old system, the National Labor Relations Board process is both unfair and undemocratic.  While the employer has unlimited access to workers to campaign, they deny unions the same right, and instead of having a set day for an election, employers can delay it for months for even years.  The bill allows workers to make the decision for themselves whether they wish to form a union or not, and contains sanctions against employers who violate the provisions, acting as a deterrent against mistreating workers wishing to organize.

If your Congressional representative is not a co-sponsor of H.R. 1409, please encourage him/her to become one.

High Speed Rail – H.R. 1, the Economic Stimulus Plan recently passed contains provisions for $8 billion in grants for High-Speed Rail Development, and President Obama proposes to include in the budget an additional $1 billion per year for the next five years to continue promoting high speed rail corridors.  One of the biggest problems passenger rail currently faces is sharing track with freight rail.  If high speed corridors were introduced, sharing improved trackage could still be accomplished by utilizing temporal separation (i.e., passenger rail would operate between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., and freight would operate between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.).  This kind of “sharing” of improved track would benefit both forms of rail allowing more efficient operations for passenger rail, and increased track speed for intermodal freight without the increased concern over accidents between the two types of operations.  One issue the BLET is adamant about is that a certified locomotive engineer must remain in the cab on any high speed operations.  Automation and technology have their place, but not in lieu of a qualified locomotive engineer.  The BLET also wants to ensure that all workers associated with high speed rail projects are covered by federal laws relating to railroad workers, including the Railway Labor Act, Railroad Retirement Act, and the Federal Employers Liability Act.

Please let your elected representatives know that we support this type of stimulus with the considerations stated.

National Mediation Board Funding – Because the National Mediation Board (NMB) has been underfunded for years, the backlog of cases before the Board continues to grow.  To give you a little background, included in the 1934 amendments to the Railway Labor Act, rail labor gave up the right to strike over “minor” disputes in exchange for government funded arbitration of such disputes.  The types of disputes assigned to the Special Boards of Adjustment and Public Law Boards include:  dismissals, discipline, job security, promotion, job assignments, and seniority.  Some cases involve individual disputes, and some involve large groups.  The NMB is responsible for paying the salaries and travel expenses for these board members, but because of lack of sufficient funding they have been forced to cease operations for two to four months every year increasing the existing backlog every year.  At the end of FY 2008, which ended September 30, 2008, there were 6,212 cases pending, an increase of over 600 cases in just one year, even with an increase of funding expressly for the purpose of dealing with the backlog.  The average resolution time currently stands at just under two years, but some disputes have been outstanding for as long as 7 years.  That’s an awful long time to wait to see if you will be able to go back to work, often with back pay.

The current budget (FY ’09) passed this week contains additional funds, but it is not near enough to clear the backlog thereby allowing the NMB to once again arbitrate cases in a timely fashion.  We are asking Congress to allocate in the FY ’10 budget an additional $1 to $1.5 million specifically for the purpose of clearing the backlog and getting people back to work.  It is a win-win situation for all those involved allowing those who were unjustly terminated to get back to work sooner, returning trained employees back to their jobs easing the manpower crunch the railroads are currently experiencing, and saving the government money once they begin operating in real time again.

Please let your Congressman know the importance of this additional funding to railroad workers and their families.

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